The 2014 local election campaign season formally started Tuesday, when businesswoman and former educator Kia Chambers announced her candidacy for the lone at-large seat on the nine-member Muscogee County School Board.
More than 100 supporters and observers packed the Columbus Public Library auditorium for the announcement.
Among the gathering were four elected officials: state Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus; state Rep. Carolyn Hugley, D-Columbus; Muscogee County Tax Commissioner Lula Huff; and Columbus Municipal Court Clerk Vivian Creighton Bishop.
Chambers' campaign co-chairs also are prominent names: retired Columbus Technical College president Bob Jones and retired Blanchard Elementary principal Rochelle Jones. Stacy Faison is the campaign treasurer.
Chambers was a teacher and academic coach at Hannan Elementary School for 10 years before starting ERA Elite Ventures Realty with her husband, Travis, in 2006.
Travis twice has run unsuccessfully for public office. He lost in the 2012 Democratic primary to incumbent Debbie Buckner for the Georgia House District 137 seat. He also lost his bid for the Columbus Council Post 9 seat, one of two at-large positions on the 10-member council, which Judy Thomas won.
Kia Chambers also was a teacher candidate supervisor at Columbus State University for several years after leaving Hannan.
She said she would use three principles to decide how she votes on issues presented to the school board:
Is it best for the students?
Is it fair and equitable?
Is it fiscally responsible?
Chambers summed up the reasons she thinks residents should vote for her with another trio of points:
"Why me? Because I'm knowledgeable about what it takes to run a classroom, but I'm also knowledgeable about what it takes to run a business."
"Why now? Because we're living in a time of innovation, and I believe in innovative ideas."
"Why this seat? Because I believe this seat requires someone who believes in accountability and fiscal responsibility."
Campaign co-chair Bob Jones said Chambers would bring the right mix of experience to the board.
"Unfortunately at times, our board's issues will overshadow some of the good work that's going on within the system," he said. "So therefore, when that happens, you need people with good common sense."
Criminal defense attorney Stacey Jackson also spoke at the rally in favor of Chambers. They met 20 years ago while students at Albany State. Noting her campaign slogan "Kia for Kids," Jackson said Chambers exemplifies passion for education.
"We need a leader that puts kids first," he said, "not political agendas or personal agendas."
The at-large seat will be open on the school board because Cathy Williams has decided not to seek a third four-year term.
The Ledger-Enquirer reported March 27 that Williams announced her decision with a post on her Facebook page. And she insisted Tuesday she won't change her mind. She described it as a self-imposed term limit.
"I think eight years is long enough for anyone to be in a public seat," said Williams, president of NeighborWorks Columbus, which promotes and provides access to fit and affordable housing. "I think it's time for new blood. I don't think anyone should homestead a seat."
Williams said she won't endorse a candidate but will advise those who ask her for help.
"They can pick whatever little brain I have," she said with a laugh.
Williams also emphasized she isn't leaving the school board to run for another office -- at least for now.
"I might look at it down the road," she said. "I enjoy serving the public. But right now, it's best to concentrate on my work at NeighborWorks and increasing its impact on this community the next couple of years."
Chambers already has an opponent for the open seat. Although he hasn't publicly announced his candidacy, Mitchell Zamora has a campaign registration form on file with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission. His form, received Sept. 19, lists the Muscogee County School Board's at-large seat as the office he seeks.
Zamora confirmed his candidacy Tuesday. He is a background investigator for the U.S. government and a father of four. He lists himself as campaign chairman and his wife, Alison, as treasurer.
The other board seats up for election next year, with the incumbents in parentheses, are: District 2 (John Wells), District 4 (Naomi Buckner), District 6 (Mark Cantrell) and District 8 (Beth Harris). Those four board members weren't reached for comment Tuesday, so it's unclear whether they will seek re-election.
Regardless, predicted Williams, "I don't expect any seat to go unchallenged."
The state and local primaries, as well as the nonpartisan elections for offices such as mayor, Columbus Council and school board, are scheduled for July 15, but Muscogee County elections executive director Nancy Boren expects the Georgia Legislature to move those elections to the May 20 federal primary date.
If that happens, the qualifying period for candidates would move from the last week in April to March 3-7, Boren said.
Occupation: Real estate broker; started ERA Elite Ventures Realty with husband, Travis, in 2006; previous jobs include teacher for 10 years at Hannan Elementary and teacher candidate supervisor at Columbus State University.
Education: Specialist's degree in education, Troy State University, 1999; master's degree in education, Troy State University, 1997; bachelors's degree in biology (minor in chemistry), Albany State College, 1995; Hardaway High School graduate, 1990.
Experience (political, community): First time running for public office; Junior League's chairwoman elect for Partners In Education; volunteers with The Links Inc.; visits Youth Detention Center as a mentor; Historic Columbus Foundation board member; former board member of New Horizons and Miss Georgia Scholarship Pageant.
Family: Husband, Travis; three children, one at Albany State, one at Columbus High, one at Mathews Elementary; mother, Alice Brown Cole, 40-year educator, retired from Fort Benning schools.