One month ago, John Hayes and Ron Cross said their membership at the same church, Wesley United Methodist, should keep their race for Columbia County Commission chairman a clean one.
In a second and final candidate debate Thursday night at Lakeside High School, though, Hayes took the opportunity to question Cross directly about his personal background, including his education and business dealings.
"Mr. Cross, did you ever graduate from college, and if you did, what college was it and in what year did you graduate?" Hayes asked after the candidates were given the opportunity to quiz each other.
Cross responded by questioning the validity of Hayes' question.
"Is that germane to the chairmanship? Is that a requirement to run for this office?" Cross replied, before answering that he graduated from Anderson Junior College in 1962 and attended classes at Furman University but did not graduate.
Cross said he also attended engineering and trade school courses for mechanical design and worked in several construction and construction-related fields before beginning a successful construction business from which he retired before becoming commission chairman.
With his second and third questions, Hayes delved into Cross' business dealings.
"Have any of your companies ever been involved in civil or criminal litigation involving construction and or substandard construction work?" Hayes asked Cross.
"We played this game four years ago, didn't we?" Cross said to the audience before answering.
"You don't do 18 to 20 million dollars worth of business a year for 15 years without having some problems," he said, adding that he did not recall any criminal litigation involving his company. Cross said his companies had been involved in litigation as both a plaintiff and a defendant and that those cases were settled.
"I'm not going to apologize for that because if you are in business, you are going to run into these situations and it is a folly to think it is not going to happen," Cross said.
With his final question, Hayes asked Cross about a past land purchase and sale that was formerly the site of the Mally's restaurant on Washington Road in Richmond County. Hayes said that in the last transaction of the property, there was a zero dollar amount.
Hayes said an anonymous concerned resident asked him to ask Cross about the sale.
"Mr. Hayes, you must be really desperate," Cross said, drawing applause from the audience, before saying he purchased the land in trade and cash in 1999 and rented it out to Mally's before the restaurant moved downtown.
Later, Cross said he was approached by Augusta National Golf Club and a sale was agreed on in trade transaction.
"I would like you to explain what exactly you are getting at," Cross said.
"As I said, a concerned citizen asked me to look at that property and all I did was go to the (Augusta-Richmond County) Web site and I just wanted clarification," said Hayes, who would not elaborate on the matter during or after the debate.
Cross said Hayes could contact representatives of Augusta National if he wants further clarification.
"If this is all you have to say in your efforts to be chairman of the county commission, then that is really, really sad," Cross said.
Before Hayes' questions, Cross was given the opportunity to ask his opponent three questions, but he declined to do so.
Earlier in the debate, moderator Lee Muns posed several questions to the candidates, including some about impact fees and consolidation.
When asked whether he supports impact fees and whether the process to form a committee to study the fees was fair, Cross focused on the latter portion of the question and said the process conformed to state law. Hayes said he is still studying impact fees, which are a cost charged to developers based on new growth.
On the issue of consolidation, Cross said he still supports the idea. Hayes has campaigned against consolidation.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.