It was all about politics and public safety at this morning's Fraternal Order of Police Candidates Forum.
The smell of coffee from a 7 a.m. pre-forum breakfast lingered in the air of the FOP Lodge on Heiferhorn Way as the first two candidates began their presentations.
Looking to serve as Harris County Sheriff come November, Dan Colberg and incumbent Mike Jolley each asked for the support of the law enforcement community.
Colberg, already a deputy with the Harris County Sheriff's Office, focussed on his platform of community service through law enforcement and promised to introduce several programs, including a gang awareness and resistance program and deputies in schools program, into the community.
Jolley addressed issues of growth within the county and hot button topic of competitive salaries in public safety. He stressed his experience in law enforcement and within the office in which he has served four terms.
The microphones were next passed to the candidates for Muscogee County Sheriff, write-in candidate Mark LaJoye, former sheriff's office deputy John Darr and incumbent Ralph Johnson. LaJoye is a 13-year veteran of the Columbus Police Department and more than 30-year veteran of the United States Army. In his speech, he questioned the effectiveness of the current leadership and the use of the "good 'ol boy" system that he claims exists under Johnson.
As the third candidate to address the audience of mostly law enforcement officers, Johnson countered LaJoye's opinions with an explanation of his education and experience. Johnson was later asked if he felt the family of slain Columbus resident Kenneth Walker received fair compensation. Calling the December 2003 shooting a "tragedy" the sheriff said he had always been in favor of giving money to Kayla Walker, the 8-year-old daughter of Kenneth and Cheryl Walker, to help fund her education.
John Darr stressed responsibility and accountability in office. He said should he be elected mayor on Nov. 4, he'd focus much of his attention on the maintaining and running the jail and establishing a rapport with his line officers. He emphasized the importance of training and implementing innovative ideas.
Julia Fessenden Slater is challenging Chattahoochee Circuit District Attorney Gray Conger to his position. Both were on hand this morning seeking the FOP's support.
Harris County Magistrate Jennifer B. Webb spoke about the progress her office has made in the areas of video conferencing and warrant issuing. Her challenger, Dayna Soloman Willoughby said she wants to decrease the number of own recognizance bonds issued and bring "availability and accountability back to that office."
Alonza Whitaker and Gil McBride took the stage to explain why they wanted to be the next Chattahoochee Circuit Superior Court Judge. Whitaker cited his experience as a judge and attorney and his good working relationship with police officers.
McBride, also an attorney practicing in Columbus, said if elected he'll promote truth and fairness in the courtroom.
Muscogee County Municipal Court Judge Hayward Turner addressed claims that he recently set low bonds for two accused child molesters by saying he has always made it his responsibility to keep the community safe. Running against Turner is Columbus attorney Stephen Hyles.
Reba Rae took the stage with Muscogee County Superior Court Clerk Linda Pierce. Their appearances were followed by a meeting between two of the three candidates for Columbus City Council, District 8, Terry Yarbrough and incumbent C.E. "Red" McDaniel. Steve Miller did not attend the forum.
Running for the commission seat in Harris County's district four are Harry Lange and Jim Kelly. Kelly discussed the importance of providing law enforcement with good equipment. Lange and Kelly were both asked what they would do to encourage officers to stay and serve in Harris County.
Next up were the candidates for Columbus City Council, District 10. Incumbent Barry "Skip" Henderson III will go up against Bert Coker in the November election.
Joey Loudermilk was alone on the stage to ask the FOP for their support in his candidacy for the Harris County Commission, District four. He is running against Ben Reeves, who was at his child's soccer game.
The final two candidates to join in the forum were Gary Allen and Clint Perkins. Allen is seeking re-election to Columbus City Council, District six.
When asked whether about the recently proposed ordinance that would give the Public Safety Advisory Commission more power, both Perkins and Allen said they were not in favor of and the city does not need a citizen advisory board.