Dawson County Commission Chairman Billy Thurmond recently announced his intentions to run for reelection. He will face political newcomer Renee Duren in the May 19 vote. Duren announced her plans to run for the chairman seat in late 2019.
For both Thurmond and Duren, the race for the chairman seat will center on critical community issues like communication between the county and the citizens, updating county ordinances and the management of growth seen across the county.
“When I ran four years ago, I told the citizens I wanted to improve the communication with them as well as the staff, the elected officials and all of our community partners,” Thurmond said.
According to Thurmond, efforts that have been taken to improve communication with Dawson County residents have taken shape in the hiring of Laura Fulcher, a public information specialist in 2019. Since Fulcher was hired Thurmond says she has helped to spread information to residents through all available media including an update to the county website to be more user-friendly. County meetings are also now being filmed and put on the county’s social media pages for people to access.
“We wanted to make sure we gave out as much information as possible to our citizens,” Thurmond said.
For Duren, she would also like to see more transparency between the board of commissioners and its citizens. If elected, she plans to take a proactive approach in meeting with citizens to provide information and hear concerns.
“I’d like to do a town hall meeting once a month on a Saturday so that citizens can come, citizens that can’t make it to the Thursday meetings,” Duren said. “I’d like to do that so that I can update the people on a monthly basis and then also they can ask questions and raise concerns so that I’m not just sitting back waiting for them to call me, a more proactive approach.”
Duren plans to attend the newly formed Quality of Life meetings that take place at the Dawson County Library on the first Saturday of each month to continue hearing the thoughts and concerns of county residents.
Both Republican candidates also have said their campaigns have a focus on updating county ordinances and looking at the comprehensive plan to ensure the future of Dawson County is shaped in a way that the citizens want.
Duren wants to look more at the future land use plan and go “back to the drawing board on the future land use plan so that we can make it look like the citizens’ vision.”
According to Duren, only 11 percent of citizens want a lot of development, specifically residential development.
“Our future land use plan needs to reflect that,” Duren said.
Thurmond also plans to continue to look at the county’s ordinances and make appropriate updates if he is reelected to a second term.
“Most of our ordinances were 1990-something models, early-2000s models. We just did the residential land use ordinances . . . that hadn’t been updated since 1998,” Thurmond explained. “We want to continue to do the updates on our ordinances. We’ll do a SPLOST VII which the citizens will vote on in November of this year.”
Part of looking at county ordinances and the comprehensive plan will be planning for the future growth that the county is expected to see.
Growth and Development
“The biggest thing is managing growth. We wanted to manage growth to where we could keep the beauty and everything that we have here in Dawson County,” Thurmond said.
Thurmond added that the county recently reapproved the comprehensive plan and received a lot of citizen feedback during that process.
“We want the growth to go where they (the citizens) said they wanted it to go and that’s down in the 400 corridor so we want to make sure that we follow the wishes of the people in reference to managing growth and doing those things,” Thurmond said. “We know we’re going to grow. Everybody knows that we will grow, and so we want to make sure that we’re doing that in a way that is in line with what the citizens have said.”
Duren, who is also campaigning on a platform for responsible future planning and growth, wants to focus on putting the citizens first and addressing issues such as infrastructure and road conditions before creating more residential growth.
“We need to take care of that before we chase more residents,” Duren said.
Her main concern is managing the growth in Dawson County, and she feels other aspects of her campaign tie into growth management — such as her concerns with the expenses associated with residential development and the inability to add enough commercial growth to help offset the residential costs, along with the access to public safety as the population grows.
“We’re understaffed as I understand now, and we’re continuing to add. We need to catch up, so to speak, before we continue to add residential,” Duren said.
Expanding services through the county such as access to public safety entities is Thurmond’s concern as well.
“First and foremost, I want to meet the service needs of our citizens, and that might be different for each and every citizen, but we’d have to look at it in a holistic approach,” Thurmond said. “What we don’t want is for people to have to wait, especially on public safety, for a public service to come to them, and my goal too was to provide that good, quality service throughout the entire county not just in segments of it.”
Part of expanding services includes the construction of Fire Station 8 on Sweetwater Juno Road, the expansion of the Senior Center and the new public works facility as well as looking at a second salary study to look at ways to retain a good, quality staff, according to Thurmond.
Duren moved to Dawson County in 2009 with her husband Michael and their five-year-old son Luke. She was inspired to run for the chairman position after being a vocal opponent to the Etowah Village development proposed to the board of commissioners in 2019. She attends Amicalola Baptist Church and runs the blog For the Love of Dawson where she provides maps and information on upcoming developments in Dawson County.
“I just want to preserve the quality of life and I want to do what I can to protect that sense of community that we have,” Duren said. “It’s just that feeling of community that is not easily replicated. We have that here in Dawson County and we need to protect that.”
Thurmond is a Dawson County native who has worked in the county his entire adult life. Prior to serving the past three years as chairman, Thurmond spent 35 years in public safety and served in a dual role in the parks and recreation department for 17 years. He has 33 years of experience in management, budgeting and planning.
“For the last 40 years, I’ve gotten up every morning with the goal of making Dawson County better for our citizens, whether I was in public safety or whether now as a chairman of the board of commissioners. I want things to be better. I want them to have the things that they need and do that in a financially responsible way,” Thurmond said. “I love Dawson County and I love the people of Dawson County. I’ve always worked hard for the county and if they bless me with the opportunity to be their commissioner again for four years I’ll continue to do that because I want what’s best for Dawson County. I always have. I always will.”
The candidates will be on the Republican primary ballot on May 19.