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Candidates tout qualifications, experience at forum
Early voting underway for May 24 General Primary
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Early voting is underway for the May 24 General Primary.

As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 200 voters had already cast their ballots.

On Monday night, candidates in four local races touted their qualifications and experience to voters during a forum held by the Dawson County Chamber of Commerce at Dawson County High School.

Dawson County Tax Commissioner

Four candidates are vying to be Dawson County's next tax commissioner.

Linda Townley, who has held the position for three terms, is retiring at the end of the year.

Retail manager Andi Henson Juliette and local banker Nicole Stewart are political newcomers, while entrepreneur Johnny Glass and retiree Karin McKee have sought office in previous elections.

Juliette championed herself as the most experienced in budgetary management, citing her time as a government contractor in Washington D.C. managing multimillion dollar budgets. She also said the high level security clearance required for such work proved she could be trusted.

"I hold myself to an extremely high standard. I hold my team to an extremely high standard. I would never say or do anything that would embarrass the office or the people of Dawson County. I think I have the qualification, the background and the resume to do this job very well," she said.

Stewart stressed the desire to better inform the public on how the tax commissioner's office operates.

"If we all know and are aware, it makes it an easier process," she said, adding that she wants to take advantage of technological advancements that would allow the office to be more customer-friendly.

"I know that I can bring a new perspective to the office, and I would like to bring more knowledge to the citizens, so they know exactly what's going on in the office, why we have these fees, why we have so many fees, why we have to charge a certain way...and I think that bringing that so that everyone is aware and knows what's going on will make it an easier transaction when they come into the office."

This is McKee's second run for tax commissioner.

She ran a campaign against Townley in 2012, coming in 150 votes behind the incumbent.

"I'm just an average citizen who saw a need for change and decided to do something about it," she said. "I want to have an ethical and transparent office and practice a competitive bidding process that is county policy."

She assures the public that all taxpayers will be treated fairly and with respect.

Glass ran for sheriff in 2012, receiving nearly 20 percent of the vote to current five-term Sheriff Billy Carlisle.

"None of us have ever worked in this office before, so it's kind of hard to say that any of us have any experience there. I think we've all got business experience," said Glass, who has owned several businesses and currently runs a towing and recovery company. "I'm versatile, can do anything. I deal with people very well. I don't have any problems with diffusing situations."

Each candidate praised Townley for her near perfect tax collection rate.

Each also said they plan to spend time working side by side with Townley and her staff to be ready to take office on Jan. 1.

County Commissioner Chairman

While neither candidate has previously run for office, both candidates seeking the county commissioner chair seat are familiar with the political process and local government operations.

Current Chairman Mike Berg is not seeking a fourth term.

Billy Thurmond recently retired after nearly 40 years as a Dawson County government employee. The last 14 years he served as Director of Emergency Services.

He plans to increase productivity and cost efficiency, while also improving communication between the board of commissioners, citizens, staff, elected officials and all community partners.

Thurmond cited the need for improved employee retention to make Dawson County competitive in the job market, a vehicle and equipment replacement plan to eliminate hundreds of thousands of dollars spent annually on maintenance and a road restoration strategy to make sure "the roads are fixed right the first time."

"I will bring proactive leadership and planning to the chairman's position," he said.

His opponent Architect Peter Hill is a longtime member of the Development Authority of Dawson County, where he served three terms as the board's chairman. He is also active within the local business community and is proud to call himself a pro-business advocate.

"I'm not a politician, but I do know what a thriving community looks like," he said. "I feel like we need business representation on our county commission. I want to see us become an even more pro-business community."

Hill's vision for the county is one with balanced economic development.

"I want to bring opportunity to our community so our kids when they graduate from high school or Lanier Tech or Georgia Tech have a place to start their business and grow their family," he said.

District 2 Commission

The District 2 Commission seat has drawn two candidates, former Dawsonville City Council member Chris Gaines and political newcomer Tim Davis.

Current District 2 Commissioner James Swafford is not seeking third term.

Gaines said the next District 2 Commissioner will have big shoes to fill.

"It's going to take someone, it's going to take commissioners that can step up to the plate, that have shown leadership in the past to fill those roles," he said.

Davis, a truck driver, is a lifelong Dawson County resident.

"I care about Dawson County. That's why I'm running for county commissioner. Dawson County is growing and we need to keep a balance between growth and county services, while preserving our greenspace that all the people in the county enjoy," Davis said. "County infrastructure needs improvement and it will be stressed even more with future growth.

"No one can do this by themselves. I'm a team player willing to work hard."

Gaines said Dawson County has the opportunity to bring in high-tech jobs to the Ga. 400 area with the North Georgia Network's fiber optic Internet capabilities.

"I think we can encourage light industrial industries to come in that have low impact on our community," he said.

He said the fiber network has potential to be an economic engine for Dawson County.

"We should be taking more advantage of the opportunities that will provide. I will be a champion for that," he said.

While on the city council, Gaines said he was able to get a network system set up "where businesses could thrive downtown."

Davis said he believes Dawson County is moving in the right direction.

"Let's not change the direction of Dawson County," he said. "Before I make any decisions for the county, I want to ask myself four things: is it morally and ethically right, is it lawful, does the county need it and can the county afford it."

District 4 Commission

Longtime District 4 Commissioner Julie Hughes Nix has been challenged for the seat by Heather Hulsebus, president of the Foothills Republic Women.

"I'm running because I think it's time for a change, a new perspective and a new leadership," Hulsebus said.

Nix, who is in her 16th year on the board and was elected as the county's first woman commissioner, calls herself a career public servant.

"I believe a successful commissioner must possess four basic qualities: experience, which I have, vision, leadership and accessibility," she said. "I have the experience and my vision for Dawson County is to continue to preserve our rural setting and have all the urban amenities.

"When you a deciding who to vote for at a local level, you need to look at their previous accomplishments. I'm dedicated, I'm experienced and successful. I have the time to devote to this position."

Nix said she is proud of the county's accomplishments while she has been in office, specifically the fact that the county is virtually debt free.

"We have spent your money wisely," she said, adding that the board of commissioners has not raised taxes in the last 12 years while building a new library, fire station, government center and jail.

Nix said pledges to focus on improving roads in the coming years.

Hulsebus said she would like to see to see more higher paying jobs come to Dawson County.

"We are experiencing great things in the county and I think it's important that we continue to growth at a rate that all services in the county can handle," she said. "We also need to bring more diversified businesses into the county, not just retail and restaurants."

Hulsebus was critical of the current county commission's decision to deny the acceptance of state transportation funds that would have been used to construct turn lanes on Hwy. 53 to allow for a new business to open.

Nix said she could not vote for the measure because the funds in question were intended to make repairs to county roads and Hwy. 53 is a state highway.