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Political candidates speak in public forum in Center

Center’s John D. Windham Civic Center was the venue for a political forum for candidates running for offices in Shelby County, plus the three candidates competing for votes in the 123rd Judicial District Judge’s race.
Shelby County Crimestoppers sponsored the Thursday, February 4 event. Gerald Huddleston was the Master of Ceremonies/Moderator, and David Hailey served as the Timekeeper, limiting each candidate’s speech to five minutes. There was no question-and-answer session at this forum, but most candidates declared themselves willing to remain after the formal meeting to meet with people and answer any questions.
The speeches began with the two candidates for Precinct 5 Constable. First at the podium was Robert Hairgrove from Buena Vista. Hairgrove graduated from high school in 2002, and began his career in law enforcement in 2004 as a Corrections Officer for Nacogdoches Sheriff’s Office. He went to the Police Academy at night, and then went to work for Nacogdoches PD. He moved away for a year and a half, then moved back and worked for the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department when Newton Johnson was Sheriff. He began working for Timpson PD in 2010. Hairgrove holds an Advanced Peace Officer license, with specialized training in Narcotics Detection, Organized Crime, and Crime Scene Investigations. “One thing I’d like to do,” said Hairgrove, “is to utilize technology which is not used properly,…such as Facebook and social media.”
Adam Renfro was the second candidate for the position of Precinct 5 Constable to speak. After thanking Crimestoppers for the opportunity to speak, Renfro began by outlining his law enforcement experience. “I began my law enforcement career in 2001 for the Nacogdoches Sheriff’s Department,” Renfro stated, “where I had various duties there – patrolled, a little investigation, narcotics. I’ve worked all kinds of cases: homicides, sexual assault, and numerous others.”
Of the two candidates for Precinct 4 Constable, only the incumbent, Bryan Gray was present, as Jake Metcalf was on duty at work. Gray informed the audience that he began his career in law enforcement in 2010 as Deputy Marshal in Tenaha. In 2012, he was elected to the Precinct 4 Constable’s office. “As Constable, I’ve performed all the duties of a Constable and then some,” Gray averred. “I have run my law enforcement offices and my campaigns with loyalty, integrity, and respect. That’s how I plan to continue running. One of my prize achievements is: I work extensively with the youth.” He related that he spends his lunch breaks often in the school cafeteria, opening milk cartons and ketchups for the little ones. That does two things. It brings security, and it gets them used to going to law enforcement for help.”
In the race for Precinct 3 Constable, the candidates are Scott Burkhalter, Roy Cheatwood, and Jimmy Wagstaff, who was not present to speak. Scott Burkhalter spoke first. “Some of the problems we have in Precinct 3 involve drugs,” Burkhalter stated. “We have a bad drug problem. A lot of methamphetamine is coming through…across the border and coming from Dallas. There are no law enforcement officers there 24 hours, that are able to stop it like they’re supposed to.” Burkhalter said that he had been in law enforcement for 11 years, with an Advance Peace officer license. “I’ve been on the streets the whole time, not in an office.” He feels that he is good at getting the drugs off the streets. Burkhalter also believes in police officer being a presence in the schools.
 Roy Cheatwood was the second candidate for Precinct 3 Constable to speak. He began by saying that he appreciated the forum and getting the opportunity to speak. Cheatwood then gave a history of his experience and qualifications for Precinct 3 Constable. “Before I went into law enforcement, I worked for my daddy-in-law in Shreveport, Louisiana, building homes,” Cheatwood began. “For 17 years, I worked there. In 1992, I went to work for the Logansport Police Department. I attended Bossier Parish Community College where I received my Peace Officer license with over 420 hours. He said he served as a deputy constable and as Deputy City Marshall for the City of Joaquin and feels that he is qualified for the office of Precinct 3 Constable.
Jamie Hagler, the incumbent, running unopposed for Precinct 2 Constable was not present. Zach Warr, incumbent, running unopposed for Precinct 1 Constable, was present, but declined to speak.
Two candidates are in the race for Precinct 3 County Commissioner – Charles Barr and the incumbent, Travis Rodgers. Barr spoke first. He introduced himself, and said that he and his brother Steve had been in the logging and timber business for about 35 years. Barr has also served as a teacher and coach in Center and in Joaquin. “From those things, I’ve learned to plan, to handle money, and I’ve had others work under me,” he said. “I think the most important thing is to listen. I have learned to listen…If you elect me, my promise is this: I will listen, and I will do my best for the citizens of Precinct 3.
Travis Rodgers, incumbent candidate for Precinct 3 County Commissioner, was next to speak. “This is not the first time I have been up before you not knowing what to say,” Rodgers shared. “I have been up four times before, asking people for their vote for Commissioner. When I first started, people told me they wanted a person who would be on the job each and every day, and be honest. I think I have done that.” Rodgers told the audience that the job is not just that of road commissioner, but it is commissioner for the county. Rodgers said that the commissioner needs to be an engineer and an operator. “I have never asked my men to do anything that I would not do myself, and I have done it all.”
Donnie Borders was the first speaker for the office of Precinct 1 Commissioner. Borders has served previously as Commissioner for Precinct 1. “I’ve held this position twice, eight years in all,” he said…”Roads are one things that Commissioners are over. But we’re also over the budget of the county. In the final analysis, everybody’s budget is set at Commissioners Court.” Borders stated that he had the experience and the education to do the job, and would like to do the job for four more years.
Roscoe McSwain, the incumbent candidate, next went to the podium to state his qualifications for Precinct 1 Commissioner. “I’ve been County Commissioner now for seven years, and I appreciate the opportunity to serve the people of Precinct 2 and the people of Shelby County as a whole,” McSwain began his talk. “I want to address something in a positive manner. Commissioners are judged on roads and the ability to keep roads constructed by the people out in the county. There’s a lot more to it, as Donnie talked about. First of all… I am very conservative…I won’t say that I wouldn’t raise your taxes, if it was something that had to be done to support law enforcement.” He stated that over 100 miles of road of 250 miles in Precinct 1 had been improved in seven years. Both candidates for Precinct 1 Commissioner agreed on the fact that there is a set budget each year for each precinct, and needs have to be prioritized.
Current Tax Assessor/Collector Debora Riley is running unopposed, but she chose to speak to introduce herself to the citizens. She had served in the office of the Tax Assessor before assuming the position she currently holds and will continue to do the job to the best of her ability.
Candidate for Shelby County District Attorney is Stephen Shires, who is running unopposed. He declined to make a speech, but said he would be available to answer any questions after the meeting.
Kenneth Florence and the incumbent, Gary Rholes, are running for Shelby County Attorney. Florence, who has served as District Attorney, spoke first. He stated that he wanted a change from the District Attorney’s office, to be able to try civil cases, as he had tried civil cases in the past. Florence said that the County Attorney works with Child Protective Services and advises Commissioners Court. “I’m proud of the record I’ve had in the DA’s office,” Florence stated. “We had quite a number of cases and trials, and I’ve filed appeals. Florence mentioned that Gary Rholes had been County Attorney since the 1980s, and his time might be coming to an end. “I feel like I am the new generation,” he said. Florence feels that he is fair, right and impartial and would conduct the office of County Attorney that way. He stated that he was not beholden to anyone.
Gary Rholes spoke next. He started by saying, “I graduated from Center High School, attended Panola College, Stephen F. Austin, and the University of Texas Law School…We [County Attorney’s office] advise Commissioners Court, we prosecute misdemeanors, and we represent CPS. Our children are the greatest assets that we have in this county. There is nothing more important than keeping these children from being abused and neglected.” Rholes serves on the board of Shelby County Child Advocacy Center. He said that Shelby County is fortunate to have this. Rholes feels that young people deserve a second chance if they make a mistake. “If you have a kid with a clean record that gets caught with a small amount of marijuana, well, I often allow them to do community service,” he said. “Keep that drug conviction off their record. They don’t realize, most of them, that that stays on their record for the rest of their lives, if they are convicted…I do believe, in certain circumstances, of second chances.”
For Sheriff of Shelby County, Ricky Allen is running against Willis Blackwell, incumbent. Ricky started his speech by relating, “I grew up in Timpson. I went to school there for 12 years…I went into law enforcement, first going to the Academy. For the first seven years, I was a trooper. The last 22 or so, I was in the narcotics service. I was stationed in Nacogdoches, beginning in 1985. I have worked at the Sheriff’s office – seven years for Newton [Johnson], and for Blackwell for about a year.” He said he would do his best if elected.
Willis Blackwell commended the Crimestoppers’ tips program for helping the Sheriff’s office recover thousands of dollars’ worth of property stolen over the past few years. Blackwell believes in educating the youth of the county in the reality of breaking the law. He said, “One of the top priorities in the Sheriff’s Office in the last three years has been the youth learning what’s going on, and what it’s like to be in jail. We have the schools coming in, bringing the students. We take them on a tour of the jail. We let them talk to the inmates in the back.” Blackwell feels this program is doing a lot of good. Prior to becoming Sheriff, Blackwell had served as Game Warden.
The office of 123rd Judicial District Judge has three candidates running – attorneys, Mike Parker and Leann Kay Rafferty, and incumbent District Judge Charles ‘Brick’ Dickerson. Mr. Dickerson spoke first.
Judge Dickerson shared that he was born in Panola County. He graduated from Carthage High School, and attended Panola College.
Then he went on to the University of Southwest Louisiana, Stephen F. Austin, and…law school. Mr. Dickerson worked and went to law school in Houston at night. He said, “I ran into the editor of Our Town Times in Timpson the other day. He told me that his grandfather, Chad Pate did, that his grandfather was Joe Rushing. I thought about that and then I said, ‘Well, you know, I knew Joe Rushing.’ ‘How did you know Joe Rushing?’ I knew Joe Rushing out at the Big H auto auction out on North Shepherd Drive in Houston, Texas when I was going to law school…For those of you who are veterans, I do have a DD214 on file for Honorable Discharge.” After law school Mr. Dickerson went to work for Bill Griffin in Center for a couple of years before becoming Panola County Attorney. He also worked as house counsel for an oil company in Shreveport.
Attorney Mike Parker was the second candidate to speak for the office of 123rd District Judge. He said that he was the son of a Baptist preacher. “I come from some pioneer families in Panola County who moved there in 1837 when Panola County was part of Shelby County…My daddy wanted me to get an education.” Parker went on to say that after high school, he went to work on an oilfield drilling rig at night, so he could go to school in the daytime. He got his degree and went to law school at Texas Tech. Parker explained the District Judge’s role: “The position of District Judge of the 123rd Judicial Court is essentially a presiding judge position. To a very great extent, that job involves presiding over the court in which criminal trials and civil trials are brought in Shelby County and Panola County. To do an adequate job and to provide the leadership that the job demands if it’s going to be done correctly, requires a great deal of qualifications and experience.” Parker then reviewed his experience, stating that he has worked every aspect of criminal cases. He is also board-certified as a Civil Trial Specialist and a member of the Board of American Trial Advocates. Parker emphasized that to be a member of the American Trial Advocates, an attorney had to have been the only lawyer or the main lawyer trying cases in court from beginning to end, before a judge and jury.
Leeann Rafferty was the third candidate speaking for the position of District Judge of the 123rd Judicial District. She began with family background: “As most of you know, I was born and raised in Joaquin, Texas. I live there now with my husband, Matthew, and my daughters, Lila Lawson and Ava Frances. My parents are Larry and Billie Jean Kay…” Rafferty assured the group that she was a “proud, sixth-generation resident of East Texas.” She attended Joaquin High School, Centenary College, and the University of Houston Law Center. Rafferty states that she is a “true Conservative and a real Republican.” After graduating from law school, she served as a briefing attorney for the 1st Court of Appeals. “There, I worked with nine justices in which we reviewed and authored opinions either affirming or reversing trial court judgments in criminal and civil matters,” she stated. “I’m the only candidate that has this experience in reviewing trial court judgments. This experience will serve me well as your district judge.”

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