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Hopefuls for clerk face off at forum
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What’s next


The Dawson County Republican Party will hold a second forum, set for 7 p.m. July 15 at the Bowen Arts Center, for the three candidates running for the District 3 county commission seat. For more information, e-mail Clint Smith at

Passport fees and fiscal responsibility topped discussions during a June 24 political forum at Dawson County Middle School.


All 10 candidates for the Dawson County clerk of courts position that Becky McCord vacated in March participated in the event, which was sponsored by the Dawson County Republican Party.


McCord resigned amid a criminal investigation into thousands of dollars missing from office accounts used to hold passport fees.


Georgia law allows a clerk of court to keep a portion of passport revenue, but McCord is accused of taking thousands more than she was allotted.


The candidates, ranging in age from 28 to 63, touted their experience levels, education and degree of commitment to the position as they fielded questions prepared by the local party.


“As a real estate closing attorney, I have traveled to almost every clerk’s office in the state,” said candidate Philip Cummings, 56. “I believe that experience has uniquely qualified me to serve that position because of the regular work with them.”


Gaye Cantrell, 51, a local banker and longtime resident, recently completed a course in state ethics for elected officials, which she said pairs with her business experience to set her apart.


“The position will require an experienced manager. I believe I am that person,” she said. “I will use my education and business experience to make sure we give the highest quality service.”


Much of the debate focused on restoring the public’s trust in the office, as each candidate referenced their plans for the passport revenue.


Eric Toal, a 43-year-old self-employed heavy equipment operator, urged each candidate to look at the office’s current staff and realize they are “true and honest people.”


“Unfortunate for them they had to go through this,” he said. “If you are the one that’s elected, make sure these people have an opportunity to redeem themselves.”


Steve Holder, 46, is a project manager who formerly served as the city of Dawsonville’s planning director.


“Integrity starts at the top and works its way down,” he said. 


Merrill Rackley, 63, a local entrepreneur, said he would implement ethics standards and a code of conduct for the clerk’s office and its employees, beginning with “no two sets of eyes see the same books at the same time.”


All of the candidates said they did not plan to keep the fees for themselves and offered ideas on where the funds could be used to improve services.


“Everyone is anxious to get the Dawson County clerk’s office back on track,” said Carl Volk, 61, a retired executive with a law degree. “I will institute measures to have passport fees transferred to general fund for the budgetary shortfalls.”


Justin Power, 28, a local real estate professional, said he would turn the fees over to the county to be used “to benefit the office, technology or whatever the clerk’s office needs.”


Longtime county employee Lisa Henson, 46, agrees there are needs in the office that can be achieved with passport fees.


“I’d put passport fees toward technology. We’ve got to have sustainability moving forward,” she said.


Technology in the clerk’s office also became a topic during the forum.


Doug Boyle, 44, a career lawman who supervises court services for the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office, said advances in technology could improve productivity in the department, while also creating a more user-friendly office to the public.


“Data integration would reduce redundancy among county departments,” he said.


County native Aimee Goodson, 39, said she is not running for clerk of court as a political stepping stone, but rather as an avenue to serve her community.


“I’ve worked for the state for 10 years in environmental health, and when this position opened, I couldn’t resist. This is my home,” she said. “I want to serve us, not the state. I want to be here for you.”


Clint Smith, who moderated the debate, said he was pleased with the development of the forum.


“We’ve got a good slate of candidates in the clerk of court’s race,” said Smith, chairman of the local Republican Party. “It’s going to be interesting to see how it all plays out.”


With 10 candidates in the field, a runoff after the July 20 Special Election seems inevitable.


“It’s important for voters to determine who their second choice will be if their candidate doesn’t make it in the runoff,” Smith said.


County Commissioner Gary Pichon was one of about 100 people attending the event, which drew primarily the candidates’ friends, family and supporters.


He said county residents should “feel good that we have this many interested in taking and doing this job.


“We have a large field of very interesting and very qualified folks out there and that’s really kind of neat,” he said.