News Column

5 runoffs to finalize ballots in 3 counties

July 13, 2014

By Leah Cayson, The Decatur Daily, Ala.

July 13--Morgan, Limestone and Lawrence voters go to the polls again Tuesday to settle final positions on Republican and Democratic tickets for November's general election.

While Morgan County will have a runoff for the license commissioner job that has been occupied by Sue Baker Roan since 1994, commission seats in all three counties also will have runoffs Tuesday.

In Morgan County's most contentious battle -- for license commissioner -- county school board member Carolyn Wallace faces license satellite office manager Sharon Maxwell in the Republican runoff.

Wallace said like or not, the license commissioner position is a political office, not just an office worker.

"She's not qualified to be license commissioner," Wallace said. "There's more to being a leader than being able to work behind the counter."

Wallace, 56, of Hartselle, said her budget knowledge makes her more qualified for the position.

"I do it for the office I work in," said Wallace, who is the executive officer of the Hartselle Beautification Association. "School board members have to deal with and approve budgets. ... I'm very well acclimated to making progress with budget cuts."

Maxwell, 55, of Priceville, worked 10 years in the license commissioner office and served as supervisor of the Hartselle office. Maxwell said her experience in the office helped her make it to the runoff.

"My position in the Lacey's Spring office and my position in the Hartselle office is supervisor, which is a leadership position," Maxwell said. "Before I worked for the license department, my husband and I owned a business."

Maxwell said their Madison-based business, Alabama Southern Mechanical Inc., gave her office management, business management and employee management skills. She said they sold the business because they were ready to and had a good offer.

The license commissioner position, which had six candidates in the Republican primary, has a six-year term that pays $79,500 annually. It is highly sought because of its pay and stability. There is no required training for the position.

The Republican winner will face Sonya Patterson, the lone Democrat, in the Nov. 4 general election.

There are other races.

Morgan County

County Commission District 2 incumbent Randy Vest, of Hartselle, faces Thomas "Tommy" Halbrooks, of Hartselle, in a Republican runoff. The winner will have no Democratic opponent in November. This job also is lucrative, paying $75,000 annually.

Halbrooks, 53, a production manager for a Huntsville-based defense contractor, said his management and accounting experience are tools needed for effective leadership, which he also said sets him apart from other candidates to make the runoff.

"I have 35 years of work experience with 18 of that in management," Halbrooks said. "I've managed people in multiple facilities. I have personally supervised anywhere from 40 to 160 employees directly."

Halbrooks said his experience with equipment also is valuable.

"Part of the county commission job is to maintain roads," Halbrooks said. "Any equipment we would need, I would have first-hand knowledge of the equipment. All of that, tied together with my business background, makes me qualified."

Halbrooks said his diverse experience and background would allow him to help recruit businesses to the county.

"Whether they want to talk hunting, fishing, primary metal, defense industry, I can speak to that with a level of expertise," Halbrooks said.

Vest, 55, said his goal from Day 1 has been to "make a difference in Morgan County," and he believes his track record has shown that to be the case.

Vest said in the three-plus years he has served, he has spent $2 million on road and bridge improvements, made numerous additions and enhancements to West Park and erected senior centers in Neel and Somerville.

If given another four years, he said, he will keep the same goals and follow the same pattern.

"When they look at our record and see what we've accomplished as commissioner and as a commission as a whole ... (it's) fiscal responsibility and putting Morgan County in good financial shape without cutting services to the public," Vest said.

He said his experience before being elected commissioner still makes him the most qualified candidate.

"I had 30 years of self-employment," he said. "I know how to put together a budget and maintain equipment. I owned my own business and then had eight years as a maintenance supervisor at an industrial coating facility in Huntsville, where I was in charge of the full operation of the facility."

Lawrence County

Lawrence County will have two Democratic commission runoffs. Longtime District 1 incumbent Mose Jones Jr. faces political newcomer Jesse Byrd. District 2 incumbent Prentis Davis faces Jeff Byars.

The winner of the District 1 runoff will face Republican Patrick Haney in the general election.

Jones has been a commissioner for almost three decades and became the first black commissioner since Reconstruction in 1986. Jones said he is what the county is looking for in a commissioner.

"They want someone who has experience and is truthful. I believe I've been that for them," Jones said.

The county's financial situation will be on many voters' minds. Commissioners have dealt with back-to-back lawsuits and bad audits. Along with this, the county will lose more than $400,000 in property tax because of the International Paper mill closure. Byrd said that if elected, he will need time to look over the accounting to work with the rest of the commissioners to see what needs to be fixed.

"There are some gaps that need to be closed. We have to replace the revenue we lost from the IP closure by bringing more industry to the county" Byrd said.

Davis said he was surprised that the District 2 race required a runoff. The winner will face Norman Pool in the general election. Davis defeated Byars in 2010. He is confident he will win because he believes the county is better now than four years ago.

"We're keeping a watch on our spending and doing the best we can with what we have," Davis said.

Byars is happy for a second chance against Davis. Byars has been knocking on doors to tell residents about his road improvement plans and how he will make commissioners more accountable.

"There are a lot of things that happened in the past that need to be addressed. We are handling the taxpayers' money, so we have to be accountable," Byars said.

Limestone County

Roads, county spending and experience are the issues in the County Commission District 3 Republican runoff between James Shannon and Stanley Hill.

The winner would replace outgoing Commissioner Gary Daly if there's not a write-in candidate for the general election.

Both said they are concerned with the condition of the roads in the district that covers Elkmont and Ardmore in northern Limestone County.

However, the candidates know money is limited. Funded by gas tax revenues, District 1's fiscal 2014 road budget is $515,085, but $366,387 is devoted to the county's match on the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Projects.

This leaves only $148,698 for road projects. The budget isn't likely to change for fiscal 2015.

Shannon said he can use connections he made with state officials in his two terms on the Limestone County school board to acquire more money.

Hill said he hasn't been in a position that requires lobbying state leaders, but it's something he believes he can do.

Leah Cayson can be reached at 256-340-2445 or Follow on Twitter">@DD_Leah.

Primary runoff election

When: Tuesday

Polls: Open 7 a.m.-7 p.m.


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