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Candidates participate in probate judge forum

The LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce hosted a forum Tuesday between the two candidates for the Troup County Probate Judge seat — incumbent Debbie Wade and Leslie Jones.

The forum was broadcast on The LaGrange Daily News Facebook page.

Wade, the current probate judge, has 25 years’ experience with Troup County, with most of that time in the probate judge’s office.

She first served as chief clerk, then as associate probate judge, then probate judge. When former Probate Judge L. Gwen Prescott retired in 1999, Wade served as interim judge for 10 months. In May, she completed the Georgia Probate Court Judges’ Certificate Program.

Wade was named associate probate Judge in April 2017 and was sworn in as probate judge in June 2018 to fill the unexpired term of Judge Donald Boyd upon his retirement.

Jones has years of experience working with seniors and legacy planning through Southern Life Insurance Group. She also has several degrees, including a bachelor’s degree in political science, masters of arts in teaching from LaGrange College, an educational specialist degree in educational leadership from Columbus State University, and she is working on her doctorate in educational leadership at Auburn University.

During the forum, the two candidates were asked what they would like the public to understand about the probate court.

Wade said the public needs to understand that her office does more than just probate wills. She said the office handles guardianships, conservatorships, firearm permits, marriage licenses, firework permits and more.

“It’s a very big variety of things that we handle, and you have to have a broad base of knowledge,” Wade said. “It’s something that I feel like my years in office, I’ve done everything from the ground up. I know something about everything, and I’ve handled it all.”

Jones said she wasn’t going to reiterate the issues the offices handle but does know the probate judge needs a broad base of knowledge in aspects of legacy planning, estates and planning wills. She said that running a business would be a useful skill for a probate judge to have.

Jones said she’s operated her own business as a director at Southern Life Agency.

“I have that experience that I bring into the office to see if there’s any need for changes where we can be more effective,” she said. “I always think there are needs and room for improvement.”

Jones added she wouldn’t make any changes without a proper assessment of the office.

Both candidates said they were in favor of diversity training for their staff.

Wade said her office is already diverse and made up of several races.

“For all these years I have been here, we have dealt with people from numerous countries and numerous backgrounds,” she said. “We have had to sort of do sign language sometimes to help different people from other countries, but through these years, we have helped people from numerous, numerous countries and always seem to be able to help them.”

Wade said she believes more training is always a benefit.

“We want to be able to help every single person that walks in the door, no matter what race or what country,” she said. “We want to be helpful to everyone.”

Jones said she’d completed several diversity training programs as an educator, and her experience gained through that training would be an asset in the probate office.

“We need to understand the definition of diversity, and we need to understand our own biases and our own views when it comes to this type of discussion,” she said.

Jones said it’s also important to make sure those trainings are available, and that they are done each year.

“These discussions don’t stop, they continue every single year, and everybody needs to be on board with the latest training,” she said.

When it comes to the biggest challenges facing the office, Wade said it’s the fact the office has so much work to do and not sufficient personnel.

“That is the biggest problem and not having time to cross-train everybody the way they need to be cross-trained because we are so swamped with work,” Wade said.

Jones said she sees the office’s biggest problem is getting easy to understand information out to the public.

“I would work to make sure all the resources that the probate court has are simplified and available to the entire public, even those without internet access,” she said. “That’s going to take a lot of work from the probate court to organize and get to the community but is something I believe in because everybody deserves to find the knowledge they’re looking for.”

The two candidates were also asked about their strengths and weaknesses as a candidate.

Wade said her strength was her experience in office.

“I feel like that is hard to beat,” she said. “Education is great, but probate court experience is the best education that someone can have to do this job.”

As a weakness, Wade said she cares too much about the people in her office. She said it affects her when she sees families argue about money or children fighting about their parents.

Jones said her education is a strength because she is persistent and patient, and her ability to learn will be an asset.

“I’ve been persistent in my pursuit of knowledge through education, and through continuing education and I believe wholeheartedly in continuing the learning process throughout one’s lifetime,” she said.

She said she cares greatly for people as well, and watching families argue can weigh on her.

“I guess that could be seen as a weakness, but I view it as a strength, and I will take that with me to the probate court office,” Jones said.

Early voting is active at the Troup County Government Center through June 5, and the election is June 9.