Posted on

Candidates With Opposition Respond to Advance Questionnaire

In an effort to better inform readers on their voting choices in the May 24 General Primary, The Advance asked the eight candidates in Montgomery and Toombs counties who are facing opposition to respond to six questions, which are listed below.

1. Please tell the readers about yourself (education, family, career, affiliations, etc.).

2. Why are you seeking

office? 3. What experience or leadership qualifications do you have which prepare you to serve in the office you are seeking? 4. How will you work with other officials and the community to improve the quality of life in the area you will be representing. 5. If elected to office, what are your immediate goals?

6. Why should the voters elect you to office?

Ashley Thornton, Incumbent Montgomery County Magistrate Nonpartisan 1. My name is Ashley Thornton. I am a lifelong resident of Montgomery County. I am the daughter of Buddy Adams and Debra Adams, and the granddaughter of Frank and Betty Jane Fountain. I am the wife of Quentin Thornton. We have four children: Rome, Paris Ann, Sicily, and Italy. I am a graduate of the Montgomery County School system, where my children currently attend. I am a member of the school PTO, parent involvement council, and a proud supporter of the school system. My family and I are active members of Mt. Vernon First Baptist Church. I have worked in the legal field for nearly 20 years and served as the Associate Magistrate Judge for Montgomery County from 2012 to 2019, when I then took office as Chief Magistrate.

2. I am seeking re-election for Magistrate, as it is a position that I truly enjoy doing daily. When I wake up every morning I never know what may come my way, as each day and night bring new encounters or obstacles that I must respond to at any given hour. I enjoy communicating with the people that come into or call the office daily as I navigate through each situation to work toward a solution that helps everyone involved. I am in hopes to continue to serve the citizens of Montgomery County through performing my task as Magistrate.

3. I have completed both civil and criminal trainings as required by the state to perform duties as a Magistrate. I also complete yearly, required recertifications. Over the last 3 years, I have been appointed to the state Magistrate Communications Committee and a member of the Magistrate Mentoring Board program. I have also traveled to various Magistrate trainings where I have had the honor of teaching different classes to Magistrates around Georgia. I have just recently been nominated and elected as a Georgia Magistrate District Representative for the 8th Judicial District, which consists of five judicial circuits, with 27 counties represented. I am very thankful for and excited to be involved with this opportunity to grow even more. Over the last 10 years I have learned a lot, but I am a big believer in “you learn something new every day.” If I am presented with a situation that is unfamiliar to me, I do not mind researching it and figuring out what actions need to be taken.

4. I plan to continue to work alongside other county offices, businesses, and citizens as we all work together to perform tasks needed to keep the judicial system running smoothly and efficiently. I work closely with the Sheriff’s Office to see that cases are served, warrants are signed, and first appearances are given in the required, timely manner within which the individual’s rights are first priority. I also deal with several other county offices handling the filing of necessary paperwork and documents needed that an individual may require for a case or for a better understanding of a situation that they may have going on.

5. I plan to continue to work with and for the citizens of Montgomery County, to help in any way I can, and to continue to learn and grow through the opportunities I am given along the way. 6. I pray that the voters of Montgomery County will take into consideration my experience and pride that I have regarding the job that I do. The Magistrate position is not one to be taken lightly, as it involves the wellbeing and day-to-day lives of others. I like speaking and working with the public. I am willing to help work toward any solution that may help resolve a conflict. I pray that I am given the opportunity to continue to serve the citizens of Montgomery County. Gloria O’Neal Montgomery County Magistrate Nonpartisan 1. I have been a resident of Montgomery County for 38 years and a retired educator who has worked for the Montgomery County School System for the past 5 years, both as a teacher and currently as the Assistant Principal of the middle school. I am married to James O’Neal and have a son, Andrew O’Neal, and future daughter- in-law, Ashton Craft. I have enjoyed my time at Montgomery Middle School and have most enjoyed being able to resolve conflicts and guide students in making good decisions in their school careers. 2. I have had a lifelong love for learning and for helping others in need. I look forward to the possibility of serving as Chief Magistrate so that I can continue to find means and resources to do just that.

3. I hold a Leadership Degree in Education, which has taught me a lot about school and family law. I have always served in leadership roles, either as a teacher or as a school administrator and have been a problem-solver in both of these roles. That experience, along with my calm demeanor and friendly personality, are assets that I will carry with me into any job in the future. I believe that these traits are essential when working with the community, and I want Montgomery County citizens to know that I am ready and willing to help them. 4. I will work with other officials and with the community to improve the quality of life in Montgomery County in many ways. I will find resources and make them readily available where they are needed, and will make the process of handling any civil matter as easy as possible for Montgomery County citizens. 5. If elected to the office of Chief Magistrate, my primary goals will be to reach out to all agencies that could offer support to community members in need and establish a rapport with them so that they may be called upon. In addition to this, I will close any open cases that have judgments made and get the settlements or restitution to citizens. I will also set up an electronic system to quickly and easily handle future civil cases that come before me as well as establish a response system where citizens can reach out to me and get quick answers to questions concerning their civil rights and civil matters. 6. I am asking Montgomery County citizens to seriously consider electing me to the office of Chief Magistrate because I have the work ethic and the ability to handle difficult situations, and I have been proven to get the job done, no matter what it may be. I am grateful for all the support I have received on the campaign trail and look forward to seeing everyone at the polls on May 24. Dr. Jim Paul Poole, Incumbent Montgomery County Board of Education, District 5 Nonpartisan 1. My decision to seek another term was influenced by the accomplishments that have been made in the last 11 years, and I would like to continue to use my experience to help improve the system. The educational process is changing on a daily basis and the experience I have in education and being part of the continuous progress these past years gives me an advantage when making decisions over someone who has no experience in education or working with a school system.

2. I am qualified for the position because of the 35 years of experience I have in education as a teacher, principal, superintendent, and board member here in Montgomery County. My experience as an educator provides me with the understanding that one needs concerning instruction, facilities, and finance when making critical decisions. I also understand how a school system should function ethically, morally, and academically.

3. I believe the most pressing issue facing the school system is providing a world-class education for our students during these changing times. This is why our Board and administration are constantly evaluating our system and continually making plans to improve in all school areas. Because our students are connected to the World Wide Web, we will have to improve our methods of instructional delivery to stay up with the technology that is now part of every student’s life.

4. Working with other Board members and the superintendent, we will continue to plan for the future and work our plan; provide for the continued safety of our students; provide good teachers, good administrators, good facilities; and ensure that the taxpayers’ money is spent in the best interest of our boys and girls.

5. The most important duty of a Board of Education member is to ensure that our school leadership is hiring the best teachers we can afford who will provide the educational experiences that are in line with our expectations for our students. The second most important job of a board member is to monitor the spending practices of our administrators to ensure that taxpayers’ money is spent wisely, effectively, and efficiently.

6. I grew up in Montgomery County and graduated from our high school, went off to college and came back home as a teacher and later as superintendent of schools. The people of Montgomery County have been good to me these past 40 years, and I feel I owe our children and our citizens a debt which I can only repay by giving my time, energy and

continued from page

experience to help give our young boys and girls the education and opportunities that I was allowed to receive. If you elect me to serve another term as your Board member, I will continue to work for our students and the citizens of District 5, and all of Montgomery County to ensure that our schools are the best they can be. John O’Conner Montgomery County Board of Education, Disrict 5 Nonpartisan 1. I am a lifelong resident of Montgomery County and a 1992 graduate of Montgomery County High School. I have an immediate and vested interest in our school system as my son, Emmett, is in the 3rd grade at MCES. I am a member of Grace United Methodist Church and serve on the Staff Parrish Relations Committee. I am a licensed Reactor Operator and have been employed by Southern Nuclear at Plant Hatch for the past 19 years. 2. I believe that change is needed on the School Board. A School Board member should have a direct connection to the school through a child. This ensures that a student’s best interests are at heart. The School Board’s efforts should enable the school’s staff and teachers to do their jobs and not act as administrators within the hallways.

3. Having worked for many years in a heavilyregulated industry has helped me develop excellent decision-making skills and achieve desired outcomes while adhering to established policies and procedures.

4. The School Board is more than just one member. Its primary function is to enact policies and oversee finances. I believe decisions should be made after considering input from all those affected based on facts, not emotions. Ultimately decisions should be made in the best interest of the school and students and not to further one’s personal agenda.

5. My goals are simple and straightforward: – To reestablish trust between the community and the School Board – To ensure that decisions are made with the student’s best interests in mind – To help grow our school’s reputation 6. I believe that every parent and every teacher should have a voice. We have a great school system with great teachers. I believe that the School Board should let them do their jobs without interference. Debra Dobbins Gay, Incumbent Montgomery County Board of Education, District 3 Nonpartisan 1. I am Debra Dobbins Gay. I was born in Vidalia, Georgia, in 1957, to Mayes and Patricia Dobbins. My father was a coach and teacher at MCHS, and my mom was a long-time employee at the elementary school. I was raised in Mt. Vernon, Georgia.

I attended Montgomery County schools where I played basketball, enjoyed cheerleading and served as an officer in various organizations. I graduated from MCHS in 1975.

I attended Brewton-Parker College where I was captain of the cheerleaders and 1st runner up on the homecoming court. I graduated from Brewton-Parker in 1977 with an AA degree.

I attended Georgia Southern College and earned a BS in Education. My first teaching job was in Toombs County where I taught first grade for six years at Toombs Central.

I married Carl Gay in 1984. We had our first child, Gabriel Mayes Gay, in 1986. He has followed me into the field of Education. He is a coach and will be at West Laurens High in the fall. He coaches weightlifting, football and middle school track. Our daughter, Carmen Jade, was born in 1988. Now Carmen Gay Suttles, she teaches fourth grade, and has been a cheer coach. She will be at Jeff Davis County Schools in the fall. Tim Suttles, my son-in-law, has been an athletic director, taught special education at the high school, and has served as a high school track coach. He will also be with his wife at Jeff Davis, in the fall. Amanda Gay, my daughterin- law, is a nurse at Fairview Endoscopy Center.

We are blessed to have four precious grandchildren, Grady Gay, 7, Cannon Suttles, 6, Avery Suttles, 5, and Grace Marie Gay, 4, who begins school in the fall. During the years before our children reached school age, I was a stay-athome mom and I taught preschool at Time for Tots, at First Baptist Church. I remained there until our youngest child started school. I was employed in Montgomery County schools as a fourth grade teacher, where I taught until retirement in 2015.

2. I’m running to seek re-election because I have a job to complete. My personal interest is in preserving and improving the quality of our school system. I would like to serve these next two years to finish school improvements, elevate our academics, and insure stability throughout. We are entrusted with responsibilities that are vital to enhancing student and teacher success, while remaining accountable to our stakeholders! I am a retired teacher who has always been very passionate about our schools! I will remain committed and devoted to elevating our schools to new heights! I would like to see us continue to made great gains! We have funding issues that will require input from a person that has inside knowledge of schools and students. As we move forward, we need an experienced and educated person for their professional input in critical decisions for our schools. I want to work to continue to see our school reach new heights! We will make important decisions regarding, not only our students now, but students in years to come! Your vote will insure that our future remains bright and our Eagles continue to soar!

3. I have served on the School Board for four years. I attended several conferences and workshops for additional training. Our School Board was recognized as a Quality Board at our Summer Conference in 2019. I have served in many leadership roles and boards, such as Montgomery County Library, Board of Education, Relay for Life Team Leader, and our school’s Charitable Trust Board. I have a BS degree in Education from Georgia Southern. I’ve taught several grades; preschool, first grade, fourth grade and fifth grade. I served on many leadership committees and after school programs. I was actively involved with our youth in coaching recreational girls softball and basketball. I also served as a Girls Scout leader and taught Sunday School classes. I am a member of Calvary’s Grace Baptist Church. I serve in the nursery for Sunday School and I also sing in the choir.

Currently, I keep up websites to support our citizens. I established our Montgomery County High School Graduates’ site for keeping graduates up to date on school news and homecoming events. I established our MCHS Members Obituary Notices, and a Friend’s Prayer and Share page.

I think it’s essential that our stakeholders stay connected to our school/community events and news! This helps to make a strong community and gives everyone a sense of pride, in our MoCo schools!

4. I will continue to keep up with trends in education. I will communicate effectively with other school board members. I will work to maintain a professional working relationship and continue to encourage transparency with our stakeholders. My phone number is, 912 249-2262, if I can be of help. I will continue to pray for our schools, community and other board members.

5. I would like to work to ensure that our schools provide the safest environments for our students, staff and community. We need to continue to move forward with improvements in our facilities and on our campuses. We need to make sure all vacant positions are filled with the best applicants. I will keep up my Board training and will attend the Summer GSBA Conference.

6. I believe my former teaching careers and other service experience make me the most qualified candidate to serve on our Board of Education! These beneficial experiences give me competent insights as a knowledgeable board member!

We are entrusted with responsibilities, which are vital to enhancing student and teacher success, while remaining accountable to our stakeholders! My dedication, determination, continued from page

and drive motivate me to continue to work hard and stay committed to see our schools succeed! You can see the dedication and love I have for our past, present and future generations! Fernando Rodriguez Pacheco Montgomery County Board of Education, District 3 Nonpartisan 1. I moved to Mt. Vernon in 2004 and attended Montgomery County High School. I played many sports throughout high school – football, tennis, track, cross country, and wrestling – and eventually met my high school sweetheart and future wife, Amber Rodriguez. After graduating from Montgomery County High School in 2009, I attended Southeastern Technical College and studied electrical construction. I began my career in the construction sector working with family, then moved on to become a General Foreman at Plant Vogtle during its construction. After almost 10 years, I ended my tenure at Plant Vogtle to pursue other opportunities. I was a member of Local Union 283, then started my current job as Operations Manager at Builders First Source. My wife and I have been happily married for 11 years, and have two sons (we’re expecting our third in July!). We’re proud residents of Mt. Vernon, and are very involved with the community. I volunteer in my spare time, coaching various recreational sports and helping the community when and where I can.

2. My wife and I have a vested interest in the quality of our school system because our children attend Montgomery County Elementary School. We are very proud of our schools; however we and many other parents are concerned about our children and school’s futures. Over the past several years, there have been many instances of favoritism, financial irresponsibility, and disregard in the decision making of the Montgomery County Board of Education. While all families of Montgomery County have been affected, those most affected were those who were underrepresented, and the Board Members have faced no repercussions. I can’t stand by any longer and watch the Board Members act with impunity. I feel that it’s time for a change.

3. I am a leader and lifelong learner. At Plant Vogtle, I helped build the nation’s first new nuclear power plant in 30 years over the course of almost a decade. Starting as an Apprentice and ending as a General Foreman, I learned how to manage the expectations of multiple stakeholders while also being a people leader for the team responsible for constructing the plant. I led my crews by example, taught them the value of hard work, and encouraged them to keep learning as they grew in their careers. I have also helped lead and manage our community over the years. I have served as a coach for our child athletes in recreational baseball, football, and soccer for many years furthermore, I have been involved with leading teams and juggling responsibilities during the community events and festivals in Mt. Vernon.

I feel that my professional and personal experiences as a leader have prepared me for most of the responsibilities of this position, and I am willing to learn the rest. I understand that academic administration will be new to me, I know that this position can be stressful and would require me to prioritize the agendas of multiple parties, however, I feel that I could do no worse than the current Board members. It would be a challenge, but I believe that my experiences managing the expectations of companies and our community, and willingness to learn, will allow me to meet the challenge. 4. I want to use the power of this office to meet the needs of those who matter most in the school system: the students and staff. The Board of Education needs to address the issues faced by all members of the community. I want to work with everyone, so that everyone’s interests and concerns are heard, but I also want to give a voice to all the underrepresented groups in our community. I know that most of the parties involved will have differing opinions, but all parties need to understand and agree that the students and staff need to come first. As long as the needs of all students and staff are put first, I’m confident that the most beneficial solution will always prevail in our decision making. 5. If elected, I will rebuild confidence and integrity within our school system by working with the community to ensure that its interests and concerns are reflected in the agenda for next year. I will work hard to open communication channels between the community and the Board. I will consider all points of view before making a decision – because I do not believe in acting without thinking – and try to foster more inclusion, equality, and responsibility within our school system. As a Board member, I will see to it that responsible decisions are made, and accountability is upheld, at the Board level. Above all, I will ensure that all the underrepresented groups in our community are given a voice, and that educational equality and success is possible for every child attending our schools.

6. I may not have the so-called “experience” needed, but I promise you I will always do what I feel is best for the students and staff. We should not be biased toward anyone in the school system whether that be students or staff. Everyone should be treated equally and fairly. I have two boys directly affected by all the decisions that are being made so I as a father understand the parent’s needs, I can relate to the parents in my District and Community. It never hurts to have a new set of eyes that can bring a modern approach to certain issues. I was that parent who was silent, I was that parent who didn’t think they had a voice, and I was that parent afraid to speak up due to repercussions it may have on my kids. I will not be that parent anymore. I am sure a lot of you feel the same way. Well here I am, I am you. Let’s make a change together. Mitch Bellflower, Incumbent Toombs County School Board, District 3 Nonpartisan 1. I live in Vidalia, Georgia, (Normantown) and have done so my whole life. I have been married to my wife, Kellie, for 32 years, and we have two amazing children, Brittany and Blaine, and one very loved grandson, Calin, with another (Carson) on the way. I worked in law enforcement for 15 years with every intention of retiring from the career before God called me to full-time ministry 12 years ago. I am the Children’s Pastor at Lyons First Baptist Church. I have a Criminal Justice Degree and a Divinity Degree from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. My entire family are proud Toombs County Alumni. I am most proud of our family. We are a very close and loving family and have served together in almost everything we do, from mission trips to vacations. God has blessed me with an amazing family that loves and supports the community.

2. I am seeking this office because I am a product of the Toombs County Schools and just wish to give back to the system that helped shape and mold me into the man I am today. Because of the teachers and staff and their passion for each child to excel, Toombs County Schools are and will be a vital part of the community. It is an honor to be a part of this and I wish to continue to do so. 3. I have served on the School Board for the last 6 years and have not taken it lightly. I have a heart for the system and the workers. My wife has worked as a teacher for almost 29 years and we both share the same enthusiasm for wanting Toombs County to be the very best ever. I serve as a pastor at Lyons First Baptist Church where each week I get the opportunity to serve with some of these same workers again on a different level.

4. Clear communication is essential, but even better than that is a genuine relationship. Since I have lived in this area my entire life, I have a desire for it to grow. I want it to grow in industry, economically, agriculturally and I want the education for our future at its peak point. Having a relationship with county and city officials is a must. I feel I have this in many ways with many of these members. I know I can count of them and hopefully they know they can certainly count on me. We can work together putting all people first.

5. My immediate goals are to continue to do what is needed to make Toombs County Schools great; to continue to listen with an open ear as well as an open mind; to stay focused on the issues at hand; to make sure that each student has what they need to achieve success, not only in their learning but their lives; to be consistent and dedicated to the faculty and staff because they are the true difference makers in our system.

6. I have served on the Toombs County Board of Education for the last six years. I have dedicated those years to the well-being and advancement of the system. I have been a part of many new and great things, such as the “New Pit”, the “New Sports Complex”, “New Board Offices, “New Bus Shop”, and an “Updated Ag Center.” I will strive to continue to move us forward so that our kids can have the very best start at the very best Schools.

continued from page

Rahn Milligan Toombs county Board of Education, District 3 Nonpartisan 1. I am a graduate of Toombs County High School that pursued higher education at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College and the University of Georgia where I obtained degrees from both institutions. Following graduation, I began a career with the Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Commission working to assist landowners as well as the general public on the protection, enhancement, and wise utilization of our natural resources throughout a 34 county area in southeast Georgia. I later transitioned into a position with the Pine Country Resource Conservation and Development Council, a nonprofit organization that seeks funding sources and implements programs throughout their 13-country area, whose mission is to work toward lifting the economy and enhancing the community for all inhabitants.

While I am proud of all the blessings that have been bestowed upon me throughout my educational and professional pursuits, I can think of no blessings greater than the family that I have been given. I am married to Whitney, and we have two wonderful children, Olivia and William.

2. Having two children just beginning to enter the schools system, coupled with my longstanding desire to see the Toombs County School System continue to grow and develop into one of the best academic systems in Georgia, I felt led to get involved and offer my assistance in guiding the system in this endeavor. I would like to help manage the system in way that enhances the educational environment for all students and staff, ensure that staff is provided with all the resources needed so as to enhance academic achievement, and work to make the Toombs County School System the school of choice within the county.

3. “Education” has always been a big component of my life. My father spent his entire career in agricultural education. My mother retired from the Toombs County School System’s finance department. I have two brothers, both of which have taught in public schools or continue to teach, as well as my wife. Throughout my career, I have been heavily involved in youth and adult education relating to federal and state laws, conservation, and water protection. I have managed regional offices and personnel, had fiduciary responsibilities associated with federal and state funding, and served in leadership roles in various organizations throughout the area. While all of these educational connections and experiences will prove very useful in my service and deliberations if given the opportunity to serve, I also think that my unwavering desire to see that my children, along with every other child in the system, be given the opportunity to get the best education possible will help guide and maintain my focus on what is truly important and why we are really here.

4. An education is considered the great equalizer. It is the one thing that no one can take from you, and it is something that can be built upon throughout your entire life. As a member of the Board of Education, I feel that my role above and beyond what is normally expected is to encourage dialogue with the community, industry, and government to identify ways to improve the educational offerings within the system, meet the needs of the changing world, and instill a desire to be lifelong learners into our students. I think it is important to create opportunities to gather insight and input from parents, faculty, and staff on ways to improve all facets of the school system. It is also important to utilize all resources available to enhance the educational experience for all students. To accomplish this, we must continue to engage with the public and private sectors on ways to provide more opportunities and exposure to available educational and professional options not commonly promoted. In doing this, we will be better able to assist students in identifying potential career paths and find success as they would define it.

5. If elected, I would like to see the system look at ways to enhance employee retention, focusing on succession planning, morale improvement, and new staff recruitment. I would also like the system to look at classroom size and develop a system-wide plan to reduce student-teacher ratio throughout the entire system. I would like to see what areas and ways the system could better provide resources to our staff so as to enhance academic achievement and reduce the outof- pocket expenses incurred throughout a school year.

6. Why should I be elected is a tough question that I really don’t know how to answer. What I do know is that I not only want to see every child that goes through the Toombs County School System get the best education possible, but also get an education that they would be proud of. I want to see every student find success in in life and develop a desire to help build and grow the community in which they live. I want to see a school system that provides the resources, staff, facilities, and opportunities necessary to reach those goals, and if the voters feel the same way, the only way that I can help guide the system in that direction is to be given the opportunity to serve through their vote of confidence.


Dr. Jim Paul Poole

John O’Conner

Debra Dobbins Gay

Fernando Rodriguez Pacheco

Mitchell Bellflower

Rahn Milligan

Recent Death Notices