It’s safe to say District 3 supervisor is the most sought-after position in Pike County.
When Chuck Lambert announced his retirement, 11 people — six Democrats and five Republicans — tossed their hats into the ring for the Aug. 6 primary, far more than any other local race. With such a crowded field, no one was able to garner 50 percent plus one vote, so there will be runoffs for both Democrat and Republican nominees on Tuesday. The winners of each will face off in the Nov. 5 general election.
Democrats Etta Batteaste Taplin and Pat Martin will compete Tuesday after Taplin received 48 percent of the vote and Martin 21 percent in the primary.
Republican Robert Accardo faces William “Rusty” McCulley after Accardo led the primary with 42 percent and McCulley got 21 percent.
District 3 is one of three Pike County supervisor races on the runoff ballot Tuesday.
District 2 incumbent Faye Hodges will go against Samuel Hall after Hodges led the Democratic primary with 39 percent of the vote and Hall took 28 percent in a field of four candidates.
The winner will face no further opposition.
In District 4, Republicans Jake Gazzo and Marlin Bass will compete in Tuesday’s runoff, with the winner replacing Luke Brewer, who didn’t seek re-election. On Aug. 6, Gazzo finished with 41 percent and Bass with 28 percent in a field of six candidates.
District 1 has already been resolved after incumbent Tazwell Bowsky won re-election in the Aug. 6 Democratic primary with just over 50 percent of the vote, defeating three other candidates. He faces no opposition in the November general election.
District 5 Democratic candidate Eddie Simmons avoided a runoff with 58 percent of the vote, defeating three other candidates. Simmons will face Republican Lee Fortenberry in November. The winner will replace Gary Honea, who is not seeking re-election.
Here’s a look at the District 3 candidates:
Pat Martin, 46, of McComb is a graduate of South Pike High School, a former county road department employee, and owner of Vision Foundation, a concrete finishing business.
Martin worked for the county road department from 2008 to 2018.
“A lot of people used to call me about a lot of complaints and stuff,” he said. “I usually give them my advice, direct them who to talk to. A lot of them tell me, ‘You’d make a good supervisor.’ I went from there.”
Martin said working for the county gave him firsthand knowledge of its needs.
“I see there’s a need to improve our roads, because no matter what kind of business wants to come, if you don’t have good roads, your business won’t want to come.”
He also would like to bring more effort into improving the economy and the schools.
“When companies come here, we need to sit down and talk with these businesses and see how they can help our community,” Martin said. “A lot come for cheap labor and Pike County should be beyond that now.”
Martin expressed qualms about promoting Pike County as a retirement community.
“A lot of people want McComb and Pike County as a retirement town, but we have too much attention now to be a retirement town, because when our grandkids graduate they leave and find opportunities somewhere else. Why not keep it here?”
While supervisors have no authority over local school systems, they do approve the districts’ annual funding requests.
“We need to try to fund our education system as fully as possible, and we’ve got to get involved, too, talk to superintendents, principals, teachers,” Martin suggested.
He said voters can depend on him if he’s elected.
“I’ve always tried to be honest, number one, be a man of your word, because if you make supervisor you can’t make promises to what you can do when you know you can’t do it,” he said.
If elected, he said he will be responsive to the needs of his constituents.
“We need to see how we can communicate more with the people, too, because actually it’s not about us, it’s about the needs of the people, and we need to hear the voice of the people,” Martin said.
“The loudest voice I ever hear is our roads. I talk to older people, younger people, middle-aged people. A lot of what I hear is, ‘When are you going to fix our roads? When are you going to fix our bridges?’ ”
n n n
Etta Taplin, 58, of the Felders Campground community east of Summit, is a North Pike school board member, member and past president of the Mississippi School Boards Association Board of Directors, and former chair of the Democratic Party, among many other affiliations.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and finance.
“I feel like Pike County is the best-kept secret in southwest Mississippi. I feel like southwest Mississippi is the best-kept secret in the state,” Taplin said.
“There is no reason we should not be growing.”
She said supervisors should engage in “strategic planning,” looking at where the county was 10 years ago, where it is now and what it should be in the future,
“We’ve been failing to connect the dots between education, business, government,” Taplin said.
She cited the need to four-lane Highway 24 as an example of why southwest Mississippi counties need to work together. Years ago the Mississippi Department of Transportation announced plans to four-lane 24 but never followed through.
Likewise, southwest Mississippi lacks jobs because the counties don’t work together, she said.
Taplin said she’s the right person for the supervisor position since she already understands government and has relationships on the local, state and federal levels.
“I understand tax levies and I understand the government,” she said. “I understand the job of supervisor is not just roads and bridges.”
Taplin is on the Mississippi Department of Education Licensure and Misconduct of Educations Commission and has served on the Governor’s Task Force for Public Finance and Procurements. She’s a former grant writer and has worked as a volunteer for March of Dimes, American Cancer Society, Pike County Mississippi Scholars, Pike County Miss Hospitality and Pike County Animal League Shelter.
“I’m proven,” Taplin said. “I’m not perfect, but I do know what I’m doing. I believe in the people of this county. I have a passion for the people of this county. I know that we can do better.”
Robert Accardo, 60, of Holmesville, grew up in St. Tammany Parish, La., in a family that ran an excavating business. He graduated from Southeastern Louisiana University and worked in real estate before retiring. He was elected Pike County District 3 election commissioner in 2008 and served two terms before stepping down.
Accardo said members of the community suggested he run for supervisor, and after praying about it and consulting his wife, he agreed.
“God did give me the life experience to do the job and the qualifications to do the job,” he said. “I’m retired, so I have the time.”
As election commissioner he was involved in making major advances for the county, he said.
“When I came into that office, that office was basically in the stone age. When I left office, that was a paperless office,” Accardo said.
During his tenure the county acquired electronic pollbooks that helped eliminate human errors in elections and saved the county money by requiring fewer personnel.
As supervisor, the major issue is economic development, “no question,” Accardo said.
“The things we want in Pike County, all 82 counties want, so it’s very competitive,” he said.
Pike County is a natural hub and a perfect location for warehousing, logistics, distribution, forestry, even manufacturing jobs, like the Kohler small engine plant that opened in Hattiesburg, Accardo said.
“We can create the environment that these business are looking for,” he said.
“We have Gateway Industrial Park. It is a huge asset, but infrastructure is lacking. We must pick up the ball and move it down the field and complete the infrastructure.”
He also believes Pike County should do more to capitalize on its role as a retirement community.
“I don’t think we’ve put enough emphasis on attracting retirees to Pike County,” Accardo said. “People are looking for that place in the country, and Pike County has that to offer.”
He cited Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center, golf courses and outdoor attractions. Accardo said St. Tammany Parish was transformed into one of the top growing-areas in the nation because of its success as a retirement community.
“We can be a retirement community but still be a dynamic community for young people,” he said.
Accardo said the board of supervisors needs to be transparent, accessible and listen to the needs of the citizens.
“I am the only candidate that has a lifetime experience in business as well as eight years in county government,” he said.
n n n
Rusty McCulley, 51, of the Friendship community, has a bachelor’s degree in agriculture and bioengineering from Mississippi State University and worked there as a research associate and instructor for 10 years.
He worked for Holmac Corp. in Bay Springs as a manufacturing engineering manager, then in 2008 started his own earth-moving business, Grade King Contracting, in Pike County.
“I’ve toyed with the idea (of running for supervisor) for quite some time, and basically my motivation is just to try to give back to this area,” McCulley said. “I’m from here. I chose to come back here to live. I know it at times can be a thankless job, but I think I have some skills to bring to the table.”
He said he has ideas that will make Pike County more attractive to prospective businesses.
“The main thing that would make a young person either want to come here or stay here is employment,” McCulley said. “Recruiting companies that have high-paying jobs is important.”
In particular, he wants to attract companies that will pay sufficient wages to make young people want to stay here.
While the economic development district is directly in charge of recruiting industry, “the mood is set by the board of supervisors. The board of supervisors is who sets the tone for industry looking to come into the area,” McCulley said.
As supervisor, McCulley said he will be a team player, not only when it comes to what’s best for District 3 but for the county as a whole.
He said he has seen friction between some supervisors in the past and hopes to avoid that.
“I want to try to have everybody a seat at the table and try to work together to make this area better,” McCulley said.
He said he has a unique set of skills that make him suitable for supervisor.
“I believe the combination of my educational experience and my background, I think I’m the most qualified candidate as far as the supervisor’s role is concerned,” McCulley said.
District 2 incumbent Faye Hodges, 61, has served eight years on the board of supervisors. She is office manager at Storehouse Church in McComb.
“I believe that my county supervisor experience and proven leadership ability make me the most qualified candidate to serve as District 2 supervisor,” Hodges said. “Since Pike County has three supervisors that are not seeking re-election, experience and proven leadership ability should be strongly considered. As supervisor, I have worked well with my fellow board members and have worked to implement policies that strengthen and provide growth for our county.”
Her challenger, Samuel Hall, 58, is president and CEO of First Unity Federal Credit Union, president of the South Pike School Board, and board member of the Pike County Economic Development District and Mississippi School Boards Association.
“I have the experience, and the experience makes me better qualified to serve the people,” Hall said.
District 4 Republican candidate Marlin Bass, 63, is a longtime plumber from Summit.
“I’ll be dedicated to the job,” he said. “I know that’s a simple answer, but I’ll work hard and be dedicated to the job, and if you’ve got a problem I’ll listen to it.”
His opponent, Jake Gazzo, 45, is a regional human resources manager for AutoZone, teaches criminal justice at Southwest Mississippi Community College, and is a former Summit town councilman.
“I want to give back to my community, make it a better place,” Gazzo said. “I feel like my professional and political background will allow me to make Pike County an even better place to live.”