Retired Newton County postal veteran Don Gresham threw his hat in the political arena Tuesday when he qualified to run for the District 2 seat on the Board of Education. Gresham, 71, will face incumbent Rickie Corley, who also registered Tuesday, for the Republican ticket in the July 15 general primary.
While Gresham has never held a public office, that never stopped him from actively participating in BOE meetings as a resident of DeKalb County.
"The meetings in DeKalb were very open and public," he said. "They used to rotate them through different schools and various locations.
"It really encouraged people to attend."
Gresham feels the Newton County BOE does not promote an open meeting environment and said he would like to encourage citizens in the community to have more of an active voice.
But according to Corley, one of his first initiatives during his initial term of office included revising the public participation policy.
"When I came to the board in the early 90s, you had to register a week in advance if you wanted to participate in the meetings," Corley said.
"But now all you have to do is show up early and fill out a form and we'll listen to any concerns or suggestions by the public."
The BOE holds public participation at each meeting and allows those citizens five minutes to express their views and ideas while board members listen, as long as attendees do not attack specific Newton County employees. Participants can register before each meeting.
One of Gresham's major concerns he expressed revolved around the parcel of land the county bought off of the east side of Ga. Highway 162 and Stewart Road in December 2007.
"The board paid $2 million for a piece of land valued at $250,000," Gresham said. "They should put bids in on land and do a better job ensuring they get the best prices for land."
Corley said the board takes into account location and studies several factors including accessibility for transportation as well as the building site itself.
"One of the main things we try and determine when we purchase land is how much work we need to do to the parcel after we buy it," Corley said. "I believe we paid around $15,000 an acre for that parcel and for land in that location-- that is very good."
The county purchased the 139-acre parcel in question for the price of $2.1 million, or roughly $15,100 an acre.
If elected, Gresham hopes to tackle transportation issues including what he feels is an increasing problem with students and vehicle traffic.
"Every afternoon I see kids walking in front of schools and there are no crosswalks, he said. "I am just waiting for the day we have a serious accident and a student is hit by a car. I don't want to see that."
Gresham believes the county should work with housing developers and look into possibly incorporating schools into freshly built neighborhoods.
"I think when we look for new areas to build schools, we should look at the areas where they are building a lot of new homes," he said. "I'm not saying developers should give the county land. But we should at least talk with them [developers] and see if there is a way to build a school within the neighborhoods."
Corley, a Newton County resident for over 50 years, currently serves as the vice-chair and is seeking a fourth term.
"I'm a business owner in this community and have four kids I sent through the school system," he said. "I feel comfortable that I've done a good job so far and believe we've made a lot of progress as a group over the last 15 years."
Meanwhile, Gresham hopes the community agrees with his assessment that the board needs a fresh face and says he's looking forward to his chance to make an impact.
"I believe there are a lot of people who feel the same way I do concerning these issues," he said. "I'm just a senior citizen looking out for the community."