COVINGTON - Democrat Randy Vinson, who is running for the District 5 county commission post, said he can bring a fresh perspective to the job.
A town planner and project manager who has provided services for the cities of Oxford and Porterdale and the town of Newborn and designed the Clark's Grove neighborhood, Vinson previously served as the planning director and special projects coordinator for Newton County.
"With my 15 years of planning and teaching experience ... both from inside the county government working on policies in the planning and zoning office, and ordinances, and living by them while designing and developing projects, I can offer a very balanced approach to decision-making," he said.
What more can be done locally to solve the county's transportation problems?
"We're building and accepting from developers hundreds of miles of roads every year, but they aren't contributing to the street network," Vinson said. "We need to be planning so those roads contribute to the network.
"Conventional development cul-de-sacs are basically glorified driveways to houses that dump cars onto single roads that link everything to everybody else. If we do proper planning, we can establish a street network," with developers building roads that contribute to the network and offer connectivity, he said.
With the expected budget crunch next year, how will the county continue to provide a high level of service to residents?
"I am totally opposed to increasing taxes in any way," Vinson said. "My training as an urban designer and land planner gives me a different perspective on how to deal with problems. I think we can creatively look at everything we're doing and look for the potential to be more efficient, where we can continue to offer the same level of services, doing more with less."
Should commissioners get involved with promoting economic development? If so, what more can be done?
Vinson said the county must offer incentives to commercial developers and get aggressive in recruitment. More planning is also needed to determine what type of development is wanted, he said.
Vinson said several economic development avenues are being overlooked, including agribusiness.
"Newton County has more organic farms than any county in the state. We need to pursue that avenue and pursue dairy and other farming operations. It's win-win from a growth perspective. Cows don't go to school. We can preserve greenspace and enhance our rural atmosphere," he said.
Some residents complain that residential development in recent years has been out of control. Is there anything more that should be done to regulate or slow development?
Vinson said the "runaway" development of recent years has consisted of the same types of housing.
"I by no means want to have only high-end housing. I want to offer a full mix of everything for every lifestyle, every age, every income level," he said. "We shouldn't be isolating in our own separate pods. We should continue to build mixed communities."
Commissioners should continue to refine development regulations and zoning ordinances to encourage mixed-use development with a variety of housing types, he said.
Quality development should also be emphasized, he said, noting that historic homes in downtown Covington have been restored because they were worth preserving.
"Some neighborhoods built in the last years hardly have a redeeming quality about them. Neighborhoods lack real character. The homes are hardly worth renovating," Vinson said.
Do you support the proposed hotel/civic center project?
He said he supports the project "100 percent" and sees it as an economic development tool, though he admits he does have concerns about funding. "I don't want to strap the county with debt it can't afford," he said.
The proposed site, adjacent to the Newton County Administration Building in downtown Covington is "about as good a location as possibly could be found. It will strengthen downtown Covington and we need to try to do that every chance we get," he said.
Crystal Tatum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: The Vinson File
Occupation: Town planner and project manager
Education: Bachelor's degree in history from Morgan State University in Baltimore; master's degree in landscape architecture from the University of Georgia
Community/political experience: Served as Newton County planning director from 2000-2001; former special projects coordinator for the county; on the board of directors for Smart Growth Newton County; past president of the Newton County Historical Society; chairman of Cousins Community Center; treasurer of Fowler Street Redevelopment
Family: Wife Sara; two kids, Claire and Eli
Web site: www.randyvinson.org