Probate vote on ballot in days

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Voters across Escambia County will decided who will be the county’s probate judge for the next term Tuesday by either returning the current judge or putting a new one in office. Current probate judge Emilie Mims is facing Doug Agerton in the upcoming election.

Mims has served five years in the position after having been appointed to fill the unexpired term of Rachel Agerton who retired after her re-election to the seat. Agerton has thrown his hat into the political arena hoping to fill his mother’s shoes in the position. The Atmore Advance has posed a trio of questions to each candidate to help voters in making a decision on the position. The questions and answers of each candidate are as follows:

What qualifies you for this office?

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Agerton: “For 30 years, I have worked in the timber and real estate business. This type of work requires you to have a knowledge of deeds, legal descriptions, plot maps, rights of way and the ability to deal with the public. All cases involving condemnation hearing and eminent domain have to be filed in the probate court. We need someone who has experience in the law and in the field. If you can’t locate the property in question, you can’t make a judgment on it. The probate judge is also the chief election official of the county. All of the voting districts – county commission and school board – are different. In 2014, some of our voting districts will be changed. We need someone who can read a map in this position to address any problems that may occur. I feel like my ability to deal with people in all aspects of this office – wills, property, mental health voting, recording –qualifies me for this office.”

Mims: “My life experiences, both professional and personal, qualify me for this office. I worked for 17 years as director of the Atmore Chamber of Commerce where I developed communication, administrative and computer skills. The operation of the probate office with its seven employees, licensing and recording functions is largely administrative, so these skills are serving me well. The other responsibilities of probate judge include presiding over the hearings of the probate court – a major portion of my job. Hearings include many family issues such as mental commitments, adoptions, guardianship and conservatorships. These are often family crisis situations. I am a good listener with a compassionate nature — attributes that serve the county’s residents well in these situations. Through years of community service on various boards, I have gained a sound knowledge of resources available. This coupled with over 1,100 hearings and 60 hours of probate law at the University of Alabama Law Institute qualify me for this job.”

What is the most challenging issue facing this position?

Agerton: “Mental health. Many of the state mental hospitals are closing. The funds to keep these hospitals running gets less every year.”

Mims: “The most challenging issue at this time is providing the appropriate mental health services to citizens in need. Searcy Hospital at Mt. Vernon, near Mobile, is scheduled to close on October 31. For the past six months, patients at Searcy have been released to families, or transferred to different facilities such as nursing homes or group homes. Mental health beds are limited as counties around us rely on the same inpatient services. The Alabama Department of Mental Health is working to provide additional and improved community based facilities to meet these needs. Escambia County has its share of mentally ill patients. I am always vigilant not only of the safety of the patient, but also the safety of our communities.”

What can you do to help overcome that challenge?

Agerton: “I will meet with the probate judges in counties all over the state to find out all I can about the hospitals that are still open. I plan to visit these hospitals and if I would not send my family member there, I will not send yours there. I will do all I can to make sure your family member is taken care of properly. Families need to know that their loved ones are being taken care of and treated with dignity during this time. I plan on attending all meetings that the state has concerning this issue.”

Mims: “This challenge is not one that will be easily overcome as the need for mental health services is increasing. Families are being stretched by a bad economy and drug abuse is increasing. Both of these are significant contributors to mental illness. Programs such as New Beginnings and Family Drug Court, as well as local churches, are helping but the challenges of serving the mentally ill and the search to find funding for treatment will always be with us.”

The election is set for Tuesday, Nov. 6 with polls open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. across Escambia County.