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Posted: June 30, 2012 9:44 p.m.

Debates get heated at primary forum

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Almond Turner, Franklin Perry

There was plenty of disagreement at Thursday night’s political forum, as challengers and incumbents alike sought to key in on perceived weaknesses and differentiate themselves from their opponents.

All Newton County candidates facing opposition in the July 31 primary attended a Thursday forum jointly held by The Covington News and Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce.

Moderators, chamber President Hunter Hall and The News Publisher Charles Hill Morris Jr., asked candidates a series of questions, some of which were given ahead of time and some of which were not.

Below are some brief highlights from each race, but the entire forum was recorded and videos for each individual race can be seen at CovNews.com by clicking on the article “See videos from Thursday’s forum.”

 

District 1 Board of Commissioner (BOC) - Republican

The forum kicked off with one of the heated debates as opponents John Douglas and John Strauss both seek to replace retiring Commissioner Mort Ewing.

Both candidates focused on the county’s 2050 Plan, a document that seeks to direct the future growth of the county in such a way to ensure the agricultural and rural part of the county is protected while simultaneously providing enough housing for 400,000 residents by 2050.

Both candidates agreed the plan was good and necessary to protect the rural and agricultural land in District that gives the district its identity. However, Douglas and Strauss disagreed on how to approach the plan for density in the areas surrounding the Stanton Springs industrial park and the Hub Junction, the intersection of Ga. highways 11 and 142.

Douglas said he would stand firm on the need to maintain two-acre lot size minimums and to keep out apartment and condominiums. However, Strauss said the 2050 Plan calls for denser “compact communities” at Stanton Springs and the Hub Junction, and that those can only be accomplished by having smaller lot sizes and multi-family housing of some type. The disagreement seemed to underlie a fundamental difference in their visions for how the 2050 Plan will be implemented in District 1.

Every candidate was asked about his or her criminal background, and Strauss admitted he had been arrested for a DUI charge in Rockdale County in 2002. When Douglas was asked, he first said he didn’t drink so it would be tough to get a DUI and then spoke the importance of character and his community involvement visiting military hospitals and mentoring to children.

When asked to respond directly, he said there is no lawbreaking in his background.

Strauss later asked when he would get to list his community service, which involved leading missions and small groups at his church, and also made a reference to the fact that Douglas had twice not answered the question directly.

In the end, Douglas said the county needed an experienced hand like himself, while Strauss said he believed he was the one to carry out the best vision for District 1’s future.

 

District 3 BOC – Democrat

When asked about the challenges and opportunities for District 3, challenger Anthony Flanagan said the district suffered from a high foreclosure rate and need more businesses to help it and its citizens thrive.

Incumbent Nancy Schulz said she constantly hears citizens expressing the need for more jobs and better-paying jobs, as well as a fix to traffic woes on Salem Road.

Flanagan said he would be more approachable and would be better known in his district than Schulz, whom he said many residents haven’t ever met. Schulz acknowledged she hadn’t met all of her districts 27,000 residents (before redistricting), but she said her fireside chats and other outreach efforts were examples of her willingness to reach out to the community.

As far as criminal background, Schulz said he had nothing worse than speeding tickets, while Flanagan said he has issues in his past, but that all people should forgive and forget and that people can’t be focused on the events of 23 years ago.

The News previously reported that Flanagan was found guilty of aggravated assault in 1992, but after serving a year in prison he later had his right to run for office reinstated by the Georgia Board of Paroles and Pardons.

 

District 4 Board of Education – Democrat

Challenger Franklin Perry toted his former experience as a school superintendent, while incumbent Almond Turner said school system results have steadily improved during his most recent term.

Perry said he believed students needed more motivation, teachers needed more support and parents needed to get more involved, but Turner pointed to the past two years’ CRCT results as evidence the system was making strides.

The two parties also addressed the lawsuit issue involving Alcovy High School Principal LaQuanda Carpenter, though Perry spoke in generalities, saying there was a situation with an employee that should have been addressed. He said as citizen he was disappointed in the board and noted the school’s perception is not good.

Turner responded by saying he was frustrated that a four, five or six people were posting blogs on local newspapers’ websites that did not contain true information, which was wreaking havoc in the community. He said the board addresses allegations as they come up and had already addressed many issues still being discussed on the blogs and said the information was available to the public.

 

District 5 BOC – both parties

The most crowded race of the evening and the only one being contested in the primary by both parties saw six candidates take the stage.

The questions focused on the chamber and economic development, and all six candidates said they were in favor of increasing the chamber’s economic development budget in an effort to increase economic development.

The current board of commissioners chose not to honor the chamber’s request for nearly twice as much money for economic development, but commissioners did agree to look at how revenues were coming in later in the year to see if more funding would be available. All six candidates agreed Thursday they would consider giving the chamber more funding if increased revenues, mainly from sales tax, were found in early 2013.

Similarly, all six candidates said they had never been arrested nor would they have any difficulty running a budget.

 

County Chairman – Democrat

The two candidates for county chairman, incumbent Kathy Morgan and challenger Marcus Jordan, faced a few poignant questions, regarding the role of the chairman in the new county-manager system and how to handle conflicts on the board.

Both Morgan and Jordan said they believed the chairman’s role was still a full-time one and still deserved a full salary. Jordan said the chairman’s role is to keep politics out of day-to-day operations, while Morgan said the chairman still has responsibilities assigned under the county’s charter. She said she still signs all the checks, approves purchase orders, handles public works and attends many, many meetings as the representative of the county.

When asked about personality conflicts and challenges on the board, Morgan said he had great relationships with some commissioners and troubled ones with others, but is learning to appreciate the differences. She said Newton County has the potential to have the best board its ever had with a diverse group of representatives from all walks of life.

Jordan said he believed planning and communication were important to develop relationships and make cohesive decisions, something he felt he had done at the Newton County Tax Assessor’s Office.

Morgan said she believed she could move the county forward and continue to implement the 2050 Plan, while Jordan said he wanted to implement a five-year plan for the budget. Both said the county needed more money for roads.

Sheriff’s candidates also spoke, but The News previously covered another forum dedicated to those candidates.


 

 

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