Williston candidate forum sparks little debate

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By Mark Scohier

There was almost no debate among 22 political candidates Saturday at a political forum held at the Williston Community Center.
For three hours, a packed room listened to candidates running for eight different county seats explain why each was qualified to take office. Audience members were encouraged to ask questions during the forum, sponsored by the Williston Area AARP, though only a few took advantage of the opportunity, and questions were mostly asked of  sheriff’s candidates.
Chiefland’s Noel Desmond, Republican candidate for sheriff, said that, unlike two of his opponents, republicans Evan Sullivan and Bobby McCallum, he would not play favorites.
“I am not part of the good ‘ole boy system,” he said, explaining that the sheriff’s office is “permeated with nepotism” and is influenced by outside political interests.
Desmond said he would, if elected, work toward greater accountability while at the same time working to “streamline” operations.
A woman from the crowd later asked him why his platform didn’t include bringing in “outside” (federal prisoners) inmates to help the sheriff’s office bring in revenue.
Desmond said, despite numerous attempts, the sheriff’s office had not been forthcoming with data that would have allowed him to have an informed opinion on the matter.
Candidate McCallum, also responding to the question, said during his time working for the sheriff’s office, federal prisoners were housed in the county jail, which brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars. But that was until the economy dried up, he added.
Sullivan agreed, saying that supply and demand for the federal inmate program just wasn’t there anymore.
Sullivan, who, as part of his platform, at one point spoke about creating an inmate farm to help cut costs, was asked how he would manage a farm with a shrinking budget.
“This will have to start slow,” Sullivan said. But the labor is free, he said, and the land and equipment are available. The sheriff’s office currently pays $56 a day to house, clothe and feed each inmate. Might as well put them to work, he said.
Sheriff’s candidate Lee Sullivan, no party offiliation and candidate in the general election, said that Marion County, where he is employed in law enforcement, does use inmate farms, though he wouldn’t call the labor free.
“Somebody’s gotta’ watch those inmates,” he said.
“Well,” shouted someone from the back, “It works in New Jersey, and it works in Arizona.”
Evan Sullivan was also asked why, if he was currently “running” the sheriff’s department (based on earlier statements about the budget) so many bad decisions had been made at the sheriff’s office.
“Sometimes you get to drive the bus,” he said, “and sometimes you get to ride in the back,” explaining that as the “No. 2 guy” he had only been allowed to implement certain plans and had no say so on others.

Other candidates who spoke Saturday:

County Judge:
James T. Browning
Cyndee Munkittrick

Clerk of Court:
Danny J. Shipp
Wilbur F. Dean

County Commission—district 1:
Jason Kennedy
John Meeks

County Commission—district 3:
Mike Joyner

School Superintendent:
Cindy Roach
Robert Hastings

School Board—district 2:
Avery Baker
Christopher Cowart
Sandra Worthington Hodge
Kyle Quincey
Marissa DeHaven

Supervisor of Elections:
Tammy Jones
Brooke Ward