The six Republicans who are running to replace a retiring supervisor in Pike County’s District 4 come from a diverse set of backgrounds, but all have similar goals — better roads and bridges, more jobs and efficient management of the county’s business.
Voters will choose from among Greg Ballew, Marlin Bass, Val Deer, Jake Gazzo, Tommy McKenzie and Janie Wells on Tuesday. The top two vote-getters will advance to a likely Aug. 27 runoff unless someone in the crowded field can manage to receive at least 50 percent of the vote.
They’re seeking to replace two-term Supervisor Luke Brewer, a Republican who was elected in 2011 and is not seeking re-election.
Here’s a look at the candidates:
Ballew, who runs a local chain of convenience stores, said he gets a lot of insight about the county just from going to work.
“I was born and raised here. I’m 62 years old. Pike County, to me, in my eyes, is slowly fading,” he said.
Ballew said that’s unfortunate, given what all the area has to offer, noting amenities such as the Bogue Chitto River, Percy Quin State Park and Gateway Industrial Park.
The county’s fortune can only change with better jobs, better education and a bolstered tax base, he said.
“I’m not talking about retail jobs or fast food jobs,” he said. “I’m talking about substantial jobs.”
Ballew said his background as a business owner has given him adequate experience to serve on the board, both in terms of a personal and managerial standpoint.
“Being in the type of business I’m in, I know everybody,” he said, highlighting his ability to “cross ethnic lines” as a key attribute.
Ballew said county officials need to make sure they’re using available resources in ways that helps them work smarter and not harder. He pointed to a pothole on Martin Road as one example, noting that it started small but grew bigger after being ignored.
“Within a month it grew to three feet. My theory was, why didn’t they come fix it when it was six inches to a foot and you would have cut your expense?” he said. “I think it’s the management and being wise of how we utilize the equipment we do have.”
Asked about other issues facing the county, Ballew said that’s mostly going to be a learning experience for him or whoever else gets elected.
“As far as what’s going on the board, it’s going to be a whole new world for me,” he said.
Leaning on his experience and connections made as a business owner and lifelong resident, Bass said he’s running for the seat as a way to serve Pike County.
“This is something I’ve been thinking about as long time. It’s not something I just jumped into,” he said. “The people of Pike County have given me everything all of my life. They raised me. They raised my kids.”
Bass, 63, a longtime plumber from Summit, acknowledges the government and political experience of some of the other candidates running, but he doesn’t see that as a big advantage for them.
“I’m not a politician,” he said. “I know how to work. I know how to work hard. I’m good with people, pretty good with finances. I ran a business for 25 years.”
Asked about the most pressing need facing the county, Bass gave a one-word response — “unity.”
Bass said that if elected, he hopes to promote an amicable relationship among the supervisors. Like other candidates, he’s been attending recent supervisors meetings and noted, “It gets a little heated every now and then.”
The meetings have also allowed Bass to get a feel for the job and insight on the issues facing the county. He’s heard pitches for more financial support for things like mental health services and a domestic violence shelter and said he hopes the county can afford to contribute.
And Bass said he’d work hard to improve evergreen needs of the county — more economic development and more infrastructure improvements.
Deer said his experience as a business owner whose job has landed him big projects all over the world is just one of the attributes he has to bring to the board room table.
Deer, who owns a company that makes thatched roofs for beach resorts and the homes of the rich and famous, said his main focus for Pike County is the economy.
“I want to better our district, to do improvements. I want to bring jobs to our area and I know how to do that,” he said.
Deer holds a seat on the Pike County Economic Development District board and said most people think of the county supervisor as the person to complain to about potholes. But he said there’s “a little more to being a supervisor than roads and bridges.”
Deer said he sees the job as a manager and promoter for the area as well. “Go out and look for industry but also implement ways to attract tourists and become a destination place and not just a pass-through,” he said.
Deer said his business background has not only included managing multiple projects at once but working well with others — a requirement he sees as crucial for anyone who wants to serve on the five-member board of supervisors.
“My business background plays a huge role and one of the very important key factors of being a supervisor is that I have learned and I know how to work with many cultures, people from all walks of life — all people, all races,” he said.
Deer said that if elected he would mostly remain in Pike County and handle his globe-trotting business dealings remotely, as he does with many of his current projects.
“My business doesn’t really require me being away,” he said. “My business is a well-oiled machine. I’ve got work going on right now in Hawaii, British Virgin Islands, all over the place.”
Gazzo cites his experience in elected office and private sector management as his main qualifications for county supervisor.
“The biggest thing is to make a difference in Pike County and not only my family individually but for all of Pike County,” he said.
Gazzo said the county’s biggest needs are all related.
“You’re not going to be able to fix the existing infrastructure without the economic development,” he said.
Gazzo, 45, is a regional human resources manager for AutoZone and has received the company’s HR manager of the year award four times. He also teaches criminal justice at Southwest Mississippi Community College. He holds a master’s degree in criminal justice from Delta State University, a bachelor’s from the University of Southern Mississippi and an OSHA safety degree from SMCC.
Gazzo previously served a term on the Summit Town Council, an experience he says opened his eyes to responsibility of public service.
“I missed serving in public office. I think we made a valuable difference in Summit,” he said, listing accomplishments such as the construction of a new police station and wastewater treatment facility and the execution of a downtown revitalization project.
Gazzo said he believes the new Gateway Industrial Park and the county’s recent certification as an ACT Work Keys community will help further the mission of job recruitment.
“I think we need to continue talking up Pike County,” he said. “Pike County’s a place we call home and we want to raise our family in. I have a vested interest just like everybody else. ... We could have chosen to live anywhere, but we saw Pike County’s family values and I want to preserve it.”
McKenzie said his background as a civil engineer and former two-term McComb selectman are among his main qualifications.
As infrastructure issues dominate concerns among voters, McKenzie said his engineering background will be a huge asset to the county.
“I think that if I get seated at the board of supervisors table, you’re adding a professional consultant to make important decisions,” he said.
McKenzie, 52, who works for Clark Construction in McComb, said he typically manages $20 million to $30 million construction projects “with a lot of moving parts,” which is similar to managing county finances.
He said the county’s biggest need is to form a regional economic development coalition with neighboring counties, as has been done in other parts of the state with resounding success.
“If there’s one aspect missing it’s a unified voice — not only our local politicians but our local delegation in Jackson that we can all get behind,” he said. “A stronger Amite County benefits Pike County. A stronger Lincoln County benefits Pike County.”
McKenzie pointed to his past service on the McComb city board, his role as an elected city official in helping establish the Scenic Rivers Development Alliance and his service on a commission studying the possible economic benefits of a local oil play as activities that have proven his success in working in a group setting.
With three of the five current supervisors stepping down and the remaining incumbents facing challengers, McKenzie said he could comfortably — and immediately — step into a leadership role on the board if needed.
“I think that’s a huge attribute to me because I understand everything about how county government works,” he said. “There’s not as much of a learning curve for me.”
While other candidates note their experience in holding elected office, Wells said her five years working as a county employee gives her an intimate knowledge of the board of supervisors’ operations.
Wells, 55, worked for the county from 2012-17, handling a variety of matters related to accountancy, including payroll, accounts receivable, bank reconciliations and budget writing, in addition to other tasks such as human resources.
“I helped create the county budget every year,” Wells said. “I’ve seen firsthand how the county operates. I’m the only one who can say that because I’m the only one who has worked in county administration. After working there for five years, I have seen where some things could be changed.”
Wells said she’s seen what she considers to be “frivolous spending” in some departments but declined to name any specific department.
“I just see a lot of things that can be improved on,” she said.
External to county operations, Wells sees other areas of life here that could be improved, especially in the way of quality-of-life issues.
“My big thing is I have four children and they have no desire to live in Pike County because they have no jobs,” she said. “One of the goals I have is to work with economic development and have industry come in here. We need industrial-type jobs that are sustainable for families.”
Wells said she plans to encourage a spirit of cooperation among the four other members of the board if elected.
“I plan to vote on things to make the whole county better, not just my little 4th District,” she said. “You can’t have squabbling going on like other boards in the area.”
Wells also said infrastructure is a key concern and noted that her husband Bobby retired as a maintenance engineer with the Mississippi Department of Transportation after a lengthy career.
“Just being married to him for 32 years, I’ve learned a lot about maintaining roads,” she said.