Surveyor race more of an amble: Friends wage gentleman's campaign for office time left behind

Surveyor race more of an amble: Friends wage gentleman's campaign for office time left behind

July 16th, 2012 by Tim Omarzu in News

Charles Wardlaw, Randy Compton

Randy Compton doesn't miss a beat when he explains why he's running to be the official land surveyor for Walker County, Ga.

It's because Charles Wardlaw, who has held the office since 1970, told Compton to toss his hat into the ring.

"He said, 'Randy, you need to run against me,'" said Compton, who considers Wardlaw a friend and something of a mentor. When Compton was just starting out in the land surveying business, Wardlaw encouraged him.

"He was just always super nice," Compton said of his opponent.

As Georgia's July 31 primary election date looms, some campaigns for local office take on the aspect of life-and-death struggles in which the very fate of the universe hangs in the balance.

With the race for Walker County surveyor -- not so much.

The office of county surveyor used to be a common one in Georgia. In the old days, in cases of property line disputes, a judge would send out the county surveyor for a "procession proceeding" in which "processioners" -- elders in the community who knew the lay of the land -- would weigh in impartially to help set the boundary. The parties involved still could sue, but the procession proceeding often settled things.

With the passage of time, the ascendance of technology and a tendency to "lawyer up" first and ask questions later, there's been less demand for county surveyors' services.

"I had a procession proceeding, I don't know, it's probably been four or five years ago," said Wardlaw, who makes no bones about the office's declining relevance.

"The job is really antiquated," he said. "It's just more or less a title."

He thinks having the title may help him get two or three jobs a year for his private surveying business, which is one reason he keeps running.

There was an effort to abolish county surveyors in Georgia. Former state Rep. Roger Lane, a Republican who's now a Glynn County Superior Court judge, introduced such a bill, but it was withdrawn in 2009 and didn't resurface. Lane couldn't be reached for comment Friday.

During his 42 years in office, Wardlaw has had only one other challenger: Kenneth Campbell, who got 48 percent of the vote when he ran in the 1990s. Campbell said he bought only one ad and ran as a Republican when that wasn't as popular as it is now.

Campbell's father was the county surveyor in the 1950s and '60s.

"A lot of counties don't have it anymore. It's really not needed," he said.

Walker County provides a small office in the basement of a court annex building in LaFayette, Ga., and covers utilities, but the county doesn't pay its surveyor a stipend, said county Sole Commissioner Bebe Heiskell.

There are advantages to having a county surveyor, she said. Walker County only has three surveying firms: Compton's, which is in Chickamauga, and Campbell's and Wardlaw's, which are in LaFayette. The county surveyor is the go-to man for county jobs, according to Heiskell.

"The county usually uses the county surveyor for its surveying. They have to put the county work first," she said.

As for doing away with the office, Heiskell said, "It wouldn't be up to me to change."

"I've not got near the power that people think I do," she said.

Aside from paying a $20 qualifying fee, neither Wardlaw nor Compton has spent any money -- neither has posted any campaign signs or bought advertising.

Wardlaw came to a June 19 candidate forum at the Walker County Civic Center but waived his right to speak since Compton wasn't there.

"I didn't want to use up time," Wardlaw said.

Compton missed the debate because he thought it was going to take place the following night.

"I'd have to get up there and say, 'Charles asked me to [run],'" he said. "I have nothing bad to say about Charles."