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Hill speaks out on poll question
Commissioner: Wording is unfair and leading

CONYERS - Rockdale County Commissioner Jason Hill criticized Tuesday a straw poll question that will appear on the upcoming primary election ballot, saying it only provides "one side of the story" concerning the proposed expansion of the county's judicial center in Olde Town Conyers.

Hill, an Olde Town resident, made his comments toward the end of the Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday. The question to voters will appear on both Democratic and Republican ballots for the July 15 primary election. This question and another one concerning the pending sale of Rockdale Medical Center are not binding and are considered straw poll questions used to gauge public opinion.

The judicial center question asks, "Would you prefer that a future county courthouse be built on county-owned property at 1400 Parker Road instead of in Olde Town Conyers?"

Hill said the question is unfair and leading. "The question is structured in such a way, leads in a way to get a certain answer from the way it's worded," he said.

Hill argued the county owns property in Olde Town as well as at Parker Road. Also, he said the options for the county are to either build a new complex or expand current facilities.

"I don't think we need a huge, new Taj Mahal of a courthouse," Hill said. "We have identified the space we need and what it would take in the future without going overboard. I don't want to put ourselves in the position of having bigger government, more maintenance costs and more operational costs."

Hill also posed the question of what would happen to the existing courthouse if the county does move offices to a new facility on Parker Road.

"Is it a marketable property where you can come close to getting the money out of it that it's worth?" he asked. "We have put a significant investment at that location already."

In 2006, county government officials made it known that the current judicial center between Milstead Avenue and Bank Street was overcrowded and was hampered with limited parking.

Commissioners have floated the idea of moving the judicial center to its property on Parker Road while city officials have pushed for it to remain where it is.

The courthouse is considered by many local government officials and residents to be an anchor for historic Olde Town and an integral part of the city's economic development plans for the historic district.

The Board of Commissioners is working with a consultant to develop a cost estimate for expansion in Olde Town Conyers.

Hill isn't the only one who has publicly stated his dissatisfaction with the straw poll. Earlier in June, the Conyers Downtown Development Authority passed a resolution to formally oppose the question.

"The way the ballot question is phrased is not fair, it is a leading question and does not provide sufficient information for voters to make an informed decision," DDA Vice Chairman Daniel Digby said during an earlier interview with the Citizen.

On the other hand, leaders in the two local political parties support the ballot question.

Garvin Haynes, a vice chairman of the county's Democratic Party, has been an outspoken critic of expanding the judicial center in Olde Town Conyers.

Haynes has said the ballot question is fair and gives citizens an opportunity to have a say in the matter. He has said in open county meetings and in previous interviews with the Citizen that county commissioners have not given enough consideration to building a new judicial center on Parker Road and therefore, do not have a valid cost alternative to expansion in Olde Town.

David Shipp, chairman of the county's Republican Party, has been less vocal than Haynes, but has also been critical of the county's efforts.

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones@rockdalecitizen.com.