COVINGTON -- The two Republican candidates for the District 1 Board of Commissioners seat focused on the future of east Newton in the wake of the announcement that Baxter International will locate there at a forum held Thursday night.
John Douglas said he wants to keep the area rural and will fight to keep 2-acre minimum lot sizes.
"As long as I am a commissioner, I will not under any circumstances vote to rezone for apartments or condominiums in the first district," he said.
But opponent John Strauss said those statements are contrary to the development plan laid out for the district in the 2050 Plan, which designates compact communities at The Hub and in Stanton Springs, where growth will be focused.
"There's no way to have the 2050 Plan and say you're going to have a 2-acre lot minimum and not any multi-family housing," Strauss said, adding that the 2050 plan calls for mixed use developments, such as condos and lofts. He cited Clark's Grove in Covington as an example of a mixed use community. Strauss said the 2050 Plan protects the rural character of District 1 by concentrating growth to prevent urban sprawl.
Douglas said managing growth in the wake of the Baxter announcement will be like "walking a tight rope." While it's important to make sure the company has the resources it needs, it's also important to protect the county from uncontrolled growth, he said. Douglas also touted his experience, saying he knows the key players in Atlanta from his tenure in the state House and state Senate and he can call on them when an issue arises.
"This is not a time for an unknown quantity," he said.BOC, District 3Incumbent Nancy Schulz said the greatest challenge for her district is getting better paying jobs for residents and addressing the traffic on Salem Road. The county is currently putting together a Salem Road overlay to address growth in that area and funding for widening Salem Road is on the T-SPLOST referendum, but Schulz said if the referendum is not approved, the county will be at square one to find a source of funding.
Schulz said she's worked to get residents involved in discussions about issues facing the county by hosting several fireside chats each year.
The majority of growth has occurred in West Newton, and "those individuals need to be part of the solution, need to be encouraged to be part of the dialogue. I believe through my fireside chats, we've done that and we'll continue to do that."
Opponent Tony Flanagan said the challenges in the district are the high foreclosure rate, a lack of businesses and a lack of services for seniors and the disabled.
Flanagan said he's walked the district and found out that many constituents don't know their current commissioner.
"I'm transparent; I'm approachable. I want people in my community to know who I am," he said, adding that he will take suggestions from citizens and bring them back to the Board of Commissioners.
"I believe some of the changes and the ideas I have come from the citizens inside District 3 and will take us forward where we want to go in the future," he said, adding that his goals are to uphold the 2050 Plan, deal with job loss, and work to provide more services for the elderly, the disabled and veterans.
Schulz responded that during her first run for office she met 5,000 residents in the third district, acknowledging that she hasn't met all of the district's 20,000 residents, but "I sure am trying my best to get out there and meet every single one of them."
Flanagan alluded to a "hidden agenda" by the current commissioner but did not provide specifics when pressed.
"I'm running my campaign on integrity and I take that very seriously. I think that says it all, when I put on my brochures that integrity is the most important value for me. I would hope my actions over the last four years speak for themselves," Schulz said.
The forum took place at The Center Thursday night and was hosted by the Chamber of Commerce and The Covington News. Only candidates with opposition in the July 31 primary were invited to speak.
Additional coverage of the forum will be provided in an upcoming edition of the Citizen.