The Greene County Executive Committee held a political forum on Thursday, April 7, 2022 in the gymnasium of the Robert H. Young Community Center (old Carver School). The forum was open to all candidates in the Democratic primary election on May 24, 2022 for local offices in Greene County. The candidates were given three minutes to introduce themselves and an additional ten minutes for questions.
Lorenzo French, Chair of the Greene County Democratic Executive Committee explained the purpose of the forum was to allow candidates to explain their platforms and reasons for running, as well as to answer questions from voters. French asked the audience to take note of those candidates who did not appear and ask them to be more accountable to the voters of Greene County.
The hotly contested race for Sheriff of Greene County drew the most attention. Three of the four candidates were present, only the incumbent sheriff, Jonathan “Joe” Benison, was not present and did not speak to his accomplishments in office or answer voter’s questions.
Jimmie Benison, candidate for sheriff explained his long career in law enforcement, including military service, previously working as a Greene County deputy sheriff and currently working for a Mental Health Law Enforcement program in Tuscaloosa.
Jimmie Benison said, “I will be a fulltime sheriff dedicated to law enforcement and safety. I will stand for transparency, accountability, dependability and honesty in my role as sheriff. I will appoint a panel, similar to the “racing commission” that we had to operate, regulate and monitor greyhound dog racing, to operate electronic bingo in the county.”
In answering questions, Benison said, “I am unfamiliar with the current rules that are being used by the sheriff to operate bingo but I feel that the panel I create will develop rules to make more funds available to Greene County government and agencies.”
In answer to a question about reducing crime, he said, “I am in favor of more after school programs and activities for youth; I plan to revitalize the junior deputies program we had in the past, which will help to bridge the gap between the community and the police.”
Hank McWhorter, another candidate for sheriff, said that he had 35 years of law enforcement experience, including ten years of service with the Greene County Sheriff’s Department.
“Based on the funds coming through Greene County’s electronic bingo establishments, we should have the best roads, best services, best hospital, best ambulance service, best education, a high school football stadium, and best recreational services of any county in Alabama. The money is there but it is not staying in the county to help people here. I will work to fix this.”
McWhorter suggested that Greene County residents get the public documents from IRS on the bingo charities, their 990 disclosure forms and others, to see what they are doing and how much they are paying their staff and what they are giving to Greene County. He also said there are bingo controlled “political action committees” (PAC’s), like Citizens for Lawful Government, which are trying to buy the election for the incumbent sheriff.
In a separate interview with this reporter, McWhorter said he feared for his life and that of his family because he was revealing the truth about the corruption of bingo in Greene County.
Beverly “Bev” Spencer, the third candidate for sheriff, challenging the incumbent said, “I was born in Greene County, lived here all of my life and plan to die here. I have no law enforcement experience but I have common sense and I know what the sheriff is supposed to do.”
“Greene County is not getting its fair share of bingo funds. I estimate $300 to $400 million dollars annually is flowing through bingo and Greene County gets $6 or $7 million a year out of this. We should be getting at least 10% or $30 million which could be used to help Greene County,” said Spencer.
“I will create an 8-member committee, 3 whites and 5 Blacks, to regulate and supervise bingo in Greene County; I will be the ninth vote to break a tie. This committee will change the rules and see if we can get every single person in Greene County a small check from bingo funds as well as fund the charities, agencies and government services,” said Spencer.
District Attorney Greg Griggers and his challenger Barrown Lankster, who has held the position in the past discussed their different approaches to the position of District Attorney for the 17th Judicial District, which includes Greene, Sumter and Marengo counties. Lankster said he would be more pro-active in working with educational programs for young people to prevent crime. Griggers touted various special courts he had created for mental health and juvenile crimes.
The program lasted for over three hours from 5:00 PM to after 8:30 PM and also heard from candidates for County Commission and School Board. We will cover those races in the six weeks ahead until the May 24th. Primary.
There was also a fiery keynote address by civil rights and voting rights activist Rev. Wendel Paris of Jackson, Mississippi. Paris is a native of Sumter County and played a major role in political activism in the Alabama Black Belt for many years. “All of us must vote in every election. We need to strive for 90% turnout in the Alabama Black Belt and we can win statewide elections. You must go out and vote because your vote can make a difference in your daily life, and if you don’t vote, please do not complain about the results,” said Paris.