Oct 21 2006

Meth top issue in Marshall elections: Commission, sheriff candidates agree on priorities

Huntsville Times


Marshall County sheriff candidates Ed Teal and Scott Walls said the main issues facing the department are methamphetamine and a shortage of deputies to handle that and other problems.

County Commission chairman candidates Billy Cannon, the Republican incumbent, and James Hutcheson, a Democrat, said they agree that meth is the county's biggest problem and that it's a priority for them.

The offices of sheriff, commission chairman and county schools superintendent are among the races that will be on the Nov. 7 local ballot.

Teal, 59, is running on the Republican ticket against Walls, a Democrat. The incumbent, Mac Holcomb, decided not to run for a fourth term.

Teal, a 29-year deputy in the Sheriff's Department, said he promises he "will do everything possible" to curb the drug problem.

"There was a time in my youth growing up that Marshall County was a safe haven from the national plague of drugs," he said. "However, with the advent of designer drugs like crystal meth, which can be produced anywhere, Marshall County lost her innocence and we now face all the same problems as the large cities."

Walls, 47, has served as Guntersville's police chief for 10 years.

"Crystal meth is the major problem ... affecting the county," he said, "but we also must address the growing problems with sexual predators, identity theft, elder, child and spousal abuse and victim's rights."

Walls said more deputies are needed to provide faster response to emergencies.

"There are times when only one or two deputies are patrolling the entire county," he said.

Teal said more deputies are needed, but suggested that it ultimately depends on the commission's appropriation to the department.

"When the funds become available, I will add more road deputies," he said. "I realize the County Commission has limited funds to distribute. They are not like a city government which can pass taxes when they need more officers and equipment."

Cannon, 59, said meth is the county's No. 1 problem and one that will continue to be his top priority, if re-elected to a fourth four-year term. He said he has contacted U.S. Sens. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, and Jeff Sessions, R-Mobile, seeking grants to fight the drug.

"There are 54 bills involving meth that are already on the U.S. Senate docket," he said. "I expect to get all that is available for Marshall County through these grants to continue our fight against the enemy."

Hutcheson, a local businessman, promised to work with law enforcement and the state Legislature on the meth problem.

"This is something that's not solved overnight," he said. Meth "affects every family in the county."

Cannon said not only has his administration made progress toward eliminating the problem, his experience in managing the county's $23 million budget without a deficit proves that he should remain in office.

Former Gov. Fob James appointed Cannon to commission chairman in 1996 to help turn around a projected $200,000 county deficit that year after former Chairman Dean Strickland resigned with health problems.

"We have gone from being virtually bankrupt to being one of the most progressive, well-managed, growing counties in the state," he said. "We are in excellent financial condition ... and have done all we have without raising taxes."

Hutcheson, 59, said he believes that he's the right person for the office because of his business and management experience. That experience, he said, includes starting the Filtrex textile plant in Guntersville Industrial Park and the Seven Score water company at the old Monsanto plant, where he was a production supervisor for 10 years.

In the county schools superintendent race, the incumbent, Dr. Barry Kirkland, a Democrat, said his experience and understanding of finances set him apart from his Republican opponent, Tim Nabors.

"I've done more in the last four years with less money, less people and more accountability," he said. "I'm basically running on my record."

Kirkland, 41, who's seeking a second term, said the school system's biggest problem is its financial situation.

Over the last 30 years, the county's four largest towns pulled out of the county system and formed their own school systems.

"That left us with the lowest tax base supporting the largest school system in the county," he said.

Nabors, 45, the principal of Brindlee Mountain Middle School, said his 23 years of experience in education have prepared him for the superintendent's job.

"I've had the pleasure to teach every subject except math," he said.

As superintendent, Nabors said he plans to work closely with local and state officials and create a grant-writing team to seek any available money for the school system. He said he will also work with the county's other four school systems.

"I feel that having a peaceful co-existence among our five school systems is not only a good idea but is vital," he said.