Several dozen local voters filled the auditorium at Dawson County Middle School last week to hear from candidates vying for the county's District 1 commission seat.
Kevin Ellison, Sharon Fausett and Corey Gutherie, all of whom are Republicans, fielded questions compiled by the advocacy committee of the Dawson County Chamber of Commerce, which organized the April 15 forum.
Bonnie Lovejoy, who lives in western Dawson County, was undecided about which candidate would receive her vote prior to the forum. After hearing from each, she said she was more informed.
"I have a long ballot to fill out. I learned a lot and picked out a couple of candidates," she said.
Troy Thompson was also impressed with the field.
"I liked all three of them. They seemed prepared," he said.
The upcoming sales tax referendum and the notion of consolidated government were among the topics discussed at the forum.
Other questions involved the county's land-use plan, particularly maintaining rural aspects while creating revenue along Ga. 400, and the use of county spending to fund local agencies supporting economic development.
The candidates, who did not see the topics in advance, also had time to tell voters why they want to serve and what sets them aside from their opponents.
Ellison, a major with the DeKalb County Police Department, outlined his nearly 30-year government career. He cited public safety as the most pressing issue for Dawson and questioned whether the county is prepared for the projected growth.
"Public safety should be our No. 1 priority above anything else, making sure that our EMS and our fire have the best equipment available and the proper number of personnel to keep the call response time low," he said.
Gutherie touted his education and experience in engineering, which he said "leads itself to being a great commissioner." A graduate of Georgia Tech, he most recently served as an engineer for the county government.
"I also studied transportation, environmental engineering and what our impact on our environment and our surroundings," he said. "Then I went to the private sector and worked as a design engineer, designed roads and bridges, storm systems, sanitary sewers ... parks and trails."
Fausett, a political newcomer and agritourism entrepreneur, focused on her deep county ties. Her grandchildren are the seventh generation to live on the family's farmland.
"I'm into preservation, protection and conservation," she said. "I want other people to have the way of life that I have had. I want them to enjoy it, and that's why I'm here tonight and that's why I'm running. I'm fully invested in this place."
Last week's forum was the second this spring, though the first in which all three candidates participated after a falling out Ellison said he had with the local GOP leadership.
The forum also gave uncontested candidates in local and state races time to address the gathering.
Monday was the last day to register to vote in the May 20 primary, which is likely to decide the race as no Democrats qualified to run.
A second qualifying period for independent candidates in the Nov. 4 General Election is set for June 23-27.