In the race for the Republican nomination for county chairman, incumbent Chairman Aaron Varner's two challengers both say they would do a better job bringing commercial and industrial growth to the county.
Real estate broker Susette Monk and local developer Ed Hutter are both running campaigns centered on promises that they each have the best qualifications to lead the county in the pursuit of additional business growth.
In response to these claims, Varner has pointed to the county's watershed protections, impact fees and revamped zoning ordinances as proof that he has done all that he can to encourage healthy growth in the county.
Still some of the things Varner touts as shining beacons from his administration are just the things that his challengers say are keeping developers away.
Addressing the county's impact fee ordinance, which continues to be criticized by local builders, Monk said, "You take zero commercial growth, multiply that by impact fees and you've got zero.
"We've got to go back and take a look at what we've got."
As of October 2007, the county had collected $6.5 million in impact fees, which will be used for road improvements and the construction of new parks and libraries. As the economy has slowed in recent months, so has the collection of impact fees.
A former county commissioner for District 3, Monk, who deals primarily with commercial properties, said she has seen prospective new businesses turn away from the county, rather than deal with the planning department's rules and regulations.
"I think when the county becomes more approachable, they're going to want to be here," Monk said. "But right now there's such a negative stigma with the county that we can't get people to come here."
But Varner says the stricter development regulations put in place since he was elected chairman in 2000 are ones that the public has wanted put in place in order to curb urban sprawl and to protect the county's rural character.
"The battle is not won," Varner said of efforts to preserve the county. "I want to continue to do things to help the citizens in the way they live."
Hutter, who is the owner of Integral Enterprises, a commercial development company, has promised to work to bring more commercial and industrial growth to the county while at the same time walking the fine line of preserving the county's small-town character.
"I think we need to expand our horizons," Hutter said. "We're flat right now. I think we got consumed by the problems at hand, we've sort of lost sight of what true growth is all about."
If elected, Hutter said he would work to bring "wealth growth to the county."
"I think [residents] can expect to see some good quality balanced growth," Hutter said. "I think we're going to see our tax base expand."
Monk was the first Republican elected to office in Newton County and the first female to serve on the board of commissioners. She represented District 3 from 1989-1992. She served for five years on the Newton County Water and Sewer Authority as well as on the Newton County Recreation Commission. Monk is a former chairman of the Newton County Republican Party.
Self-employed for 26 years, Monk runs her own interior design business in addition to her work as a real estate broker. Born and raised in Atlanta, Monk has lived in Newton County for the past 29 years. She attended West Georgia College before graduating from the Art Institute of Atlanta. She has one daughter and is an active member of The Dwelling Place.
"Half of the job is PR but the other half is, you've got to know what you're talking about. I just don't think we've had folks in [the chairman's office] that have grasped the whole challenge of a county," Monk said. "I feel that I am the strongest person that can approach people to come to Newton County."
An engineer by trade, Hutter is also the vice president of Hutter and Associates, a design and build firm. A Newton County resident since 1968, Hutter received his training as an engineer through the U.S. Air Force.
"I think I have the leadership and the experience, business-wise and people-wise," Hutter said. "I share a lot of common values that everyone in the county is asking for such as SMART growth and green space."
Hutter and his wife, Carol, have a son, a daughter and four grandchildren. They are members of First United Methodist Church of Covington where he is the chairman of the Council of Ministers. He also volunteers with Newton County Habitat for Humanity, FaithWorks and is a member of Covington Kiwanis. This is the first public office he has sought.
Varner, who is seeking his third term as chairman, said he was also proud of the new government buildings the county has seen erected in recent years including the new County Administration Office. He also said he was proud of the county's efforts in attracting and landing Georgia Perimeter College.
"I think you will see us be more competitive in the global market," Varner said of his intentions to attract more business growth if re-elected.
Varner serves on the Board of Directors for Northeast Georgia Regional Development Commission, Newton READS and DeKalb Technical College. He serves on the Board of Managers of the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia, the GRN Community Board on Mental health, Retardation and Substance Abuse and on the Newton County Board of Health among others.
A native of the county, Varner is the son of former county chairman Roy Varner. He and his wife, Anne, have two daughters and four grandchildren. They are members of Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church.