Two Dawsonville City Council seats are up for election this fall, with early voting beginning in just a few short weeks. As the election draws closer, it’s important to get to know the candidates you’re voting for to fill the council Post 2 and Post 4 seats. DCN sat down with all four candidates to ask them a couple questions about themselves and their goals if they should be elected.
Mark French (incumbent)
French is 51 years old and is a Republican. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Finance from North Georgia College and State University and currently works as an office manager for a local manufacturing company.
Previously, he worked for just under 20 years in the finance department for the Lumpkin County government. He has lived in the city for 12 years and is involved in many groups and organizations in the community, including attending Dahlonega United Methodist Church and the First Baptist Dawsonville.
He has served on the city council since he was elected into the role in 2017 and is running against Jamie McCracken for the Post 4 City Council seat.
Q: Why are you running for city council?
A: “I feel that my experience that I earned in Lumpkin County over roughly 20 years in local finance for government office is something for me to offer back to my community. I was in a position in my life that I felt that I could give the time that we needed in order to serve my community and hopefully make it an even better place than what it is.”
Q: How does your line of work, political background and life experiences translate to you being a strong candidate for this seat?
A: “In my years in government service on the local level, I learned how to handle downturns in the economy in the event that that’s needed so you can be truly fiscally responsible — that was perhaps the greatest lesson I learned in Lumpkin. I think that those years and the connections that I’ve made, both on the state and the regional level, and with finance, is a strong thing in my favor.”
Q: What is your definition of leadership and what are some examples of leadership positions you have held?
A: “Leadership is leading by example. It is going the extra mile, making sure that the office runs cohesively and that everyone is heard — you might not always agree with everyone but a good leader will always listen and they will surround themselves with people smarter than they are. I’m in leadership right now with my job and city council.”
Q: What are some of the biggest continuations or changes you plan on bringing to the city?
A: “A continuation is public participation. When I was first elected, there was no place for public comment in our meetings unless you were in a true public hearing on a specific topic, so I was able to work with my counterparts on the council and get something so that now at every meeting we have that designated time which I consider of paramount importance.
Something else I’d like to continue is our fiscal responsibility. We’ve done very well on our budgets, we have a wonderful finance team, and I’m proud of the fact that we’ve been able to avoid levying a property tax in the city — I would like to continue that.
Something else I’d like for us to continue is some of our projects like Main Street Park; continue to improve it and make it even better than what it is. Those are areas that I’d like to continue.
As far as areas I’d like to focus to perhaps make better, I’d like to improve the city’s relationship with the county government. To say it’s been contentious over the past year would be a very large understatement. As we continue to grow, the county and the city have got to be able to work together.
Another area of challenge for us that we need to really focus on is our growth and achieving a balanced growth. Of course residential growth will continue, but we have to offset it with commercial growth. What’s key in both of those is having the infrastructure to support them, so when we have new developments we need to make sure we have control of the infrastructure to make sure we don’t end up on the short end of the stick."
Q: What about Dawsonville makes you want to be a part of its government?
A: “I feel that I have something to offer. The years of experience that I’ve had in local government and finance — that’s a small pool of people who have that and that’s something I don’t think we had on the council before I arrived. And I’ve got the time to do it, which is another huge benefit for me.”
Q: What are the top three issues you believe Dawsonville is currently facing and what are your plans to address each?
A: “Chief among those is going to be the relationship between the city and the board of commissioners. We simply must be able to get along and not be bickering. We have to realize that we’re on the same team; we have different positions on that team but our team is our residents, many of whom are in both the city and the county.
The second one is going to be with our growth and how to manage that. I feel that an impact fee study would be a very good thing to do and something to advocate for. I don’t know that I would implement [impact fees] right away, but what I would like to do is see a study to see if it’s feasible. The city has the money to fund a study, and while they’re there studying that I’ve had several constituents ask what about a unified government, and I’m not opposed to doing a study to see if that’s something we could do and having public hearings to see if the public is interested. It certainly has some merits, such as a unified government means that you would no longer bicker over sales tax distributions, and I think that’s something we could look into to see if it would benefit us.
Those are my primary issues right now that I’ve seen in the past four years; there could be others that could come up and I think we’ll deal with those as they present themselves, but those are our biggest challenges I feel.”
Q: What is the importance of supporting local small businesses in Dawsonville and do you have any plans to help further this initiative?
A: “I believe it’s of utmost importance. One of the things that I believe could help that is gonna be a little bit longer term, it’s not gonna be a quick fix.
I can draw on my experience having grown up in Dahlonega — until they were able to get their bypass, truck route, whatever you want to call it, you still had all the heavy traffic in the downtown area. Once you have a bypass or a truck route, you can approach the state then to abandon its right-of-way within that footprint and once you do that they become city streets and you can have ordinances that would keep [the trucks] out of those areas unless they’re making a delivery.
Then you can apply for some grants, use local funds, and improve the walkability, the safety and the appearance of it. And by doing that you’re going to make downtown more accessible to people, it’s going to be safer for them, you’ll have more foot traffic which will be great for our local businesses and it can truly become a walkable city.”
Q: In what direction would you like to see Dawsonville head as a tourist attraction during your term?
A: “Of course the motorsports park is a huge draw for us, as is the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame. I’d like to work with those two a little bit more closely.
Perhaps a convention center would be a good thing; I’d like to see us do a study on that to know exactly what that would do. Then it would bring in, well if you have a convention center then where are people going to stay? There’s no hotel in the city limits, so it opens the doors for more in the city. It’s a multi-prong approach.”
Q: How much time are you willing or able to commit to being a council member?
A: “This one is easy: as much as is needed. I’m single, so apart from taking care of my older dad I’m available. And fortunately my job is very flexible, so whatever I need to do to fulfill this obligation of my own doing I’m more than free to do so.”
Q: What makes you the best candidate for the seat?
A: “I believe the qualities that make me best suited for this above the competition are my years of experience, I have a level head, I don’t lose my cool, I want to listen to the public and allow them the opportunity to participate, and I genuinely love my little town. Throw that all together with I have the time and the willingness to do it, and there you go. I’m not a politician, I’m just a guy trying to do my part.”