During Tuesday’s Patriots of Liberty Tea Party hosted probate judge forum, candidates Jon Chase and Bill English discussed numerous issues facing Lee County’s probate court office, volleying back and forth, clarifying their positions and offering questions to one another.

Chase touted his experience as a business owner and parent, saying a law degree wasn’t a required qualification for office for probate judge save two counties. He said he’d rely on the “excellent staff” of the probate office to help with decisions of legality.

English said while his law degree was not a requirement of office, it helps him better understand some functions of his office, especially when considering the constitutional rights of citizens.

Chase charged English and the probate office of being behind the times, saying one of his first acts if elected would be making deeds and mortgages available online.

He questioned why his opponent, whom Chase quipped as “an IT guy,” hadn’t already made the records available online.

“We have to be competitive. In a society that people look to have the edge, people want to come to Lee County,” Chase said. “We have to make sure that we provide whatever we need to provide to anybody that wants to relocate in Lee County.”

English answered Chase, saying he had been “asked specifically” by a number of local professionals not to make the records available online and by some citizens who’ve asked not to have their mortgage put on the Internet for anyone to find.

“I do think those records should be available,” English said. “The legality of that is still an open question … whether or not it’s legal to put those records online without charging (a) fee is a question the Attorney General needs to answer.”

A question about quarry activity and continued damages to public and private property from said activities from the Tea Party members led to discussion about the quarry settlement negotiated by Lee County a few years ago.

“We filed a lawsuit against the quarry causing sinkhole damage in this county,” English said, referring to his service as a member of the negotiating commission that procured the settlement from the quarry.“…We’ve gotten more out of that settlement than had we won at trial. One of the rights we insisted on in settlement was the right to claim repairs from the alleged perpetrator, the quarry operator, for private property damage. Had we gone to court and won the lawsuit, we were not in the position to recover damages for private property owners.”

Chase said as a landowner he understands both sides of the issue, saying he wanted to make sure he heard the people’s voices before decisions about allowing quarries in were made.

“If it happens again, we will insure that the people of Lee County are taken care of, that whatever needs to be done can be done,” Chase said.

English rebutted. “Absent home rule, we don’t have ‘allow’ authority. …The placement of a quarry is not subject to the county commission.”

On the issue of home rule, or allowing more decisions to be made at the local level rather than in Montgomery, the candidates seemed split.

“On the issue of home rule, I’m 50 percent for it and 50 percent against it,” Chase said. “If we have an issue that needs to be addressed by our local citizens, that needs to have the attention of our local elected officials, we should have the right … we should have issues that are local issues. But what I will not stand for is another governing body that can impose taxes on our people.”

English said he was “100 percent for home rule.”

“I think local decisions are best made locally,” English said. “Our Constitution of 1901 was written to preserve  that power in Montgomery and not distribute it to the governments of the counties. We are created by the Legislature and we serve at their will and at their whim.”

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