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Meet the future: Candidates introduce themselves at a forum event

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A large number of candidates for various local elections had the opportunity to impress voters during a candidate forum on Friday afternoon.

The forum, organized by the Federated Republican Women of Nassau (FRWN) and held at Fernandina Beach Golf Club, drew eight candidates for seats representing Nassau County, including Janet Adkins, Stan Bethea, Kathy Knight Burns, John Drew, Curtis Gaus and Mitchell Keiter, Keving Lilly and Allan Reynolds. Present but not participating on the panel were John Ladson, candidate for county commissioner, District 3, and Kristi Simpkins, candidate for school board member, District 4.

In their opening statements, each candidate introduced themselves and told voters why they were running.

Superintendent of Schools

Burns
Burns

Dr. Kathy Knight Burns was born and raised in Nassau County. She graduated from Fernandina Beach High School in 1977. She has a master’s degree in primary education, a specialist degree in educational leadership and a doctorate in education.

Burns is the current Superintendent of Nassau County Schools and has served in the position for eight years.
In her opening statement, Burns touted Nassau School’s 91% graduation rate and the academically high-performing district with beginning teacher salaries now at $52,000.

“Learning is the number one priority in our school district,” Burns said. “We’re launching a new college enrollment program in two of our high schools, we’ve expanded vocational education opportunities, we added a 911 dispatch program this year, and last week we received a half-billion dollar grant to build a ​​to launch a construction program for our students.”

Burns addressed school safety, highlighting collaboration with the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office and the need for improved behavioral and mental health supports within schools, citing an increase in problems among students and families.

Burns created a land growth committee four years ago to anticipate Nassau County’s expansion, working closely with county and city authorities as well as several municipalities.

“We have acquired over 637 hectares of land for future school locations,” Burns said. “We need two schools today.”
“We are enthusiastic about the work we do. I continue to work every day for the success of our students and improvements in our schools,” concluded Burns.

* * *

Gaus
Gaus

Curtis Gauss is a candidate for Superintendent of Schools with 27 years of experience in education, including teacher, junior leadership, assistant principal, coordinator of career and technical education and adult education, principal of West Nassau High School and has served on Nassau County since 2022 School Board.

“First of all, I would like to thank Dr. thank Burns. She was a great school board member and a good supervisor. Her vision and mine are not much different, but I feel I am positioned to move Nassau County in the direction we need to go in the next four to eight years,” Gaus said in his opening statement.

Gaus wanted voters to “understand where our tax dollars go.” He said it was good that the school board budget process had started earlier this year, but was unhappy that planning preceded information about state revenues.

Gaus expressed his gratitude to voters for approving the one million tax increase in 2022, but emphasized that in his view this is a short-term solution to a long-term problem.

Gaus said there has been an increase in career and technical education over the past 15 to 20 years, claiming these are not new statistics.

“We were growing those programs at the Red Bean Technical Center. Decisions at the district office have made it virtually impossible for students to find time in their schedules to take advantage of this,” said Gaus. “We need programs, advanced level programs, that are centrally located to ensure that all students, no matter where they live, can benefit from those programs.”

* * *

Clerk of the court

Reynolds
Reynolds

Allan Reynolds graduated from Fernandina Beach High School in 1995, then attended the University of North Florida and graduated with two finance degrees, one in banking and finance and another in financial services with a concentration in investments. He has worked in Nassau County for many years in various positions focused on the financial services industry. He currently serves as the Financial Services Director for the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office.

“Politics is not a fun thing. I’m not a politician. This is very new to me, but I hope that everyone who is here who has been friends before will always be friends afterwards,” Reynolds said in his opening statement.

Reynolds highlighted his substantial background within the Tax Collector’s Office, the Sheriff’s Office and the Clerk of Courts, asserting that these experiences have equipped him to expertly handle every facet of the Clerk of Courts position.

* * *

Keiter
Keiter

Mitchell Keiter currently works at the clerk’s office and has held this position for almost 19 years (assumed in September 2005). During his tenure, he held the positions of Chief Deputy of Information Technology and Chief Deputy of Compliance and Accountability.

“I currently serve as Chief of Operations, where I lead a great team and organization responsible for operating and delivering critical services to Nassau County,” Keiter said in his opening statement.

Keiter described and explained the many duties and responsibilities of the current position he is seeking.

“I was asked, ‘Why do you want to be a clerk?’” Keiter said. “I believe this is a question that should be asked of every candidate. For me it was easy. I love what I do. I love who I work with every day. It’s a great team. I love our mission. Our mission is simply this: we are public servants.”

Keiter described himself as “the watchdog for the taxpayers.”

Real estate appraiser

Lily
Lily

Kevin Lilly is chief deputy at the Nassau County Real Estate Appraiser’s Office and has held the position for twelve years. Lilly is running unopposed for the position of real estate appraiser.

During his opening statement, Lilly described his experience in various roles within the State of Florida over the years, delving deeper into his current duties, which include working with the eight taxing authorities in Nassau County.
Mike Hickox, the current real estate appraiser, plans to retire, and Lilly has filed for office.

“I hope I have your support and that we will have a smooth transition,” Lilly said. “Mike Hickox has been a great leader and a great real estate appraiser and has kept the office running smoothly.”

Supervisor of Elections

Bethea
Bethea

Stan Bethea is from Callahan and has served as director of information services for the Duval County Supervisor of Elections office. He received a BS degree from the University of North Florida in Computer and Information Systems. Bethea sought the position of supervisor of elections for Nassau County in 2020, but lost to incumbent Janet Adkins.

Bethea discussed the transparency and openness of the current leadership in his opening statement, stating that he did not trust the election budget process.

“I heard that $666,000 was returned to the county. That’s a bit of a strange number. With a number like that, I’m not sure I can trust the process.”

Bethea said Nassau County deserves better. He would like to involve people in counting the ballots, not community advisory groups.”

“I am ready to lead Nassau County into the future. The current administration should not even talk about voter safety and election integrity. That should be taken for granted. They should be the basis, and not the hallmark, of an election office.”

* * *

Adkins
Adkins

Janet H. Adkins won the Supervisor of Elections race to replace the retiring Vicki P. Cannon in 2020. Adkins previously served eight years in the Florida House of Representatives as the first elected woman from Nassau County to the Florida House of Representatives, where she served as Speaker was from the Florida House of Representatives. K-12 Education Committee, Rules Committee, Reapportionment Committee, Joint Committee on Administrative Procedures, Appropriations, K-12 Appropriations, Special Committee on Government Reorganization, Committee on Finance and Taxes, Full Committee on Education.

“I want to thank you for your trust and I am humbled by the great responsibility that lies within this office,” said Adkins. “If you don’t trust your elections, what good do you have in this country? I take this responsibility very seriously.”

Adkins praised not only her staff, but also the more than 400 election workers she and her staff have trained in preparation for the 2024 election season. She said her team is focused and ready for the election.

“We have spent the past year preparing for the 2024 elections and I want you to know that your team stands ready in Nassau County,” Adkins said.

She emphasized that election security is a central initiative of her team to ensure that only eligible voters can exercise their right to vote. She detailed a verification process for 13,000 candidate petitions and stated that her office is currently reviewing them to ensure accuracy.

“Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your supervisor of elections. We are transparent and collaborative,” said Adkins. “We created the advisory board so that we have the opportunity to create transparency and two-way communication.”

Tax Inner

Drew
Drew

John Drew is a lifelong resident of Nassau County, and he received his MBA and bachelor’s degrees from Jacksonville University.

Drew was first appointed tax collector in May 2006 by former Governor Jeb Bush. In popular acclaim, Drew was unopposed in the 2008, 2012 and 2020 election cycles. He is unopposed in the current election.

“I can say that I am truly humbled to be your tax collector,” Drew said as he opened his speech. “I have been your tax collector for the past 18 years and during that time I have had audits without findings. This means I knew where your money was and it showed up in the right places.

Drew said he is president of the Florida Tax Collector’s Association and, as of this year, legislative chairman of the National Association of County Treasurers, Collectors and Finance Officers.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you for having the confidence in me to get the job done,” Drew said.

Although the format of the forum did not allow for debate between candidates, the FWRN called the event “a testament to the candidates’ commitment to our community and should inspire us all.”

The primaries will take place on August 20. The general election is on November 5.

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