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ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Chairman candidates debate issues
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At several points during a political forum for candidates for county chairman, speakers took time out to attack incumbent Chairman Aaron Varner, who was not in attendance at the Tuesday night event.

            The remaining five candidates, retired educator Emmett Denby, developer Ed Hutter, real estate broker Susette Monk, banker Kathryn Morgan and builder Hubert White were all in attendance at the forum, sponsored by the Newton County Voter's League.

            Despite the late hour, many audience members remained after an earlier event for candidates for District 1 and 3 - look in Sunday's paper for an analysis of that forum.

            Denby, a Democrat and White, who is also running as a Democrat after prominently supporting national Republican figures for a number of years, had the harshest words for Varner. In a recent News Web interactive poll (which was not scientific), Denby and White were in last and second last place respectively, garnering 4 percent and 7 percent of online votes.

            "Republican Aaron Varner is not at this meeting," said Denby, who ran unsuccessfully for county chairman in 2004. "That shows you something. He thinks he's got it sewn up."

            At the beginning of the month, Denby reported the theft of two of his campaign signs, displayed at Henderson's Grocery, to the Newton County Sherriff's Office.

            "We need to clean house and I think I'm the man to do it," Denby said.

            White, who represented District 5 for eight years on the board of commissioners, accused the county government of having an "arrogant and anti-growth" attitude. He noted that when he served on the board 11 new industries moved to the county.

            "This crowd up here has been running independently, arrogantly and unproductively," White said referring to the BOC.

            White also accused members of the local media of being "in bed with the board."

            In February 2007, the News reported that then-newly elected District 2 Commissioner Earnest Simmons had sought to have the wife of Hubert White placed on the planning commission. White was Simmons' largest campaign contributor. He is also a prominent local developer, having built approximately 750 homes in Newton County.

            Since announcing his candidacy, White said he has sold off most of his housing stock in preparation for the role of chairman.

            When not spending time attacking each other, the candidates discussed some serious issues Tuesday night including, transportation, tax assessments and hiring county residents for county jobs.

            Monk, a Republican and former commissioner for District 3, said she would encourage greater cooperation with Rockdale County in order to raise funding for the widening of Salem Road, which is one of the county's most congested corridors.

            The project has been put on hold several times in the past due to insufficient funding from the Georgia Department of Transportation.

            Morgan, a Democrat, noted that of the $800 million road improvement projects slotted for Newton County, half are on state highways that the county can not work on without the participation of GDOT.

            Hutter, a Republican, said more commercial and industrial growth will be necessary before the county can independently begin to raise serious capital for road improvement projects.

            "We've got to do things that will make us a shining star," Hutter said.

            Denby promised he would prioritize road projects according to need and not "politics."

            When asked by forum attendee Dennis Taylor whether they would report an inaccurate tax assessment, even if it meant higher property taxes for them, all candidates said that they would.

            "We've got some really bad imbalances," Monk said of rumors of inequalities in tax assessments between homes that otherwise would seem to be equal in value.

            When asked by an attendee what could be done to ensure that more Newton County residents were employed in county government jobs as opposed to workers from outside the county, candidates responded that discrimination laws keep the county from showing favoritism in its hiring practices to county residents.

            Monk said she would encourage more advertising locally of county jobs when they become available.

            Hutter said he would like to see more vocational training for high school students so that they are qualified for county jobs when they become available.

            The second part of the Newton County Voters League's political forum will take place at 7 p.m. Monday at the Historic Courthouse. The forum will feature candidates for BOC District 5, Board of Education District 2, tax commissioner and sheriff. Sheriff candidates will speak last.