JaNice Van Ness
1417 Parker Road, Conyers
Early voting began Monday, Oct. 13, and up for grabs in the only local race this year is the Post 2 Rockdale County Board of Commissioner seat.
The two candidates running are Republican JaNice Van Ness, the incumbent candidate who's seeking her third term as a commissioner, and Democrat Doreen Williams, who lost her bid for state representative of district 92 after falling short in the democratic primary runoff election in 2012 and is trying to win her first public office seat.
Van Ness is hoping the constituents will value her nearly eight years of experience serving as a Rockdale commissioner and vote her back into office.
"I think experience in a position like this is very important," Van Ness told The News. "I have a vast array of knowledge regarding county operations and legislative pieces in the county, and probably one of the more important things is the knowledge and historical experience working on a budget because that is our focus and how we operate this community."
She continues on to say that while the county has seen some growth, there are still more challenges down the road that can be bested with someone of her expertise helping to lead the county.
"Although I see a lot of growth and development in Rockdale, there are still a lot of challenges we need to overcome," said Van Ness, who owns Peachtree Academy, a local Christian private school. "To do that, I think you have to have someone who has the business savvy and the financial awareness that I do."
But Williams obviously views things differently. What she sees is a three-member county board where "discord and contention" persist during board meetings, and sometimes stifles decision making.
While she doesn't blame Van Ness directly for the "dysfunction that's happened" among the board members, Williams, a retired school teacher, believes that adding in a new personality into the mix can change the dynamic of how things operate.
"My experience in education is that you take emotion out of things. You look at the research," said Williams. "You try to make rational (and) thoughtful decisions based on research and talking to people, interviewing people to get the best information you can. Not just making willy-nilly decisions because that's what you what or somebody else wants or doesn't want."
Even though they're competing against each other the two candidates share one common goal and that's to have an operational ethics board.
Rockdale County adopted a resolution to create an ethics board in 2008, but it has never been activated.
Van Ness proposed a new method to appoint members to the board of ethics during the board's Aug. 12 voting session, but her motion to approve her sponsored ordinance amendment didn't receive a second and died on the floor.
Van Ness won't wait until next year to try to get a board up and running.
"I'm going to push it the rest of this year because that should be a done deal," she said.
If elected, enacting an ethics board will be Williams's number one priority next year.
"It's come up a couple of times and it didn't get anywhere because there was unwillingness to negotiate. That's unacceptable," said Williams. "We need an ethics commission that going to work."
Also on William's agenda will be formulating a long-range strategic plan for Rockdale County. A plan, sort of like ones that neighboring Newton and Gwinnett Counties have adopted, will guide Rockdale commissioners decision-making towards achieving benchmarks set forth in the plan, says Williams.
Job creation is also big on Van Ness' platform. While the county commissioners can create jobs, Van Ness says as a commissioner she feels it's her responsibility "to help facilitate and encourage job development and job growth and work to retain jobs in the community as well as recruit those jobs that will have higher paying wages and salaries."
While the addition of Williams will mean Rockdale will have a one-party county board, with Chairmen Oden and Post 1 Commissioner Oz Nesbitt both being Democrats, neither candidate thinks political affiliation will hinder them in the election.
"I don't think that the fact that there would be three democrats (on the board) is a real major issue because, to me, running the county is a non-partisan activity," said Williams. "You're looking out for everybody. I don't think it means that just because you all belong to the same political party that you necessarily have the same thought or align yourself with each other."
"I'm an optimist and I think the people of Rockdale County are smart enough to know that I've done a great job and hopefully they'll educate themselves on the issues that are critical for the future of this community and realize that it doesn't matter the letter behind the name," Van Ness said. "I feel very confident that people will reach across party lines and see that I represent everybody not just certain people that have a certain letter behind their name."
Early in-person poll voting lasts until Oct. 31. Regular in-person poll voting will be Nov. 4.