LATIMER -- Candidates for Jackson County Supervisor District 4 at a political forum Monday night took county leaders to task, incumbent Troy Ross asked for rebuttal, and one candidate told the crowd he'd served time in prison.
The political forum was hosted in Latimer by the Civic Association and the hot topics were the cost of a new county jail, lack of oversight for the county's Singing River Health System finances and road work.
The three candidates -- Republican Ross, Democrat Sean Alawine and independent David J. Venus IV -- were allotted three minutes. Ross went first, but after Alawine and Venus spoke, he wanted time for a rebuttal. The association turned him down saying it didn't fit the format.
Venus, 57, a Coast businessman, started his three minutes explaining his past. Convicted in a 1983 FBI sting that involved others in his family, he told the audience, "I'm not a politician or a polished speaker. But I am honest. I was in the federal prison in my youth, did my time and came out a much, much smarter person."
He served roughly four years and was released in 1988. He told the Sun Herald after the forum that prison was hard on him -- he lost 70 pounds in the first nine months. When he was released, he said he married, worked hard, raised a family on the Coast and owned and has operated North Bay, a business on Lamey Bridge Road in D'Iberville, for 26 years.
His conviction came before a 1992 Mississippi constitutional amendment that prohibits people with federal felony convictions from holding public office.
He said what he learned in prison is part of his life experience.
"I'm using my life experience to help," he said, adding that's why he decided to run for office.
Moderator Cissy Jordan set the tone of the forum when she declared white-collar crime, corruption and a lack of stewardship with tax dollars are running rampant on the Coast. She encouraged the audience to attend public meetings and question their political leaders. About 80 attended.
Ross, 37, listed the accomplishments of his four years in office. He's seeking a second term and won all the precincts in the last Republican primary except Latimer.
During his talk, he listed improvements planned for the Latimer Community Center grounds, a better fire rating for the area and improved public electronic access planned for Board of Supervisor meeting action and documents.
He said the county cut spending by $2.5 million for the coming year, and he said two key road projects to St. Martin schools are coming -- Old Fort Bayou Road work and Washington Avenue intersection.
But some in the audience said later they felt that was overdue, given road improvements to Ocean Springs High School have already been completed.
Alawine, 24, who is working on his master's degree in history, said he not only wants the county hospital system to fully fund employee retirements, he also wants to find out what happened to the SRHS money that was supposed to go to retirement.
He assailed the Board of Supervisors for retreating into executive sessions instead of having dialogue with the public, and for supporting a George County lake project the Sierra Club on the Coast opposes because of the impact it could have on the Pascagoula River.
Alawine said, "They said they would investigate it, but I think the county should have investigated before they offered support."
Venus told the audience he'd talked with a man who lost someone to a traffic accident on the unimproved Old Fort Bayou Road and questioned why that project isn't a priority.
He said county supervisors should have been able to read a spreadsheet and keep better tabs on operations at the county hospital system and he questioned county hiring practices.
"We have appointments, people put in jobs" he said. "Are they qualified, or are they friends?"
Then he chastised the supervisors for changing the jail design to modular steel cell construction after spending $1 million on a brick-and-mortar design.