Six Democrats will square off in a primary election this August to represent the southeast corner of Oktibbeha County.
District 5 Supervisor John Young, who is finishing his first term on the county’s governing board this year, is hoping to continue a 30-year run in local government after the Aug. 2 primary.
Here’s how the candidates shape up:
Rahman Ali, 63, has never held an elected office, but he knows his way around politics.
Whether watching his uncle, former District 5 Supervisor George Curry, as a young man or serving as chief steward in a large corporation, Ali learned to play the game.
“I’m quite aware and familiar with politics and how things could be done on a unified basis, not an individual basis. That’s why Oktibbeha has fallen behind communities such as Lowndes County,” Ali said. “I think I have the abilities to convince people with a sound, common-sense vision.”
Ali is retired from Gunite Corporation in Elkhart, Ind., but also spent time running his own painting and drywall business during several decades spent in Indiana and Illinois. The Starkville native said he returned two years ago after retiring and saw the county had gone downhill.
“We need to get all these main things in shape to advertise ourselves,” he said. “We need the tax base and companies to come here. We have a good workforce in a 50-mile radius. So the main thing is to get the roads in condition, bring the schools up to par and promote the hospital.”
Ali is a graduate of B.L. Moore High School and holds a degree in math and business from Coahoma Community College.
Sammie J. Beckum
Sammie Beckum, 61, has studied and worked across the Golden Triangle, but has always lived in District 5. That makes him the best choice for supervisor, he said.
Beckum has worked as a maintenance technician for Carrington Nursing Home for the past five years. Before that, he spent nine years at Weavexx and 10 years at Southwire. He also served three years in the Army and 18 years in the Army National Guard working on tanks as a wheel and track mechanic. And he spent nine years pastoring a church in the Montpelier community in Clay County.
The Moore High School graduate spent two years studying business management at Mary Holmes College and spent another two years at Ministerial Institute and College, both in West Point.
Beckum doesn’t have any political experience but believes his accessibility will make the difference.
“I’m approachable and I’m willing to listen to whatever problems people have within the county. I’ll do my best to resolve every issue that comes up,” he said. “I see things that need to get done and I feel like I can do it working with the people.”
Road maintenance — which is lacking in District 5, according to Beckum — is one of his priorities.
Shelia Lane, 52, also has no political experience, and she’s comfortable admitting that.
“I don’t know that I’m qualified (to be supervisor), but I’m willing to learn. I don’t know anything about being a supervisor, but if you put your mind to something, you can do anything you want to do,” she said.
Lane, a supervisor at JC Penny in Starkville who spent 17 years in production at Sara Lee Foods in West Point, moved to Oktibbeha County 11 years ago from Monroe County. Since then, she’s seen an inadequate job done on the roads, she said.
“I live in District 5 and I know what they (the road crew) do and don’t do. As a taxpayer, we should have better roads and better drainage,” she said. You come out and patch a road, it’s not going to hold up. They patched Williams Road, then two weeks later they had the same problem.”
Lane said the circumstances of each community in District 5 are not being considered.
“A lot of people in the Bethel community are truck drivers and the majority bring their trucks home. Build the roads right to handle that. And if a tree falls across the road, why cut it up and throw it in the ditch? Get rid of it. That causes drainage problems,” said Lane.
Keith Thompson, 43, acknowledges the importance of roads and taxes, but believes the top priorities in Oktibbeha County are the children.
Thompson has spent the last two years as gym supervisor at the Starkville Sportsplex. He worked for Southwire for eight years and spent five years managing a truck stop in West Point. But the job where he made the greatest impact, and which had the greatest impact on him, was his time facilitating the Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood program with Starkville schools.
“When I started with the school district, it opened my eyes and pointed me in the direction of trying to make a difference. This is just another opportunity, not to worry about roads and taxes, but to make a difference for our youth. We have to show them there are strong role models right here in Oktibbeha County,” he said.
Thompson believes he has the necessary tools to operate the county, which include a degree in public administration from the University of Mississippi and management at several levels.
“Most of my jobs, I’ve been in a supervisory position. Managing people and paperwork, looking for resources. I supervised a group home when I was first out of college. With Southwire, I ran the platform and supervised the workers. And I supervise a home with two bad kids,” he said. “It seems to come natural. I believe the Lord has prepared me for this.”
As supervisor, Thompson wants to bring a social worker’s mentality to the board. He sees himself being active in schools, working with law enforcement and reaching out to those in the prison system.
Joe L. Williams
Joe Williams, 59, believes Mississippi State University can carry Oktibbeha County to greater heights.
Williams — an educator with a bachelor’s degree from Jackson State University, and a master’s degree and an education specialist’s degree from MSU — believes the county hasn’t taken advantage of its greatest local resource.
“The primary issue is for us to support the various economic development activities associated with MSU, because we can’t leave the university out. We should include them in the decision making process. Without MSU, we don’t have a Starkville, and all our activities need to be centered around how those activities will accommodate the goals of MSU,” he said.
The former vice president of the Oktibbeha County Economic Development Authority has seen life from every angle in Oktibbeha. He grew up farming and picking cotton before working his way through college. He also spent three years in the Army and nine years working for MSU and said he isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty.
“I work well with my hands and my mind. I do farm work. I can operate a backhoe. And I see where our county needs to grow in different ways,” he said. “I think I can bring about constructive development. Not necessarily changes, because change isn’t always good.”
While fostering a more synergetic relationship with MSU, Williams said Oktibbeha does have to continue paving as many roads as possible, and said he can assist that effort through his grant writing experience.
John Young, 58, has been knee-deep in local government for the past 30 years.
In 1977, he began his time as a Starkville city employee with the police department. Three years later, he transitioned to an administrative position and has held several over the years. He was an assistant to the Chief Administrative Officer, a grant writer, personnel director, housing and rehabilitation officer, federal and state program project officer and worked in human resources. At various times, he’s been involved with emergency medical services, tax assessment, juvenile justice programs, liability insurance administration and grant facilitation over Community Development Block Grants.
He retired from the city in 2006.
Young graduated from Starkville High School before earning his bachelor’s degree
Jason Browne was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.