The advocacy committee of the Dawson County Chamber of Commerce held a special election candidate forum last week for the mayor of Dawsonville seat.
The forum was held at the Performing Arts Center Feb. 13, and acting Mayor Mike Eason and former Mayor James Grogan were asked a series of questions about the city’s finances, attracting business and the role of the mayor.
Eason was born in Birmingham, Ala. and attended high school in Atlanta. He was formerly the City of Cumming police chief and Deputy State Inspector General. He worked as a special agent for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for over 30 years.
Eason said he had learned a lot in his 35 years in public service, and having lived in Cumming for over 30 years before moving to Dawsonville in 2012, he said he saw a lot of changes.
“I don’t want to see them impact our way of life the way they impacted us down there,” he said. “We have an opportunity to plan for this urban wave that’s headed in our direction, it’s coming. If we can manage it...we can make a difference in how our community looks in 20 years.”
In his opening statement, Grogan talked about his background as a Dawsonville native.
Grogan said he attended Reinhardt College and the University of Georgia and worked in the hardware industry. He served on the city council from 2010 to 2012, and was appointed acting mayor in April 2012 after the death of Joe Lane Cox. He won the July 31, 2012 special election and was re-elected in 2015 for a four-year term.
He read a list of accomplishments he said the city had seen under his leadership, which included maintaining no city tax, clean financial audits, attracting the Moonshine Distillery and Atlanta Motorsports Park as tourist destinations, establishing the Dawsonville’s brand as a racing city and renaming the city streets to reflect racing heritage, hosting three successful music festivals and purchasing the land to build Main Street Park, among others.
The main topic of discussion was the business environment in the downtown Dawsonville area.
Both candidates brought up the lack of parking, accessible sidewalks and the need for a bypass to take large tractor trailers out of the downtown area.
Eason said that the first step to developing downtown and aiding business would be to get the trucks off the roads.
“You don’t want to have families walking down sidewalk with 18 wheelers going by every two minutes,” he said.
After that, parking and connecting the rest of the sidewalks is key for business growth and survival.
“We’ve got a lot of business here and the biggest problem we have is people can’t get to them. Until we can solve that problem and find them a place to park and walk up and down our streets, our businesses are not going to thrive,” Eason said.
Grogan talked about a study that was conducted to revitalize downtown, which the city has yet to put into action.
“There have been a lot of businesses come into the city, and they come and they leave real quick. We have no fronts for businesses. We don’t have the old warehouses and the old storefronts like other towns do,” Grogan said. “We have four or five landowners downtown and unless they move then we’re not going to be able to do much with that.”
The candidates were also asked what they thought the greatest achievements of the city had been in the past four years, and what they would like to see in the future.
“I think…an achievement was to redo our debt load on sewer and water and saving ourselves well over $2 million based on the life of the bonds,” Grogan said. “And the connection of the sidewalks, people have always told us we need to get that done and we’ve worked on it real hard and achieved a lot of that.”
He said that expanding the water and sewer system, moving forward with the airport and downtown revitalization are his top priorities.
Eason said that the
city’s achievements can be seen in the number of people clamoring to move to
“Most people don’t know that we’ve got 50 homes under construction all the time in the city of Dawsonville,” he said. “We’re completing 10-12 every month. We’ve got a lot of new developments here and a lot of new homes- we’ve provided a place that people want to come to live.”
For the future, Eason said he wants to see Dawsonville turn into a destination city, with the help of Main Street Park and development of downtown businesses.
Both were asked what the role of a mayor should be, beyond being present at city council meetings.
Grogan said he thinks the mayor is a spokesperson, someone who goes out and sells the city to other people.
“I know that attending the (Georgia Municipal Association) conventions and things of that sort, I always introduce myself as the mayor of Dawsonville, home of the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame, the Dawsonville Moonshine Distillery and the Atlanta Motorsports Park. Everywhere I go, people know about Dawsonville,” he said. “Just the fact that I’m speaking to people about our city and what we have to offer has been a tremendous thing for me.”
I always introduce myself as the mayor of Dawsonville, home of the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame, the Dawsonville Moonshine Distillery and the Atlanta Motorsports Park.former Mayor James Grogan on mayor's role to sell the city
Eason agreed that the mayor must be a spokesperson, and not just run the city council meetings, but that the mayor’s primary role is to represent each citizen in the city.
“I think it's important that you have the opportunity to reach out to me and express your desires and concerns about what you need and want in your city,” he said. “I certainly agree with Mr. Grogan that that’s the job of the mayor, that he’s the spokesperson for the city, but not just running council meetings, but helping direct, helping the city manager, helping the staff, anything that’s going to help the people of the city’s desires be implemented.”
You can view the entire forum online at the Dawson County Chamber YouTube page, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q9OVRu0IX2M.
The special election is to fill the unexpired term of the mayor, and the elected candidate will serve until Dec. 31, 2019.
Advance voting will be held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 26 through March 18, Monday through Friday only. Election day is March 20, and polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
All voting will take place at the board of elections office, located at 96 Academy Ave. The office can be reached at (706) 344-3640.