Candidates outline platforms at first debate
by Matt Shinall
Mar 29, 2012 | 1957 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Five candidates shared the stage Tuesday night for the first Bartow County commissioner's debate.

Mike Abernathy, Mike Bearden, Tracy Lewis, Steve Taylor and Tony Tidwell took their seats at the Clarence Brown Conference Center, seeking the seat for whom the venue was named.

With qualifying set to begin May 23, those candidates that have announced their intent to run will be found on the Republican primary ballot come July 31.

With much of the night's focus landing on the challenging situation of local economics, many questions dealt directly with or returned to economic development as each candidate summarized their plan to bring jobs and encourage growth.

One question asked the candidates to grade the state of current economic development efforts, specifically citing the decision by Lowe's to build a distribution center in Floyd County. All but one candidate gave Bartow County some variant of an A for their efforts, blaming setbacks on the market's overarching economic condition.

"Considering the economic recession that we've been in, that's kind of a hard one because everybody has been behind in economic development but we have lost some in our region. So, as far as a grade, I'd have to say A- maybe, but it's not all our fault or the economic development's fault or lack of their ideas or lack of their efforts," Lewis said.

Bearden, the only candidate not to give an exact letter grade, after being asked again for a specific grade, responded with "not good enough."

"We're at the turning point in our county's history. We've been very fortunate to have what we've had the past 20 years, but the future is so much different and we've got so much promise that we have an opportunity to set the stage for our children and our children's children," Bearden said.

Another question directed candidates toward county infrastructure, specifically that of sewage expansion. Candidates agreed on the critical nature of the project with Taylor and Tidwell pointing to projects slated for the 2014 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax approved by voters last November, which should aid expansion goals.

"In the new SPLOST, the water department looks like got the bulk of the money -- $34 million that's going to the water department. Four big sewage projects and those four totaling $18 million dollars," Taylor said. "It's got $34 million in SPLOST and $18 [million] of that is going into the sewage program. So, it should really help Allatoona Lake area ... but you've got Pine Log and no sewage in those areas like Kingston and Taylorsville."

Kingston, too, was a point of interest for Abernathy, hailing from the area, as the town has wrestled for years with the need for sewage. He also drew attention to the county's south side and drainage issues concerning Lake Allatoona.

"Right now going to Kingston, sewage stops about Shaw," Abernathy said. "The economic development and future of Kingston, Ga., depends on sewage, but that's about $20 [million], $30 million to have a sewage pump station put in, to have all the work done in Kingston, to bring the tie all the way into Kingston.

"If we didn't do anything else, we need that downtown sewer, and as the new county commissioner, you can rest assured I'm going to push to get it in Kingston and I'm going to push to get it in on the south end of this county where we really have a problem with sewage going into Allatoona Lake and in some streams."

Shortly before candidates were given the opportunity for closing remarks, a question was posed regarding growing recreational demands. All candidates agreed on the importance of recreational outlets for community well-being. Tidwell, as with sewer projects, noted recreation expansion projects also are on the SPLOST list.

"Definitely, as the county grows, we're going to have to provide more recreation for them. Still everyone is talking about LakePoint, we know that should bring in a lot, and in this last SPLOST everyone voted on -- which, keep in mind, it doesn't start until 2014 -- but there was about $7 million allotted for recreation expansion," Tidwell said. "It just depends on how this sales tax comes in. It depends on how much people get out there and buy, but it is on the scheduled projects for the SPLOST tax to increase the recreational facilities, part of it is down on the south end."

Adversely, Bearden suggests recreation can be an area where the private sector and nonprofit organizations can make a difference. He alluded to a project he has personally been involved in for the creation of a park out of publicly owned land.

"I've been working as a nonprofit for four years working on a 600-acre public park that assembles the public land that's already owned by the federal government, the state government, the county and the city," Bearden said. "I call it Allatoona Park, it's a nonprofit and it's sort of a model of what I want to do with a lot of county activities whereby we invoke energy in the community of folks who have passion for special interests and find a way to reduce the scope of government but improve the level of services."

The debate, hosted by NewsTalk 1270 -- WXYC, will be available in audio format online in coming days. For more information, search for NewsTalk 1270 -- WXYC at www.facebook.com. A second debate is scheduled for June 5 at Adairsville High School from 7 to 9 p.m.

Candidate excerpt

The first question asked to candidates Tuesday was to name the top three priorities for their first year in office if elected. This question was selected for full transcription to provide readers an in-line comparison of each candidate's answer. The following answers are recorded in full except where recording was indistinguishable.

Top three priorities in first year?

Tracy Lewis -- owner FastTrak Delivery and Warehouse: "That's an easy one. My top three priorities, No. 1, jobs, jobs, jobs via economic development. I have many ideas under economic development and you will be seeing more of that on my website.

"No. 2 would be accountable management. That is of our county's budget and making sure all of our spending is efficient and, of course, in that process is our county administrator. As you know, Steve Bradley is going to be retiring with Clarence Brown, and so that's actually going to be a part of my Show Me Solutions in the first 90 days, not only my first year, is to have a search committee to hire our county manager

"And third, of course, is taxes -- keep taxes low but not by a restricting or restraining of our services. So, there are many other ways to bring in tax revenue besides our property taxes and we want to relieve the individual burden to each individual in the county and we can do that by economic development, which is my No. 1 priority."

Mike Bearden -- Retired, 40 year career in engineering and planning: "There's no doubt that our county is struggling like it hasn't in decades. We have a lot of hard-working citizens that I have spoken to that are without jobs and unemployed, the reason I'm running is jobs. The central issue in this county, right now to this campaign, is jobs. Government does not create jobs, government sets the tone for attracting jobs. The reason I'm running and my heart's purpose is that was my career.

"We have a serious need to attract new investors. I was the senior advisor for a Fortune 500 company for many years where it was my job to create plants anywhere that was available across the country. I know what they're looking for, I know who to talk to, I know who to go to and I intend to use my entire career's experience to bring jobs here in difficult times. I have a heart to help my county, we have a serious troubles, jobs is the answer. I've done it and I want to do it for my county."

Tony Tidwell -- Bartow County Building Inspector: "Yesterday was 28 years that I've been with Bartow County and I've seen a lot during that time. A lot of what has already been mentioned, one thing is trying to find a very good qualified county administrator. Sit down, let's go back over some of these records, find a place to save some money. If we have to I want to ride with some of these other departments, ride with the water department or the landfill -- see if there's some way we can come up with ways to save money without cutting services to the people of the county.

"I know nobody wants to add more taxes at this point, we've already heard things about what the school board is wanting to do and people just don't have the money to pay the extra taxes. So, those are basic things I'd like to get done."

Steve Taylor -- Owner, Taylor Farm Supply: "My No. 1 is also jobs. I think it's no surprise that in the recession we just went through, jobs would probably be most's No. 1 priority. As a member of the JDA and chairman of the Bartow County Development Authority, I constantly have conversations with our folks in economic development, Melinda Lemmon and her staff, and she is constantly showing our industrial park and in normal times we would have had many takers on the land. As we all know, we have 700 acres off Cass-White Road and it's prime property, we've got all the utilities there, it's ready to go. We just need somebody to step up and come in and provide some jobs for the community. She's showing the property all the time and so far we've had some pretty good prospects but no takers yet.

"But the companies that are already here are probably our best prospect for jobs and we probably need to cater a little more to them and keep the jobs that are already here."

Mike Abernathy -- Retired, 38 years with Georgia Power, pastor Creekside Fellowship Church: "We have a great county. I'm glad to be here today. ... Jobs are going to be the top priority for all of us, no matter where we are, but I do believe with all my heart we need to keep what we have and maintain those jobs. Keep the small businesses, the large businesses, work on that the most and those outside jobs are going to come. We've got the land, we've got the resources, we've got the cheap labor, we got the cheap water, we got the cheap power. We're going to attract businesses based on what we have with the resource pool. We have 45,000 ready to go to work, they're waiting on work, and I think that is going to be one advantage we have in front of us.

"Next thing I want to say is, attitude. We need to have the best attitude in the world in Bartow County. We have great people here but attitude within our government, within our own people, an attitude that will get us anywhere we need to be. Whether it's a modern company, whether it's church, wherever it is, we've got to have that positive attitude going into these hard times that we live in."