Candidates speak out

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 28, 2006

Three on ballot for Probate Judge slot in Democratic primary

By Tammy Leytham

The Selma Times-Journal

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The race for Dallas County Probate Judge is one of the most hotly contested in this election year primary.

Democrats Kim Ballard, Kobi Little and William Minor will face off in the June 6 primary, while Brock Wells is uncontested as the Republican Party candidate for the slot.

Following is a rundown of the candidates:

Kim Ballard

Kim Ballard is no newcomer to politics. He has been in elected office for 19 years, including his current stint as a member of the county commission.

“Experience always helps,” he said of the probate judge position. “I certainly have insights into all the issues – all the problems. And I’ve seen it from both sides of the fence as far as how government works.”

There’s a myriad of things that fall under the responsibility of the probate judge’s office, he said.

“I’ve dealt with mental health issues,” he said of his years as the Selma Baptist Hospital assistant administrator. Part of the probate judge’s responsibility is placing people in facilities and in the state of Alabama, there is limited inpatient space, so there is issues to be addressed in that area, he said.

In addition, Ballard said his experience on the county commission has prepared him to address some of the county issues and concerns.

Ballard said the biggest challenges he sees addressing the county is the budgetary process, the crime issues and economic recruitment. But all work in those areas would be counterproductive “if the city and county don’t work together,” he said. “We have to start using all our resources together – all get on the same side of the rock and push the rock the same way. It can be done.”

As to the crime issue, Ballard said “it’s the biggest problem in Dallas County and just about every other county in the state. It’s necessary we give the sheriff’s department the money they need.”

Officials have to start thinking outside the box, he said. “What have we done individually to stop it from happening? People need to be observant. We have to take precautions ourselves, and watch out for our neighbors.”

More deputies on patrol would be another area that could be looked at, he said, as well as teaching awareness, eliminating blight areas and providing more lighting.

“Bad guys don’t want to be seen,” he said. “And lighting is fairly cheap. That’s one of the things we can look at in some areas. It won’t stop crime, but we will shine a light on it.”

In the area of economic recruitment, Ballard said, “We’ve had a lot of new jobs added to Dallas County and Selma. That also requires allocating monies to do.”

He also pointed to the county’s infrastructure as one of the “quality of life” issues that residents want. “We have to keep the roads and bridges safe. People also want more good restaurants, and a theater.”

Ballard said he thinks those things will come if the economic development and crime issues are taken care of.

Kobi Little

Kobi Little has a vision for Dallas County, but admits that vision is not enough.

“I believe we need everyone pushing to move the community’s agenda forward,” Little said.

Whether addressing the county’s economic growth, education or other issues, he said he realizes it will take more than lip service to see progress. “It takes more than talk,” he said. “I’m committed. The first point is getting together.”

Little served as a senior advisor for Congressman Artur Davis, working as a liaison with 10 counties in the Black Belt. That experience working with those Black Belt counties and their elected leadership has given Little the experience he says he will need to bring elected officials together in Dallas County.

Little said he has questions about the county’s budget and expenditures. Two things he says he’d bring to the office are:

Sound fiscal accountability, and

Strategic management financial practices.

He said when elected Probate Judge, he’d hire a grant writer whose specific duty would be identifying needs and seeking funds. “That is a solid way to raise revenue,” he said.

In addition, Little said county government should be much more efficient for the public. He’d like to see citizens be able to pay their bills online, as well as making forms available for download.

“I’m serious about bringing technology to government,” he said.

Little gives the example of his campaign’s web site as an example for what he would do once in office.

“I’ve said that my campaign demonstrates how I’ll perform in office,” he said. Currently, supporters can make contributions to his campaign online.

Little said he’d also like to see a wireless Dallas County. “There’s no reason why this county can’t be wireless,” he said.

Addressing education, Little said it’s a “bedrock issue,” and that the community must get behind education. “We have to start a process that gets people to come to the table,” he said. “How do we develop a superior education system here? I’ve been in the schools … and madecontributions to scholarship funds.”

Little said that in dealing with all issues faced by the county, the rift between city and county government must be mended.

“It’s a people issue,” he said. “You have to get the buy-in of the people or a fundamental change is not going to come. It requires all of us to have a buy-in.”

Little said he looks forward to the opportunity that will be presented by the Probate Judge’s office. “I believe the fundamental part of the vision process belongs to all of us,” he said. “We help to create it and move it forward.”

He said part of the impasse with city and county government is leadership that is “set in its ways.”

“It’s historic, but I don’t think that means there always has to be friction,” he said. “I’ll work on bridging the gap. We’re all inter-related … it’s one of the things we did very well in the Congressional office. We got to see all of our efforts tied together.”

Bill Minor

Bill Minor believes it’s imperative that Dallas County and the cities of Selma and Valley Grande have a good working relationship. “If we don’t, industry is not going to come here,” he said. Having served on the Dallas County Board of Education, and served as that group’s chairman, Minor said he has the experience, and the personality, to sit down and talk with “anyone about industry.”

He offers an appeal to other candidates in the race for probate judge to “stop the mud-slinging” and “just run a clean race.”

Minor says he has no hidden agenda, but wants to see progress come to the area. “We have resources – all the things necessary to attract industry,” he said, pointing out the services provided at Craig Field, rails, the river and a good highway system in and out of the city. In addition, Minor said “we have a good workforce in Dallas County.”

He would like to see more incentives offered to businesses that would entice them to locate in Dallas County – but without breaking the bank.

“We need to find ways to mediate problems and controversies so business will move in here,” he said.

Minor and his wife have raised their children in Dallas County. Minor, who serves as principal at the Phoenix School, is especially proud of the fact that all four children have college degrees. “You can see we believe in education,” he said.

In fact, it’s through education that Minor believes we can help further develop a workforce by implementing programs that complement industry in the area. He’s proud of what’s been accomplished at the Phoenix School in curbing drop out rates and believes there are successful programs throughout Dallas County schools, and more that can be adopted.

As for the issue of public safety, Minor said he believes that while most areas are safe, there are specific sites or “crime pockets,” where drugs are bought and sold. And law enforcement are familiar with those areas. “It would be so easy to send our drug task force in, set up road blocks,” he said. “When drug dealers know you’re checking, they won’t come in there. And we keep sending the drug task force in there” until the drug dealers move on, he said.

It doesn’t have to involve overtime or extra expense, but it’s an area in which the county must be aggressive, he said. “If we don’t take a stand against crime, crime is going to take a stand against us,” he said.

Minor said he also believes there are resources available to the area for use in beautification projects. He said the Selma to Montgomery Trail is one example.

“That’s a federally funded trail,” he said. “We need to tap into those resources. There’s money available. Some progress is being made, but not enough. We could beautify that trail and it wouldn’t be a tremendous cost.”