In the race for District 1 of the Board of Commissioners, Republican Mort Ewing promises to continue to provide fiscally conservative leadership on the board while his Democratic challenger, Mark Patrick, says that he will focus on transportation problems.
"I think that I have eight years of a track record that people have favored," said Ewing, who is running for his third term on the board. "I won all but one precinct in the primary of July 2008 so I think that people generally like what I am doing."
Ewing is a sixth generation farmer in the county. The Ewing Farm is still in operation today. He is the former president and CEO of the Georgia Farm Bureau and the former vice president of the American Farm Bureau.
"I’ve got many years of personal experience owning and operating my own business. I have the experience of being president and chief executive officer of a company that generated $250 million a year and had 1,000 employees and I managed that business effectively and efficiently," Ewing said.
Patrick, a civil engineer who owns his own engineering company, says that his professional background and his education will be assets for the county if he is elected.
"I’ve got a very good educational background and a very good professional background that will help make a difference up there," said Patrick, who earned his B.S. in civil engineering from Georgia Tech before opening up his own company, M.D. Patrick Engineering 20 years ago.
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 ran once unsuccessfully for District 1 commissioner 12 years ago.
The two candidates have slightly differing views on what are the responsibilities of a commissioner. Ewing said the board’s most important job is balancing the county budget every year.
"We have a tremendous responsibility to manage the resources that belong to the 100,000 people that live in Newton County and that’s a tremendous responsibility that I don’t take lightly," Ewing said.
Patrick said having a grasp on the county’s finances and its development codes and ordinances were the most important responsibilities of a commissioner.
"I’m the type of guy that’s going to focus on the subjects at hand and hit them hard until they’re solved or rectified," Patrick said.
If re-elected Ewing said he would work to ensure that the county continued to operate within its means as it has for the last eight years. He said it hasn’t been easy doing that. Each year the board is usually left with the task of cutting anywhere from $1 million to $5 million in requested funds from constitutional officers and department heads from the county’s budget.
"As far as I’m concerned that’s what we’ll have to do every year that I’m on the board," Ewing said. "We’ve got to be able to operate within our means with a balanced budget."
Ewing said because of the work he and the rest of the board did in the past 18 months, freezing empty county positions, that the county is in better financial shape than many other counties in the state and is better positioned to weather the current economic recession.
"You can’t borrow yourself rich," Ewing said.
Patrick said he would focus on bringing more jobs to Newton County if elected, as well as providing "some solutions to some transportation problems." He said he also believes the board should revisit its minimum square footage requirement for single family dwellings.
Several years ago, the BOC voted on raising the minimum square foot requirement to 1,800 square feet. Patrick said he thinks the board can lower that requirement to encourage the building of more environmentally conscious and energy efficient houses in particular zoning districts.
Patrick acknowledged that whoever wins the district seat in November is going to have their work cut out for them as the economy seeks to right itself.
"I think meeting the services and not raising the millage rate is going to be a real challenge," Patrick said.
He said he thinks he has an advantage this year compared to his first commission race 12 years ago.
"I think the difference might be I was pretty young and not that well known in Newton County and my opponent had a real strong family background in Newton County and of course Mort [Ewing] does to but I’m hoping that with my professional experience and the things that I can bring to the table that it might be a little different this time," Patrick said.
Born in Henry County, Patrick moved to Newton County in 1986. He has three children and three step-children with his wife, Martha.
"I think I’m a good choice because of my experience and educational background and I’m capable of seeing things from a different avenue," he said.
In addition to his work running the family farm, Ewing also manages the Covington office of Jones, Ewing, Dobbs & Tamplin, Inc., an independent insurance agency. He and his wife, Faye, have two sons.
"I made a living farming 50 years. That was not an easy task and I just think it says volumes for me having the ability to manage people and resources," Ewing said.