The Republican Party’s Meet and Greet last week for candidates on the primary ballot in District 2 turned out to be half of what was expected, with twice as much excitement.
The momentous evening Aug. 14 at the Crooked River Grill at St. James Bay Golf Resort opened with a bombshell announcement from William Snyder, who was vying for the Republican nomination to face off in November against incumbent county commissioner Cheryl Sanders.
In a statement read by Peggy Kight on his behalf, Snyder, 55, of 2332 Enabob Street, Lanark Village, said he was bowing out due to health issues. “I have not reached this decision lightly,” he wrote, before closing by stating he was throwing his support to Mark Nobles, 57, of 10-5 W Pine St., Lanark Village, Snyder’s challenger for the Republican nomination.
Nobles, who was absent due to his brother Tom’s need for immediate medical care, will now square off in November against Sanders, 58, of 4901 Jeff Sanders Road, Carrabelle, who does not face an opponent in next week’s Democratic primary. Sanders also was absent from the Meet and Greet, notifying moderator Liz Sisung that chronic knee problems prevented her attendance.
Supervisor of Elections Ida Elliott said Snyder sent a letter Friday notifying her of his decision. She said Snyder’s name will appear on the Aug. 26 primary ballot in District 2, but no matter how many votes he receives, Nobles will be the GOP nominee.
“We have to put up notices in all the precincts, and early voting sites, and absentee ballots for the district,” she said. “But the vote cast in this race will not change anything. Nobles has been nominated.”
Scant support for appointed superintendent
With no county commission politicking, the three-way, non-partisan school board race between three Carrabelle-area residents turned into the highlight of the night. Incumbent David Hinton, 78, 112 Hinton Street, and challengers Wilburn 'Ray' Messer, 55, 166 Sanborn Road, and Pamela Marshall, 56, 1989 River Bend Plantation Road, each took full advantage of their chance to reach out to the 50 or so voters on hand.
If one of the three earns a majority of the votes cast on Tuesday, they will be declared the winner. Otherwise the top two candidates will square off in the Nov. 4 general election.
With Marshall flanked by the two men on either side of her, the three began with an introduction, as former Carrabelle city commissioner Cal Allen kept tally of their time.
Messer talked about his family roots here, and said he has worked for the Department of Corrections for 17 years, rising to the rank of captain, where he oversees a large group of staffers under him.
“The biggest reason I’m running is them five grandchildren,” he said. “We have a D school. Y'all have as big an investment as I do. If we keep failing, their education is going to lack.”
He said this is the third time he has run for school board. “I have a reason for running, I don’t see it getting better,” he said. “It takes more than one person to change anything and as far as trying to change it, it will take a leader. We can all lead a horse to water but I can make him drink.”
In her intro, Marshall mentioned her husband Mike, a Carrabelle businessman, and told of how she had retired from teaching here after more than three decades in the classroom.
“I’m not a politician but I feel like 32 years teaching qualifies me to run for this position,” she said. “I will listen to concerns of parents. You have entrusted me for 32 years with your greatest gift, your children, and now I’m asking you to entrust me with their future, their school.”
Hinton, who is retired from the Air Force as well as a second career teaching at Carrabelle High School, said his wife’s surgery and subsequent radiation treatments has prevented him from doing as much campaigning as in previous elections.
“I haven’t been knocking on your doors,” he said, noting this was the fifth time he’d run for office, after deciding 14 years ago the school board needed an educator on it.
Hinton cited two accomplishments in his opening statement - helping to draft the code of conduct and to implement a school-wide free lunch program.
“Discipline is always a concern of people in this community,” he said. “We revised the code of conduct to give a method of discipline that would be something we would know would happen if a child did certain things.”
He said he pushed for the free lunch program, “without costing taxpayers a dime and without taking money out of our operating budget.
“A lot of kids did not have money to pay for lunches, and they’d come to me often and ask for a loan so I could buy lunch,” Hinton said. “I want every kid to have a free lunch, (because there have been) a lot of kids who were eligible for free lunches but they would not apply for it. If everyone got a free lunch, there’s no stigma.”
On the next question, whether they supported the upcoming Nov. 4 countywide referendum to switch to an appointed, rather than elected, superintendent, none of the three candidates gave it their complete backing.
“That’s up to the voters, that’s up to y'all,” said Messer. “Me, I’m against it. I don’t think you should appoint anything. Who’s going to be over them, the five board members? You’re defeating the purpose and it’s taking a right away from us. I’m dead set against it, but if voters vote it in, I’ll do whatever you want.”
Marshall said she had reservations about the current minimal standards for an elected superintendent.
“I believe we have the right to elect our leaders, in Florida, and that’s really big,” she said. “My only problem is with electing a superintendent, you have to be a resident and 18 years old, and that scares me. I think if we’re going to elect our superintendent, then qualifications have to be raised.
“If it's appointed, we’ll get people who will have to have a master’s or PhD. You won’t have nepotism,” Marshall said. “I really believe in electing the superintendent. I believe in ‘We the People.’ I think our standard for superintendent needs to be up.”
Hinton said he spent three years in the military in Vietnam, fighting for American principles such as the right to vote. “The vote is the most important privilege you have. I don’t want to give up voting for anything,” he said.
He said the district’s financial situation defines its options. “We don’t have the money to hire a first-class superintendent,” he said. “It’s just like a football coach in a small school like we have. We don’t have funds to pay a first-class football coach. As soon as a coach makes a name for himself, he goes off to a school for higher pay.
“I’ve been here 35 years and I can’t remember us having a superintendent who was not qualified,” Hinton said. “I worked for two superintendents and both of them have done OK work. They don’t always do what you believe in, but they’re OK. I’m not against it (appointing). If you vote for it, I’ll support it.”
Disciple, vocational training discussed
The candidates fielded several written questions, and in doing so, each stressed the particular issues that are driving them.
“The goal should be to get better every year; everybody in the faculty should have a goal, to raise the grade every year,” said Messer. “We got people working in the school system, making big dollars, that’s doing nothing. I’m not talking about cutting jobs, I’m talking about putting people to work who aren’t doing nothing. We’re just spending way too much money on nothing.”
He was critical of the schools hosting an open house during working hours, rather than in the evening, and of school board members not taking an active part in the schools. “It should be a requirement that school board members should be in that school. You can’t be a leader if you don’t know what you’re leading,” he said.
Messer also urged outreach to parents, even when it seems fruitless. “You just keep on and keep on until you win some more of them over,” he said.
Marshall said one of the biggest goals for the district should be to raise its grade, and contrasted the traditional school, which received a D, and the ABC School, which has gotten an A.
“There’s a big difference between the charter school and the (traditional) school,” she said. “We take everybody; it doesn’t matter what child it is. Our doors are open to everybody; we can’t just pick and choose who we want to come to our school.”
She stressed the importance of increasing the morale of the district’s teachers. “Teachers are our students’ most valuable resources. They should be supported and listened to by the school board. They work really, really hard and they just want to be appreciated a little bit,” she said. “I’ll listen to parents if elected. I want to hear from people. I want to know what decisions need to be made and your thoughts.”
Marshall said she’d like to see classes in art and music and drama at Franklin County High School. “We basically don’t have that in our schools anymore,” she said. “Some kids don’t play musical instruments and some kids love to sing. We also need more vocational classes. We don’t have marine mechanics in Franklin County. All this water and all these boats and no marine mechanics classes?”
Hinton said his goals for the district “is to be the best we can be. How do we do it? We have to continue to plan, and review and revise our plan every year.”
He said the problem with offering vocational training, beyond the current carpentry and culinary programs, is that the population is not large enough to support it, both in terms of available funding as well as the possibility of there being enough skilled jobs to absorb the students after they complete their certifications.
“We have teachers for everything the state requires us to have but we can’t go out and do extra things,” said Hinton, noting that in 1980 he had co-authored a marine science curriculum for Franklin County that was taught for 10 years, and led to Gulf Coast State College asked him to teach one of their classes.
Hinton pointed to several examples of highly successful graduates of the school system. “Our schools have the ability to produce students who want to learn,” he said. “We need to change the attitude of the parents in the community to push their children to learn.”
Hinton said the schools need to share publicly the accomplishments of their students, and he told of his personal effort to reward those students who never miss a day of school. He said he began a practice of offering $20 to any student who didn’t miss a day of school during the year, and that this gradually expanded into offering $200 to a student who had a perfect attendance record throughout their school career.
“I believe in recognizing kids and the teacher and those who do well in public, so everyone knows the good things that happen in school,” he said.
All three candidates stressed the importance of firm and consistent disciplinary policies, that do not favor one group over another. Each pointed to examples where disciplinary practices had fallen short, and each promised to uphold with fairness the district’s code of conduct.