The Chamber of Commerce, Dawson County Republican Party and Dawson County Tea Party hosted a debate for local politicans on June 4, at the Dawson County Middle School Auditorium.
Voters had the opportunity to meet with elected officials and candidates prior to the event during a meet-and-greet session.
Brooke Anderson, general manager of the Etowah Water & Sewer Authority, served as moderator throughout the evening.
The two Mikes running for chairman of the board of commissioners squared off during the debate.
Mike Berg, the incumbent, has served as the commission chairman for two previous terms. Mike Connor was the District Three commissioner from 2007 through 2010.
When asked about consolidating city and county governments, Connor said, I dont think 23,000 people need two levels of government. But, he said, if there would be no savings to taxpayers, he would not support consolidation.
I think there is a place for the city, Berg said, explaining that he thinks its good to have a centralized area. However, he did agree that its better to have a unified government.
Both candidates agreed that the most important issue facing the board of commissioners right now is the economy.
Weve done a world of good reducing the cost of government, Berg said. But, he continued, there is still 8 percent unemployment, along with businesses and houses that sit empty.
The two candidates were asked their positions on annexation by the city of Dawsonville. Berg said he started fighting when the city began spreading bat wings across the county. Certainly, land use plans need to be respected and used, he said.
This is why I like the idea of consolidation, Connor said. We are all one county. He went on to say that annexation should have been a problem taken a long time ago.
I do believe theres a marked difference between us, Berg said, referring to Connor. He said that if citizens have liked how the county has progressed over the past eight years, then they should vote for him.
Berg said he has maintained an open door policy throughout his tenure as chair. Its a full-time job with part-time pay, he told the audience.
The current salary listed for commission chair is $17,222.68.
I am not trying to dislodge our leader because I dont like him, Connor said, but he said he believed there should be options in the voting booth. I like to get out and talk to people, he said. He said he would institute town hall meetings if elected.
(Id like to) get people reconnected with local government, he said.
The debate between three candidates for Dawson County sheriff remained civil.
Incumbent Sheriff Billy Carlisle faced his opponents, Kevin Ellison and Johnny Glass.
One of the primary topics discussed was how to curtail drugs and drug use in the county.
Drugs in school is a big problem, Glass said, telling the audience that, after speaking with members of the community while campaigning, he realizes that its a bigger problem than he had originally thought. I dont believe theres enough education at any level, particularly in the high school, he said.
Carlisle, who became sheriff in 1997, said he has been working to curb the drug problem. His first step, he said, was to get out of the Appalachian Drug Task Force, saying that he could not be certain that the officers would be serving Dawson County at any given time.
Carlisle said the department has a school resource officer in every school who teaches drug awareness. Weve also gotten involved in the drug court, he said.
Ellison said he would work to get back into the Appalachian task force. Twelve to 14 agents is a lot more than two-and-a-half, he said. Ellison said his main way to stop drugs in the county would be to create a unit that makes stops along the roads, particularly Ga. 400. If we attack drug flow on the highways, he said, it will stop getting into our schools.
Throughout the debate, both Glass and Ellison said that they would create an open door policy.
I cant solve every problem ... but I can try, Ellison said. He said one of his goals would be to ensure that all deputies have the correct equipment. Some deputies, he said, wear 10-year-old life vests that need to be replaced.
Glass said that he would look to establish an advisory board consisting of five to seven community members. I think people are being left out of government way too much, he said. Throughout the evening, Glass also insisted that he would cut the budget. He said that after looking at other counties, he has concluded that the local sheriffs department is running approximately $1 million over other budgets.
Ive always had an open door policy, Carlisle said, telling the audience that he can usually be found in his office or out among the public. My door isnt closed unless you want it to be.
The packed auditorium lit up with excitement and a few groans when the two candidates for mayor were asked one question: What is your position on the airport authority?
Candidate Calvin Byrd said the airport authority is a hot topic.
My position on the airport is, most of you know, that it was last years topic, he said. Ive talked with the Speaker of the House (David Ralston). He said the issue is dead. We have to go back through local legislation to create an authority. Until the Speaker changes his mind, the issue is dead.
The audience responded with more groans and a few chuckles.
Appointed mayor and mayoral candidate James Grogan had a different opinion.
Im not afraid to stand up and talk about this because its there, he said. Weve got people coming into AMP (Atlanta Motorsports Park) that drive through here on a regular basis, and they are requesting to fly into Elliott Field. Its been there over 20 years, and its not a surprise to any of you that theres an airport there. ...
Were not looking for a commercial airport, but one that would cater to the corporate jet more than anything. Grogan said the airport works with the economic side of growing business. When large companies are looking to make Dawson County their home, he said, the first thing they look at is transportation.
We have one road, north and south, and that is (Ga.) 400, but we have no east/west corridor. ... We gotta have an airport. A lot of the time you get struck off immediately when companies are looking to relocate because we dont have an airport.
Both Byrd and Grogan were against consolidating the city and county.
Thats not a positive solution, said Byrd. ... There are 2,500 residents in the city, and we need people to protect our historic district. I can work with all the elected officials on the county side to make sure were not fighting and suing each other. As long as we all get along, were not going to be wasting your tax dollars and thats the most important thing.
I personally believe in a strong city government. ... You always want to have a center of trade. Dawsonville is the county seat, thats where businesses are and the government are. I feel a real need to continue to have a strong city government.
Editors note: Due to space constraints, the following stories will appear in next weeks edition: surveyor, tax commissioner, State House District 9 and Congressional District 9.