Four qualified to run for two city council seats in the special election in November after qualifying was held last week at the board of elections office.
Qualified incumbents are Angie Smith, 42, who is currently serving her second term on city council, and Mike Sosebee, 75, who held a seat on city council from 1980 to 2001, was reelected for another term in 2004 and has served on the council since.
Two newcomers also qualified: Mark French, 47,
who is a resident of Crown Pointe in Gold Creek and Stephen Tolson, 40, who
lives in the Stonewall subdivision off Perimeter Road.
French said he is bringing years of experience in local government to the table.
French has been an office manager at Glazing Rubber Products for the past nine months, and previously spent 18 years working for Lumpkin County Government in the finance department as the budgeting grant analyst.
He grew up in Dahlonega, and moved to Dawsonville eight years ago. He has a bachelor’s degree in finance from North Georgia College & State University.
French said he qualified because he wants to help the city become a more transparent government entity.
“The main reason I qualified is I’m a very big proponent of open government,” French said. “I noticed several months back that the city website doesn't give a lot of information. For example if someone missed a meeting, besides the agenda, there isn’t much available to show that the council is working above board.”
French said he would like to see that remedied by having the workbooks that the city council members utilize posted online before each meeting.
“I don’t think that would cost a lot of money and it would improve trust issues with government in general,” French said. “The more we can be open the more effective we will be.”
French is also focused on downtown revitalization and working better with the county.
“I like the plan I’ve seen, and I know government moves a little more slowly than the private sector, but I’d like to see things move more quickly, as far as finances allow,” French said. “And working with the county is crucial. There is always tension between Lumpkin County and Dahlonega, and it's pointless because they, like Dawson County, only have one city and will probably only ever have one city. What’s good for one should be good for the other.”
It’s his financial background that French said makes him a good candidate for the council.
He also said that he would like to see the city utilize state and federal grants to improve the quality of life for everyone.
“I want everyone to know I don’t have a specific agenda, I want to do what’s best for all citizens,” French said.
Smith, property manager at Fouts Properties and part time music minister at Kilough Church by the Lake, said she is seeking reelection because she does not feel the work she is supposed to do in the city is finished yet.
“This is my home and I love it here and I’m not a politician I just want to do the work,” Smith said. “I just see a lot of potential for positive changes, some of it growth, but not necessarily growth- just changes to the good that need to be done here in the city and in the county.”
Some of the unfinished business Smith said she wants to see through includes the downtown revitalization project, main street park, the historic preservation commission and historic district.
She’s most passionate about the downtown revitalization and beautification of the city.
“We have got to do a beautification project, a streetscape, something,” she said. “Our local businesses here, I think, depend on what we do to bring people down here...to make this not a tourist destination but somewhere that our local people can come and live and hang out on a Friday or a Saturday or a Thursday. There’s a lot of traffic that comes through here, and we need to be capitalizing on that.”
She is married to Scott and has two children, Ethan, 13, and Addison, 9.
Sosebee, who has served on the council for more than 30 years, said he too has unfinished business.
“I just want to make sure that the things we have set forth happen, like the park,” he said. “That’s something the kids and the citizens could use. That’s the biggest priority, apart from being a good representative for the citizens.”
Tolson is a medical group manager and retired sergeant in the U.S. Army. He enlisted when he was 18 and retired in 2015, earning a master's degree in healthcare administration while in the Army.
He has been married to his wife, Sandra, for 22 years and has three kids: Alejandra, 14, Stephen, 5, and Tristan, 3.
The family has lived in Dawsonville for nine years.
Tolson said his main reasons for qualifying were that Dawsonville is his family’s home, and he sees it as a growing city in need of a new perspective
“In the near future the population is going to explode,” Tolson said. “The change is going to be quick and not something the city is prepared for.”
He said that being service oriented with experience in budgeting and short and long-term planning, as well as having an affinity for the city and a love of the people of Dawsonville, make him an excellent candidate.
Something he said is a “blip on the radar” in Dawsonville? Drug abuse.
“I have a bachelor's degree in psychology and I wanted to be a therapist,” Tolson said. “I have worked closely with people who have struggled with drug addiction. I feel the city could be more involved in the growing epidemic of drug abuse, which is a symptom of a much larger issue.”
Tolson said that issue is unemployment, which he said the city has some degree of.
Tolson said he could see the city hosting a Saturday afternoon or morning program for people within city limits who are having trouble finding jobs. The program would center on evaluating strengths and weaknesses, building resumes, learning how to sell themselves in an interview and dressing appropriately for a job.
“People don't have the business acumen and understanding of the interview process, and that combined with low self-worth continues to hurt the job market,” Tolson said. “The city, as small as it is, could take some of that responsibility.”
Tolson said that there has been some turmoil within the community lately, referencing the city council’s May decision to remove Mayor James Grogan from office after allegations that he improperly spent city money.
“I have been asked whether I felt the spending got a little out of control,” Tolson said. “But the people we elect to govern at the city, state, federal level…if we elect them to do a job, we should allow them to do it. If they feel something is being mishandled they should at least investigate it and I have to trust the investigation was justified.”
Tolson also said he sees the Downtown Development Authority as a great organization and asset he would like the city to utilize more.
“I just want to contribute,” Tolson said. “I’ve considered [running] for a while. I do believe this is the perfect time to do it.”
The two candidates with the highest number of votes will fill the two open seats.
The municipal election will be held Nov. 7 at the Board of Elections Office at 96 Academy Avenue in Dawsonville.
Council members are elected to four-year terms.
The current terms for council members Jason Power and Caleb Phillips, as well as Mayor James Grogan, will end Dec. 31, 2019.
According to Glenda Ferguson, Dawson County Board of Elections chairwoman and election supervisor. There are currently 1,690 active registered voters in the city, with 151 registered inactive voters.