Candidates for District 118 squared off on who was the most truthful and reliable Monday night during the first Ray McNair Community Forum, held at East Friendship Baptist Church.
Spencer Frye, who directs Athens Area Habitat for Humanity and who ran for mayor last year, and incumbent Keith Heard, who has served in the office for 20 years, discussed education, voting records and business development during the 30-minute debate. The two were often reprimanded by the moderator for going over time and several of their responses caused the audience to break out in applause or cry out in shock.
Frye stated that he was running because of decisions the Georgia Legislature had made about education. He referenced the Tax Credit Program for private schools, which allows citizens and corporations to donate money to a scholarship program for private school in exchange for a tax credit.
“I wouldn’t vote for a private school tax credit to the tune of $50 million at a time when our teachers are getting furloughed and our Pre-K budgets are getting cut,” Frye said. “When you take 20 days out of a pre-K’s school system, you not only damage the students’ ability to move on to the first grade, but you put an extra burden on the parents of these students. My kids go to school. I know what it’s like.”
Heard said that he had never voted to give money to private schools, and that he had always worked to improve education in Georgia.
“I have been endorsed by the GAE — Georgia Association of Educators and the Georgia Federation of Teachers,” Heard said. “If I was hurting education, I don’t think they would support me.”
Frye responded by saying that all incumbents were supported by the teachers’ organizations, including District 117 incumbent Doug McKillip — a statement which drew much reaction from the audience. Later, during the question and answer session, a teacher in the audience who did not identify herself questioned Frye’s information and said that McKillip had not been endrosed by any teaching organization in Athens.
The topic of public education led to a discussion on Frye’s past involvement with McKillip. A questioner in the audience accused Frye of misrepresenting his relationship with McKillip and of having has past business relations with him.
Frye said that he had never been in business with McKillip. When panelist and Flagpole contributor Blake Aued asked about nonprofit work that Frye and done with McKillip, Frye said he had worked briefly with McKillip on a project but had no ties to him.
“We created a program within Habitat called Renew Athens,” Frye said. “The opportunist that we now know as Doug McKillip showed up for one board meeting and we never heard from him again. He has no name and no affiliation with my good works in this community.”
Heard responded by asking how the $300,000 Frye had received for that project had been spent. Frye said that the money had been spent improving the communities near East Broad Street and recounted the high crime rate in the area as proof that the community needed assistance.
The candidates’ past voting records were also discussed at length during the forum. Frye said that Heard had voted with Republicans on some issues, such as SB31, which changed how companies like Georgia Power are able to charge customers for expansions and developments that they make to their facilities.
“These things, when you talk about picking about four or five votes on a 20-year career, I’m talking about picking out votes that talk about giving private schools tax credits at the expense of our public school system,” Frye said. “I’m talking about going along with the Republicans to raise your Georgia Power bill at a time when we are experiencing the worst economic downturn ever.”
Heard responded by saying that Frye was picking votes that were not his final vote in order to characterize his voting record, and that SB31 was not a Republican-sponsered bill.
“You will get billed either way, guys,” Heard said. “Either they will incur the bills and you will get the shock of a bigger bill or you will pay it along the way. Georgia Power is not going to eat that.”
During closing statements, both candidates encouraged voters to look at the other person’s record and judge which candidate was most dedicated to the community.
Frye said that those in attendence should let the candidate’s “actions speak,” and that he hoped they would look at who has been the most dedicated to the community.
“Obviously there’s been some attempts here to talk about my integrity in order to get reelected,” Frye said. “And I apologize for any misinformation that’s been brought to you today. What we need to see is who has been working in this community day after day after day.”
Heard also said he has worked as a volunteer in the community and would continue to serve Athens both in Atlanta and closer to home.
“When I’m not in Atlanta eight months, I’ll be here, running my business and raising a family,” Heard said. “I want to do those things that I’ve always done — look out for Athens-Clarke County.”