Candidates Address Public in Forum
The Toombs County Republican Party recently gave candidates in municipal elections in Vidalia and Lyons a chance to address the public in a mediated forum held at Southeastern Technical College on Tuesday, October 10.
All current municipal races are nonpartisan; therefore, any and all candidates were invited to speak at the forum. Four candidates – Vidalia Board of Education Chairwoman Julee Torrance, Vidalia City Council at-Large Candidate Elizabeth Harvill, and Lyons City Council Ward 5 Candidates Drayton Oliver and Jency Jeffers – attended the event. The individuals were each given an uninterrupted five-minute period to introduce themselves before the audience was able to submit questions for the candidates. Candidates were allowed three minutes to answer each question.
Torrance, who faces Gerriell Craig in the Vidalia City Schools Board of Education at-Large seat race, began the forum with her introduction: “I’m Julie Torrance. I have lived in Vidalia for the last 32 years with my husband, Bill Torrance. We have two children; both of them live here now – Sarah Beck and her husband live right outside of town and our son Michael and his wife Sarah also live right outside of town. My daughter works for the Vidalia City School System, as I did for 24 years. I taught 7th grade science and have spent the last eight years on the Board of Education.
I was raised in Warner Robins by my mother and father who instilled in me a love for education, a love for people in general, and the faith that with hard work and dedication anything can happen in life. My mother was a second grade teacher until I hit the high school [age], when she moved to the high school to become the media specialist. I’m not sure if she was following me or if I was following her. My father was an accountant and later became the CEO of the Houston County Hospital. So, you can tell just by their resumes that they were very proud people of the educational system. They believed in public schools, as I do.
Public schools were founded right after our nation was founded with the intent to educate young people – make them mindful of what has happened in our history, make them mindful of each other, and make them able to support the community look that our founding fathers had in mind as they began this fine country that we live in. Those students that now come through Vidalia City Schools are just blessed students. Our school system has a fine crop of teachers and administrators. I could not be prouder of the work that they do every single day. In fact, [at our board meeting on October 10], I said to our superintendent and assistant superintendent that my biggest fear tonight would be misquoting something and under grading what they do because they do marvelous work every day.
You may have heard already that the state announced graduation rates [on October 10]. Our graduation rate is now at 92.6%; it is not 100%, but any time you have a system that has 100%, something is up and you need to start asking questions. Students have a lot to learn in this lifetime. Many of the larger systems are going toward the more socially-influenced educational levels that I cannot get behind. The importance of a very basic education – reading, reading comprehension, mathematical skills – cannot be underestimated by any means. Students that come out of our schools have a 62% chance of getting the HOPE [scholarship]. The HOPE Grant is a partial grant that the state gives to graduates who have taken rigorous courses in high school and maintained a high GPA. If you just know those facts, you know our graduates leave prepared; they are asked to do rigorous work at the high school level, but that work starts at the base level with the work they are asked to do in kindergarten, and flows all the way through to 12th grade.
There is no standalone school; there is no stand-alone school system. It is a community effort. You know, in this day and age, school safety is a big issue. Your Board of Education has worked hard in the last eight years to increase school safety, and I am very proud of where we are. In our [October 10] Board meeting, we approved an increase in the number of cameras on our school buses, and they have new technology that allows us to see the traffic coming and going – because, believe it or not, people still do not stop for those school buses. They will go right around them, and that in itself is a safety issue. But the cameras help us and so does technology.
Technology needs to remain improving every year. Last year, I asked our media specialists to provide us with a fiveyear rotation plan at each school, so that the high school could get new stuff – the next year, the middle school could get new stuff – so on and so forth. They have been working very hard on that plan. It is not complete yet; it takes a while to get it all together, but those ladies have put in an enormous amount of time to make sure that our students are aware and focused on what is coming in the future with technology. We all know that without that technology improvement, we cannot go forward in the future.
I hope that I have earned your confidence in the past and that I will continue to move forward and earn your confidence.”
During the questioning portion of the event, Torrance answered questions regarding school safety, the role of transgender individuals in sporting events, and critical race theory curriculum.
She shared that school safety had been a priority for the school system, as they had done all training and work possible to ensure that students are safe and secure during the school day. Torrance also explained that the Board desired to gain more school resource officers, but could not currently because of the officer shortage faced within the area for the police department.
When asked about the role of transgender individuals in sports and the possibility of critical race theory curriculum being taught during instruction, Torrance emphasized her conservative beliefs, stating she would not support transgender athletes competing in sports other than those affiliated with their biological gender from birth for the safety of all athletes involved, as she shared that she felt that having biological males and females in locker rooms designated for other genders was unsafe to other students’ wellbeing. She also shared that she does not believe critical race theory has a role in the classroom, and informed attendees that she would not support such curriculum.
Both candidates for the Lyons City Council Ward 5 race were present at the event. Drayton Oliver was the first to address the crowd.
“My name is Drayton Oliver. I am from Lyons, Georgia, and have lived there all of my adult life. I’ve been living there since 1982 – we farmed for a short time; my father farmed longer than I did, but we just couldn’t make it. Needless to say, I’ve lived in Lyons all of my life. I’m married to Lisa Oliver, and we have one child, Darby Oliver. She is a veterinarian and right now, she practices in Dunwoody, Georgia. We are very proud of her and what she has accomplished.
I want to run for City Council on different things. I am looking to run for beautification [of the city]. I’ve run for City Council before, and I think I had an agenda going in. This time, I’m not looking for an agenda. I want to be someone who is a liaison between city employees and City Council, and try to give back. I want to be able to speak, hear, and listen to the wants of the people, the things that they would like to see done – there are always things that go on that we just overlook as councilman or as mayor. I know I have been out and gone to every house that there is in my ward. I visited them if they were home; I’ve left my card. I’ve put a few signs out. So, I’ve gone out, and as I was meeting people, I heard some concerns of the citizens that I want to address at some time. There are some things that can’t be done, and I understand that.
I am looking forward to working and hopefully being a liaison between the people and the city employees.”
Oliver was immediately followed by his fellow candidate Jency Jeffers, who shared her history of involvement within the community.
“My name is Jency Jeffers. Thank you all for taking time out of your lives to come out tonight. Trish [Poole] and all of the Toombs County Republican Party – thank you all for putting this together and Southeastern Technical College for hosting this for us.
I am a Toombs County native – but, just like my dad, Byron, and my sister, Ty, I moved away after high school looking for something bigger and better. I’ve lived in Johnson Corner, Statesboro, Lawrenceville, Decatur, Atlanta – and out of all those places, my heart drew me back home here, to Lyons, Georgia.
My initial reason for coming home in 2015 was to help my dad run the family business, Lottie’s Pocket. Yes, that homemade ice cream and pulled pork place out in the country – I see your mouths watering right now. It has been a really enjoyable ride working with my dad in that industry. To give you a little bit more back story, once I returned to Toombs County, I lived out on my parents’ land in Johnson Corner for a couple of years. I was able to walk down to their house, have coffee with them in the mornings, [and] see all the stars at night, which was a really nice change of pace from that concrete jungle called Atlanta.
However, as much as I loved being out there in the peace and quiet, and just a hop, skip, and jump away from Mama and Daddy, there was something pulling me to move into the city so that I could help create and establish something and be a part of what Lyons is trying to become. Since 2018, I have been living right off of North Victory Drive – that was my Mema’s house.
My Mema was a mover and shaker in her own time. She was a member of the Ladies Auxiliary VFW Post 3563 of Lyons/ Vidalia, where she was the chaplain for 18 years; the American Legion Auxiliary Post 97, where she served as the secretary; and the women of Moose of Vidalia Chapter 1511, where she also served as the chaplain. My Papa – her husband, Bill Jeffers – served as our county commissioner from 19751978, and as vice chair in 1978. They both pursued opportunities to positively impact their communities.
I share this information to say [that] I know it is in my blood to publicly represent our community. Within a few months of moving into town, I was approached to join our Lyons Main Street Board and our zoning board. I did a little research and educated myself, and within minutes, I knew this is the type of thing that I moved to Lyons for. Shortly after joining the Lyons Main Street Board and passing my board of directors’ exam with flying colors, I was voted in as our secretary. Through Lyons Main Street, I was able to achieve my certificate for the Georgia Academy of Economic Development in the Spring of 2019, and in the Spring of 2022, I was selected as a CREATE (Cultivating Rural Entrepreneurs and Transforming Economies) Champion along with other business leaders in Lyons and Vidalia. Also, as a restaurant owner, I maintain my ServSafe Food Protection Manager certificate every five years.
However, being a City Council member is not about me and my family and my business. It’s about us, our families, our businesses, and our community. I hope my passion for investing in my hometown is apparent. Positively impacting our community has been one of the main missions since I returned home. As I raise my daughter in my Mema’s house, I realize how blessed I am to live in a supportive, tightknit community. If you’re looking for an honest, reliable, consistent advocate for Lyons Ward 5 – look no further. I will not just nod and smile; I will not just vote yes or no because the majority does; and I will not make a promise that I can’t keep. But I will smile and I will vote for the decision I believe is the best for the community, and I promise to keep an open mind, regardless of the topic or situation presented to the Council. I gladly and wholeheartedly commit myself to being the City Council member that Lyons Ward 5 deserves.”
There were no questions for either Lyons City Council Ward 5 candidate.
Elizabeth Harvill, who faces incumbent Vidalia City Councilman Bob Dixon in the At-Large seat election, was the last to address the audience.
“Good afternoon. I first would like to thank the Republican Party for hosting this tonight. I really feel like we should be having this on every street corner in every city across the area as we are campaigning because it is important to not only get out and vote, but it is important to have an informed voice.
Just a quick background on me: I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Arts. I graduated in 2004 from Georgia Southern University. With my diploma still wet, I accepted the position as Vidalia Area Convention & Visitors Bureau Director; I worked for them and the city for about six years. It was kind of then when I really fell in love with the city of Vidalia, and I was able to start volunteering in the city and really getting involved. In those six years, my primary capacity was to serve in economic development, and it was in that season that I saw the importance of communicating. One of the strategies that we had started in that time was when Zack Fowler would do the little ditty on the radio that ‘Company’s Coming,’ whenever we had big, giant groups that would be coming across Georgia and would be coming through Vidalia – these were things that we didn’t keep quiet. We got on the radio and talked about it. I think there is great opportunity as a city to better communicate some of these things.
It is important to me that we communicate both very clearly and very often. I think communication may be one of the strongest skill sets that I bring. I do have a Master’s Degree continued from page
from Troy State University in Public Administration after my Communications degree. I worked for about 15 years in the hospital and the healthcare system doing their communications following tourism communications, so I have a little bit of experience in that area. It is not intended to be a flex, but I did get multiple – dozens and dozens of – state and national awards in communications, so I know that I am able to build systems because I have done it. It is one of the things that I feel like I could bring to the city.
I know that it is difficult to represent the voice of 10,710 citizens of the city of Vidalia, but I think there’s ways to push/pull communications. I was once a two-time president of the Georgia Society for Healthcare Marketing and Public Relations, and one of the things that we did is we were a body of five who represented 147 healthcare systems across the state of Georgia – that’s a lot of information to pull in. So, we developed subcommittees – I think that is one of the opportunities we have within the city that we can develop those. These are things that I have done. Again, I think it builds a level of transparency and accountability that perhaps we need in the city.
I understand that it must be difficult to run a city – I understand that. But there have been things that I have been concerned with in the past four years. I was going to run in the 2019 election; however, my children were much smaller at that point. Now, there are things that I still see that are opportunities within the city.
We have not had financial [reports] in almost five months – I see that as problematic. I think there are opportunities in that. In the last report that I had, there were 11 police officers and 11 open positions for certified police officers within the city. We have a crime problem – we do. The only reason that we have two of those positions filled is because we hired two officers; we did have 13 open positions, but we hired those two officers fairly recently. I have heard countless times [about brown water]. I’m not impacted by brown water in the city of Vidalia, but I can throw a stone at the closest house [that is]. I know that it is a longterm problem, but I’d like to see a long-term solution to that. What does it look like in 20 years from now? I know that brown water is an issue; I have a kid that comes home from Sally D. Meadows Elementary School with a headache because he can’t drink the brown water while he’s at school, so I think that there’s lots of opportunities for change.
I have lots and lots of ideas. I’ve lived here forever. If you know me, you know I’m really energetic and ready to serve if you elect me to serve you.”
Harvill was asked the continued from page
most questions in questioning period, as she fielded inquiries on how to handle issues, such as crime, brown water, and lack of transparency. She explained that she does not have exact solutions for these issues, but believes that through communication and working together, the issues may be solved. She also shared that both she and her husband are small business owners who understand and champion the value of grants and other funding when attempting to complete projects.
The Toombs County Republican Party concluded the event with an open meet-and-greet, as candidates and attendees were able to mingle and further discuss any concerns and thoughts.