Due to the social distancing guidelines, we have converted our traditional AllOnGeorgia candidate video interviews into short questionnaires. Each candidate in the race was provided an identical questionnaire with the same deadline. (Questionnaires were emailed to the email address listed on the qualifying paperwork) Candidates were told their answers would be blank in the event that they did not respond. Answers were not edited in any way.
The Primary Election was moved to June 9th.
The last day to register to vote in the primary is May 11th.
Early voting begins May 18th.
To sign up to volunteer as a poll worker, click here.
Derrick Eckroat, Teresa Pope, and Gary Woods are vying to win the Republican nomination for a chance to be Chattooga County’s next Probate Judge. All 3 candidates completed the questionnaire.
What made you decide to run?
As a lifelong resident of Chattooga County, I feel serving as a probate judge affords me the opportunity to serve the great citizens of our county. Unfortunately, we all at some point will suffer loss in our families. I want to serve during these times and show compassionate kindness and support when people are dealing with loss.
What makes you qualified to be Probate Judge?
During my 15 years of banking experience, I have dealt with matters that relate to issues
handled by a probate judge. In that capacity, I dealt with settlements of estates, both
uncontested and contested. I have overseen accounts of minors and incapacitated adults when they were managed by the bank. These responsibilities dealt with the distribution of funds to the client as well as the satisfactions of any outstanding obligations.
While I am one of many running for a position that Judge Payne has held for decades shoes that will admittedly be hard to fill, I have a strong drive to learn, and I will perform the functions of probate judge fairly and justly and to the best of my ability. My maturity and my love for the people of this county, combined with my desire to help others and to learn, make me uniquely qualified to run for this office.
What are the duties of the Probate Judge?
Duties of a probate judge are provided by Georgia law. Some of these duties include
the probate of wills and administration of estates, issuance of marriage licenses and
weapon’s carry licenses; appointments of guardians and conservators for minors and
incapacitated adults; and serving as the election superintendent, among other duties.
In Georgia counties with populations above 96,000, probate judges are required to have at least seven years of experience practicing law, what will you plan to do if the law changes and all probate judges are required to have a law degree, would you step down and allow an election so someone with a law degree could run or would you continue to serve under being grandfathered in?
If the current law changes, I will follow whatever it dictates. In the meantime, I will do all I
can to become familiar with probate law. I do not believe having a law degree necessarily makes someone more qualified for this position. Judge Payne does not have a law degree and has done an excellent job for over 45 years.
What resources do you plan to utilize to learn and understand the law since you are not a lawyer?
I have been studying the probate code and the duties and responsibilities of the office of probate judge since I first started giving consideration to running for the office. There are law books available in the probate office and the courthouse library, as well as other resources that I have and will continue using to expand my knowledge of the laws needed to successfully perform the duties of probate judge. I will also attend the required continuing education courses, as well as any additional courses that I feel will benefit me and the citizens of Chattooga County.
The current probate judge has had an open door policy, how do you plan to make yourself accessible to the citizens of Chattooga County?
This will not change. In my work life I have always followed the practice of returning every call and e-mail the day I receive it and will continue this practice. One of the characteristics I admire most about Judge Payne is his availability to the public. He has served in the office of probate judge for over forty-five years and is widely respected because of his willingness to listen to and talk with anyone who has questions or issues. I will operate the office in the same way without giving legal advice; it would not be proper for me to be a judge and advise prospective litigants in cases that might come before me. I will be available at any time to serve the citizens of Chattooga County.
Do you plan to remain Election Superintendent or will you seek to put an Election Board in place?
If elected, this is something I will look into. The costs and benefits of our current election process versus and election board must be weighed, especially with the uncertainty of our economy and how it will look after the current Covid-19 crisis. All costs need to be considered and how it will affect our budget going forward. I want to do what is best for our county and I will not commit myself one way or the other until I have been elected and see first-hand what the best option is.
Should the probate judge, an elected official, continue to run the elections?
Without an election board, the current law requires a probate judge to be in charge of the election.
What ways will you seek to bring transparency and accuracy into the election process?
I believe transparency and accuracy in the election process is a necessity. It is my understanding that district meetings are held regularly with election personnel in order to discuss any issues and share best practices, with the goal of transparency and accuracy in elections. I will work closely with the Secretary of State’s election division and the Director of Elections to ensure that everything is being done to uphold the integrity of the election process.
Do you plan to have a more relaxed Court as has been the policy, or move to a more formal court setting?
If elected, I will evaluate the way Court is being run and any needed changes will be instituted. That being said, I believe Judge Payne’s methods of conducting Court have been effective over his more than 45 years of service and he has created a great road map to be followed.
Do you plan to get advice from Probate Judges in the area who have served multiple terms?
Definitely. I have already reached out to other probate judges in our area. It has always been my policy to develop a network of others to provide feedback and guidance to ensure I am successful in my job’s requirements.
Should a probate judge run partisan? Please explain.
As a judicial office, I do not feel that a probate judge should have to run on a partisan ticket. If elected, I will serve the citizens of Chattooga County unbiased and fairly.
How familiar are you with the technology currently used in the probate office, do you have any plans for updating the office?
I am a big believer in technology and do well when learning new systems. I will work with the technology currently being used in the probate office until I am proficient in using it. I think it is important to evaluate any technology that might be available to see what is most beneficial, however, it must also be economically feasible. The cost to benefit ratio would have to be considered in any changes to ensure adequate return on the investment.
If elected do you plan to keep the current staff?
Again, until I am elected and take office, I can’t give you an answer on this. At this time I do not see any changes being made. The office is currently staffed with a Chief Clerk, deputy clerk and one part-time employee.
Do you plan to have the clerks cross trained, if so how?
It is my understanding that currently each clerk has primary duties and are not familiar with the procedures and processes for all aspects of the offices. I think each employee should be cross trained to make the office run more efficiently. I would want to be trained in each area.
If elected, what three steps would you take to keep the county running smoothly in the areas of licenses, estate planning and other paperwork-oriented matters?
There is really only one step – do whatever is necessary to ensure that the office runs smoothly in all areas of responsibilities.
If elected, how do you envision your partnership with other community entities and stakeholders, for example, DFCS, juvenile court, the division of aging, family connections?
I will be available to work with each one of these community entities and
will work to have an open line of communication between the office of probate judge and
these offices while also balancing my duties as an impartial and unbiased decision
While estate matters are a large portion of the job, probate judges also issue 10-13s, decide competency, mental health, substance abuse, and guardianships issues: how will you make these decisions?
I am reminded of a story from the Old Testament; like Solomon I will pray for sound judgment. Many times decisions are made using common sense, determining how that decision will best fit each situation while being in accordance with the law. Proper paper work will have to be provided and each decision will be decided fairly and impartially. The decisions will be made based on what the law dictates and what the facts necessitate.
If there is a contested will, what will be your steps to resolve the matter?
These cases will be heard and resolved in accordance with the law and in a manner that is fair and without prejudice.
Why do you feel like you’re the best candidate for the job?
The office of probate judge belongs to the good people of Chattooga County, and if elected, I plan to honor the people by serving to the best of my ability. I come from a family with deep roots in the county, and I have a desire to serve the citizens of Chattooga County. I will strive to execute the duties of probate judge to the best of my ability by being prepared and learning every day.
Please feel free to include any additional biographical information below.
I am a life-long resident of Chattooga County. I am married to Suzanne Kellett Woods and have two children Aaron and Carlie Woods and a step-daughter Amanda Blair. I have two grandchildren Caleb and Catie Beth Blair and another little girl in our life Cierra Dunn. I currently work at Mount Vernon Mills where I have worked a total of 15 years. I have 15 years of banking experience with 6 of those being at Farmers and Merchants Bank and 6 at Bank of Chickamauga. I am a graduate of Shorter College with a degree in Business Administration. I am a member of Dry Valley Baptist Church where I teach the New Millennium Sunday school class and serve on the finance committee. I served on the Trion City Council and am a graduate of Leadership Chattooga and the North Georgia Economic Development Class.