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Democrats dislike current policies
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The two candidates for the Democratic nomination for District 1 commissioner, the Rev. Willie Smith and Mark Patrick, have very different backgrounds, but they do share a dislike for certain county policies.

"There's a lot of things I'm pretty mad about," said Patrick, a civil engineer who owns his own engineering company, at a recent breakfast to meet the candidates.

Patrick did not elaborate on what he was mad about but said he believed the county had a negative attitude toward growth and the county's staff should become more user-friendly.

"I think the staff at Newton County has become a little less user-friendly and I would really push for that, especially in [dealing with] the business community," Patrick said.

Smith, who has served as president of the Newton County Minister's Union for 20 years, said he decided to run for office because "I saw a need in District 1 and I saw a lack of communication."

If elected Smith said he would work to bring more facilities such as a community center and a library to the Rocky Plains area. Smith said he would also like to see the current 1,800 square feet minimum requirement for the construction of new houses lowered to 1,500 square feet.

Smith said his years as a pastor have taught him the skill of "finding the common ground and a line of communication," between opposing sides.

After an unsuccessful run for District 1 commissioner 12 years ago, Patrick said he felt the time was right for him to run for office again on account of having more time available to devote to the job if elected.

"I want to be a really active and an involved commissioner," Patrick said. "I want to have an open-door policy to all the people in the district."

Patrick said his education in civil engineering and his 20 years experience running a business have helped to prepare him to serve on the board. Patrick served as chairman of the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority from 2001 until 2006 and on the authority's board of directors for 10 years. He also worked for the city of Athens as their engineer for one year in 1989.

"I'm really sensitive to the business needs and I'm really aware of public works demands and I think I can bring a lot to the table," Patrick said.

A native of Henry County, Patrick moved to Newton County in 1986. He is a graduate of Georgia Tech where he earned his bachelor's of science in civil engineering. Patrick is the owner of M.D. Patrick Engineering. He has three children and three step-children with his wife Martha.

Through the Minister's Union, which has 42 member preachers, Smith has participated in a number of projects that aid the county's low-income community including Habitat for Humanity and the Community Food Pantry. The group has also served as a mediator between members of the community and the Newton County Sheriff's Office and the Board of Education.

"My greatest goal is helping people and finding the common ground where people can work together," Smith said.

Smith is the pastor of Word of Praise Baptist Church of McDonough, a church which he founded six years ago. He has been a pastor for 30 years. Born and raised in Mansfield, Smith attended Cobble Bible College in Atlanta where he received his biblical training. He and his wife, Gwen, have three children.