Though not up for re-election for another two years, County Commission Chairman Wiley Kitchens made harsh criticism of two commission candidates Saturday, claiming they decided to run because they have personal vendettas against him.

The comments were made during a Republican breakfast in Good Hope when Kitchens was asked to give an update on county affairs.

The statement, which was directed at former commissioners Faye Whisenant and Pete Tucker, was met with applause from the more than 50 Republicans in attendance.

Kitchens has defeated both candidates in previous commission races.

“They aren’t running for the office, they’re running against me,” Kitchens said. “If they want to campaign against me, they’re the most phoniest people ever to run for office in Cullman County.”

According to Kitchens, the two managed to leave the county with $2.7 million in Road Department debt by the time he took over as chairman in 2004. He said the annual payments of $800,000 greatly the hampered the Road Department and were only recently paid off.

Kitchens also claimed Tucker wasted between $5 and $7 million when he decided to change the location of the new jail. He said the original plan was to build adjacent the courthouse, which would have been more economical.

“He spent $500,000 to buy that property,” Kitchens said. “It was his ego that made that decision, because he didn’t want to go with the plan that George Spears made when he was in office before him.”

Finally, Kitchens alleged Tucker had supported a proposed buyout of the county’s stake in Cullman Regional Medical Center by executives from Woodland Medical Center three years ago. That proposition allegedly came up when Baptist Health Systems began negotiations to sell its 50-percent share three years ago.

“[Tucker] said he thought it sounded like a good idea, and he wanted us to put pressure on the board to go ahead with the sale,” Kitchens said. “That would have made it a for-profit hospital, so if you couldn’t pay, you just wouldn’t get treated.”

CRMC officially purchased Baptist Health System’s share of the hospital last November.

Both Tucker and Whisenant responded to the criticism Saturday.

According to Whisenant, a former associate commissioner, the $2.7 million debt at the road department actually came from 12 loans taken by administrations prior to her own or Tucker’s. She said Tucker was responsible for combining the loans into one large sum, which saved the county thousands in interest.

Tucker, who previously served as an associate commissioner and a chairman on the commission, defended his choice of property for the new jail and Sheriff’s Office, claiming the first location would have taken too many people to staff since the building would have been five to seven stories tall.

He also said it would have made the jail the tallest buildings in town, an addition he would not stand for.

“I am 110 percent positive the jail is in the right place,” he said. “I will debate anyone that wants to argue that.”

Tucker denied allegations he had supported a hospital buyout by Woodland.

“I may have met with them, but not at my request,” he said.

Guest speaker for the Republican breakfast was Attorney General Troy King. He spoke on the danger of local Republicans becoming complacent since they live in “a Republican pocket.”

“The Democrats are still trying to outwork us this year,” he said. “Don’t let them do it. We all need to talk to as many people as we can before the election.”

Also during the meeting, Cullman County Republican Party Vice Chairman David Osment issued a response to statements made by former Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. and Secretary of Agriculture Ron Sparks at a Democratic fundraiser Thursday.

As reported previously, both were critical of the Bush administration during the event.

“That’s what happens when you completely don’t look at the facts,” Osment said.

Osment and party member Floyd Lawson advised fellow Republicans not to allow Democrats to portray themselves as conservatives in this year’s election.

“We can’t let them outwork us,” Osment said. “Especially since we’re on the right side. We know we’re on the right side, especially on the moral issues.”

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