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Posted: June 30, 2010 12:30 a.m.

BOC candidates give background at Monday forum

Newton County voters got their first public opportunity Monday night to hear from candidates for the Newton County Board of Commissioners at a forum hosted by Smart Growth Newton County.

No questions were asked but each candidate was given four minutes to introduce themselves to the crowd assembled at the Washington Street Community Center, and they were encouraged to stay afterwards to talk to potential constituents.

Eight out of 11 candidates for local board of education seats also attended the forum and spoke about their backgrounds and reasons for running. The information they gave largely mirrored their candidate profiles written previously in The News. To read the initial story about every local candidate, visit The News’ 2010 election page at covnews.com/news/section/124. In addition, the majority of BOE candidates attended a June 21 forum, hosted by the Newton County Voter’s League; their thoughts from that forum can also be read at covnews.com.

Although candidates were not asked questions at the forum, Smart Growth did send each candidate three questions about why residents should vote for them, how they could attract business and industry to increase the tax base and what they thought about the recently released "2050 Build Out Plan." Some candidates returned written responses which are posted at smartgrowthnewtoncounty.com, under the "Candidate Forum" section on the left sidebar.

BOE Candidates Ron Hart, District 1, Toney D. Collins, District 3, and Abigail Morgan-Coggin, District 5, did not attend Monday’s forum. Collins is out of the county on active military duty, while Morgan-Coggin was away on a family vacation. District 5 candidate Sharon Sawyer attended this forum; she missed a June 21 forum because of an accident on I-20.

District 2 Board of Commissioners

Earnest Simmons

Democratic Incumbent Commissioner Earnest Simmons spoke first, focusing on his accomplishments during his first term in office. He said his goals coming into the prior 2006 election were to maintain the hometown atmosphere of the county, while bringing in the amenities that he and other former Metro Atlanta residents were used to.

Simmons said the numerous traffic signals placed at busy District 2 intersections were among his proudest accomplishments. He specifically pointed out the signals placed at the intersection of Smith Store and Salem roads and the intersection of Ga. 20, Ga. 212 and Brown Bridge Road. In addition, the stoplight which will be constructed later this year at the intersection of Oak Hill Road and Ga. Highway 212 will be another needed improvement, Simmons said.

He also focused on the current construction taking place on the Porter Memorial Branch Library, located at 6190 Highway 212 next to the fire station, which is expected to be completed and opened in January 2011.

Finally, Simmons spoke about the creation of Denny Dobbs Park, which his called "my baby." The park, located at the corner of Ga. Highway 212 and Richard Chapel Road, is set to open July 17 and will include ball fields, basketball courts, pavilions, playgrounds and walking trails.

Simmons said the library and park represent the addition of amenities he promised to bring to the district.

Lanier Sims

Democratic challenger Lanier Sims spoke about his background, including being a lifelong resident of Newton County, his service in the U.S. Navy and his 14 years as the owner of his construction business, Sims Excavating. Again, for more background on Sims and other candidates visit the "2010 Election" section at covnews.com.

Sims focused on his experience with his other business Southern Homes Unlimited, which helps residents facing foreclosure and other complicated real estate problems. Sims co-owns the business with his wife Bionca. He said he and his wife have helped hundreds of people avoid foreclosure — for free. He also talked about his participation in the local Rotary club and said the group’s motto matched his own — "Service Above Self." He said these two activities show his commitment to community involvement.

Sims said if every resident and politician would follow Rotary’s four-way test for making decisions the world would be much improved. The steps involve asking whether something is the truth, is fair, will build goodwill and better friendships and will be beneficial to all concerned.

He said his goals are to reduce crime, something he plans to do by working with Sheriff Ezell Brown, whom Sims said has already made strides, and continue to improve traffic. While he realizes the widening of Salem Road may not happen soon, he said one immediate solution could be to put a traffic officer at the intersection of Salem and Brown Bridge roads during busy times, particular once school is back in session, to wave cars through and create an improved flow.

Finally, he said he would like to see life skills programs started at the Porter Memorial library and more local churches.

Republican District 2 candidate Rickie Corley did not attend the forum. Sims and Simmons will face off in the July 20 primary. Early voting is now available at the Newton County Board of Election office located at 1113 Usher St.

District 4 Board of Commissioners

J.C. Henderson

Democratic Incumbent Commissioner J.C. Henderson took a similar approach to Simmons and listed his accomplishments during his 14 years in office.

He began by talking about how as a youngster he used to run, and later confidently walk, the streets around the Washington Street Community Center. In later years, he remembered walking the area with Forrest Sawyer Sr., who had a dream to turn the deteriorated building at 4138 School St. into a building for the community. Henderson said Sawyer Sr.’s vision encouraged the commissioner to work to have the Washington Street Community Center placed on the 2000 SPLOST. He said he worked hard to ensure the building’s completion, including inspecting all work and signing off on all checks, even though the building was in District 2 at the time not his district.

Henderson said he was also proud of the progress made to move the DMV to a new building, the former R.L. Cousins High School. He said people used to pass out in the heat at the old location because the line would extend outside of the building. He thanked former County Chairman Aaron Varner, who was in attendance, for working with him on those projects.

Finally, Henderson spoke about the recently completed renovation of Wolverine Field, a new recreation facility in North Covington. He said he felt he had a made a difference during the more than 10 years he’s been in office, and he hoped to continue to move the county forward.

Kenneth Hardeman

Democratic challenger Kenneth Hardeman called WSCC his beginning, noting how he was raised in the community.

He said, "I am the 4th District," noting that he was born and educated there, worked there and raised his children there. He talked about his love for the 4th district and noted his pride in his four adult children, who have all gone on to own homes.

"They are not a burden on the taxpayers, nor are they a burden on me," he joked.

Hardeman said he was running because he has a visionary zeal to move Newton County forward. He said wants to be a leader in the same vein as the recently deceased former Chairman Roy Varner, who saw that Newton County would need water and helped build the reservoir Lake Varner, despite significant public opposition at the time.

Although it was impossible to believe at the time it was built, Lake Varner has outlived its capacity, Hardeman said, and he wants to be a part in helping build the county’s next reservoir. He said he always wants to focus on trying to attract more industry and local jobs to the county to keep workers here.

"I don’t bring all the answers, but I want to try to give back and serve," he said.

There are no Republican challengers for the District 4 seat, so as in the past few elections for the seat the race will be decided at the June 20 primary.

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