Two vie for probate judge slot

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Selma Times-Journal

The race for Dallas County Probate Judge remains one of the most hotly contested races in this year’s election.

Democrat Kim Ballard will face Republican Brock Wells in the Nov. 7 election in the race for the county’s top elected official.

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Probate Judge is a position that involves the “people’s business,” said Judge Johnny Jones, who will vacate the slot after more than 20 years in office. “There are so many people that walk in here, and they really just need help.”

Among the many things the probate office covers are estate proceedings, deeds, mortgages, and land condemnations. The judge of probate also handles adoptions, name changes, commitments, guardianships and conservatorships.

The probate judge supervises a staff of 12 to 15 people, including everyone in his office, and the staff that aids the Dallas County Commission.

Jones said the primary focus of the position is as chairman of the commission. Even still, “the chairman has only as much power as the county commission allows him to have,” Jones said.

Following is information on each candidate:

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,” Ballard said. “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.

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

He said the biggest challenges he sees addressing the county is the budgetary process, the crime issue 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 our resources together.”

He said he currently has a good working relationship with several key players – including Sen. Hank Sanders, Wayne Vardaman of the Economic Development Authority, and Mayor James Perkins Jr. “We have the same ideas of what it takes to recruit business,” he said. “There’s a lot of things in the pipelines … we have an excellent workforce.”

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.”

Ballard said he’d like to see more deputies on patrol, and look at programs that teach awareness, eliminate blight areas and provide more lighting in public areas.

“It won’t stop crime, but we will shine a light on it,” he said.

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 pointed to the county’s infrastructure and quality of life issues that residents want and need, such as more restaurants and entertainment options, as well as safe roads and bridges.

Ballard said he believes the infrastructure will come when the economic development and crime issues are resolved.

He also pointed to the college programs that target specific areas of education as helping to supply the workforce needed. He added that we have to provide jobs for those students so that they can stay in the area, or return after they attend other colleges.

“We will lose that resource if we don’t work on it,” he said. “That’s the greatest resource we’ve got – our kids.”

Brock Wells

Brock Wells is proud of the fact he has “no coat tails and no cronies,” and considers himself a team player who could help pull the county and city together to accomplish great things for the community.

A retired colonel with 30 years in the military, Wells considers his time serving in the military as great training for the work that has to be done in this area.

“My biggest challenge here in Dallas County is that somehow we’re going to have to pull all of our political assets together,” he said. “If I’m elected, probably the first thing I’ll do is walk across the street to the mayor’s office.”

One thing Wells would like to accomplish as probate judge is to clean up the Dallas County Courthouse – by maintaining the facility, but also by modernizing it.

“Right now, you can’t e-mail the probate judge,” he said. “That’s a way of communication. You have to be able to communication with other people in the state.”

Wells said the county needs “educated people in key positions,” and pointed out that he was sent to obtain a degree in aviation management from Troy University while in the military.

“I think this is a very, very important job,” he said of the probate judge post. “People should take it seriously and they should know what they’re getting when they go to vote. It’s not about friendship. It’s about leadership.”

Wells has visited “every school in the city and county and talked to all the principals but three.” He said he believes the schools are all good schools and have good principals and teachers. However, “all the schools are old … it’s not what the students deserve in my opinion. Dallas County and Selma turn out kids who are going to have to compete outside the Black Belt.”

Wells said despite the shortcomings, there are success stories. “The schools are turning out good students. But we don’t have the technology in our schools that we should have,” he said. “The kids who succeed do so because they work real hard and their parents take a personal interest in them.”

He said the probate judge has to be willing to “go to all types of events,” including parades, ball games and churches where they are invited. “The people have to feel that they can trust you. And know that you’re going to deal with them with fairness and honesty.”

Wells said that in knocking on doors around the county, “people are telling me we need change.”

Wells also sees that a Republican “can do more for the area now because of who is in office,” he said.

Should Bob Riley be re-elected as governor, Wells said he’d be “beating at his door” to get things done for the Black Belt.

And as for the role of probate judge as chairman of the Dallas County Commission, Wells said that as a resident who lives out in the county, he understands those specific needs. “I think it’d be my obligation and responsibility to be out there in the county. See what’s going on and talk to people,” he said.

He said his reason for running for the office is “to give the voters of this county a choice.”