It was all about politics and public safety at Saturday's Fraternal Order of Police Candidates Forum in Columbus.
The aroma of coffee from a 7 a.m. pre-forum breakfast lingered at the FOP Lodge on Heiferhorn Way as the first two of 26 candidates took the stage.
Hoping to serve as Harris County sheriff, Dan Colberg and incumbent Mike Jolley told a room full of local law enforcement officers why each deserves the job and the support of the FOP.
Colberg, chief of police in Hamilton, emphasized his platform of community service through law enforcement and promised to introduce several programs, including a gang awareness and resistance program and a deputies in schools program. "I want to make this a proactive agency not a reactive agency," Colberg said.
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Jolley focused on growth within the county and competitive salaries in public safety. He stressed his experience in law enforcement in the office in which he's served four terms. "I love being the sheriff of Harris County," Jolley said.
The microphones were next passed to the candidates for Muscogee County sheriff, write-in candidate Mark LaJoye, former sheriff's deputy John Darr and incumbent Ralph Johnson. LaJoye, a 13-year veteran of the Columbus Police Department and a more than 30-year veteran of the United States Army, criticized the current leadership and the "good 'ol boy" system he claims exists under Johnson. "This time has come where the office of sheriff of Muscogee County must take bold, new initiatives such as forever doing away with the cronyism, the good 'ol boy system that currently exist under the current leadership," LaJoye said. "As your sheriff, I will implement a new system of fair promotions, not based on friendship or favoritism but solely on professional standards as well as ability."
As the third candidate to address the audience, Johnson countered LaJoye's opinions with a brief statement outlining his education and experience. Johnson was later asked if he felt the family of slain Columbus resident Kenneth Walker received a fair settlement. Calling the December 2003 shooting a "tragedy," the sheriff said he had always supported furnishing some type of financial assistance to Kayla Walker, the 8-year-old daughter of Kenneth and Cheryl Walker, to help fund her education.
If elected sheriff, John Darr said he'd focus on maintaining and running the jail and establishing a rapport with line officers.
Attorney Julia Fessenden Slater is challenging Chattahoochee Circuit District Attorney Gray Conger. Both were on hand to seek the FOP's support.
Incumbent Magistrate Jennifer B. Webb of Harris County spoke about the progress her office has made in the areas of video conferencing and issuing warrants. Her challenger, Dayna Solomon 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 each explained 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 while 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 recent accusations that he set low bonds for two men facing child molestation-related charges. The judge said he sets bond based on the likelihood the accused poses a danger to the community. Columbus attorney Stephen Hyles is running against Turner.
Muscogee County Superior Court Clerk Linda Pierce and challenger Reba Rae spoke next, followed by two of the three candidates for Columbus 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 4 are Harry Lange and Jim Kelly.
Barry "Skip" Henderson III will go up against Bert Coker in the November election for Columbus Council, District 10, an at-large post.
Joey Loudermilk was alone on the stage to ask the FOP to support in his candidacy for the Harris County Commission, District 4. He is running against Ben Reeves, who was not at the forum.
The final two candidates were Gary Allen and Clint Perkins. Allen is seeking re-election to Columbus Council, District 6.
Asked whether or not they're in favor of the proposed ordinance that would give the Public Safety Advisory Commission more power, both Perkins and Allen said they were not and did not think the city needed a citizen advisory board. It was just the answer FOP members wanted to hear.
"We absolutely oppose any changes to the citizens advisory committee as it stands now," said Randy Robertson, president of the Columbus chapter of the FOP. "It fits the purposes it needs. Columbus Police Department is without a doubt one of the most professional law enforcement agencies in the United States and to add another layer of punishment on officers who have already been exonerated through every bit of the process all the way from their sergeant possibly all the way up to the Department of Justice is preposterous and it's insane and we in the Fraternal Order of Police think it's unconstitutional."