Coweta County Commission District 3 candidates sound off

The Citizen recently invited the candidates for Coweta County Commission Districts 2 and 3 to provide our readers with an opportunity to hear from them and to get their positions on the issues they believe are pertinent to Coweta County and its future. What follows is in keeping with this newspaper’s belief that people should “have their say.”

Printed this week are the comments from District 3 candidates George “Kett” Harper, David Stover and Bob Blackburn. The comments of District 2 candidates, incumbent Tim Lassetter and challenger Eddie Wilson, will run in next week’s edition.

Candidates were asked to comment on why they were running for office, what they would bring to the commission, why voters should trust them, how they “see” Coweta now and in the future and their thoughts on residential and commercial development and zoning ordinances. Their complete responses are provided below. Our readers can judge for themselves if those issues have been sufficiently addressed.

All candidates qualified as Republicans. The races will be decided in the July 20 primary.

District 3 candidate George “Kett” Harper:

I believe that good government starts at the local level. Through my company, I have worked with many different city council and board of commissioner groups in the past. I believe that my background will be a welcomed addition to the board and help to make well-informed decisions in the future. I also have two small boys that my wife and I plan to raise in the county and I want them to enjoy the things that attracted us to move here.

-On economic development and jobs: We need to help recruit companies who will be active corporate citizens in our community and create higher paying jobs. We also need to help our existing industries to expand and create additional jobs. I would like to see greater incentives for new businesses and industry so that more jobs will stay local and Coweta County can capitalize on those property and sales tax dollars. With the construction of the new hospital and cancer treatment center, Coweta County is on the cusp of becoming the medical “hub” of South Atlanta. There will be many opportunities for new ancillary businesses to feed off the new medical centers. I would also like to study the area surrounding the airport. I believe with its easy interstate access and abundant available land, the area surrounding the airport is an untapped gold mine in Coweta County.

-On supporting quality growth: I support quality growth while maintaining the integrity of our rural areas throughout Coweta County. I support the restructuring of the impact fees for new developments so that Coweta County will be more attractive for potential investors. However, I do not mean to eliminate them, though. Impact fees are essential to help reduce the taxpayer’s cost to maintain our roads and infrastructure. We must keep Coweta County an attractive area to do business.

-On infrastructure and transportation improvements: Over the next few years, transportation and infrastructure improvements will be essential to keep pace with the current and future growth of Coweta County. We must continue to plan ahead for the staggering population forecasts for our county by enhancing our current maintenance programs for our roads and bridges. By doing so, we will be able to extend the life span of our existing transportation system. As an engineer, I understand the complex nature of these improvements and feel that my technical background will be a welcome addition to the board of commissioners.

I want to help this county continue to grow while remaining financially sound along the way without property tax millage rates increases. Also, I would like to see additional recreation fields constructed closer to downtown that can be managed by CCSA for their use. I believe that the county can work with the local school system to utilize their fields on off-hours.

I believe my background as a small business owner in this economy forces you to learn the importance of fiscal conservatism and sound planning. I plan to translate that to my work as a county commissioner and I plan to continue the responsible work that the current commission has done and to help lead this county into the future. Further, in addition to my small business background I offer an engineering background that I believe can bring a new perspective and be useful to the commission.

District 3 candidate David Stover:

-On why he is running: I am running for commissioner because I think that high quality growth in the county has been stopped by the repressive Impact Fees. I want to eliminate all Impact Fees on non-retail buildings coming into the county.

Piedmont-Newnan Hospital had to pay $1.3 million to locate their new building here, a nine-story state of the art medical facility unlike any other hospital located on the south side of Atlanta. Had they not already been here, they would have chosen to not locate here. We should not charge a job producer such as Piedmont impact fees to ‘Buy a ladder truck’ to service the facility.

The taxes generated by Piedmont and it’s employees will far out produce the $1.3 million in impact fees. If they had decided to go elsewhere, as other businesses have done, we would lose all tax dollars associated with them coming into the county to another county. This amounts to lost Sales Tax, Property Tax, fewer homes being purchased in our area and less money spent in our retail establishments. The best way to kill our local economy and keep Coweta workers as one of the lowest paid in the Metro Atlanta area is to keep the Impact Fees in place as they currently are. Tuesday, the commissioners voted to cap the fee at $7 – this is still too high, it is a quality growth killer. It is time to fire Ross and Associates, our consultants for the Impact Fees. They are wrong in their assessments and they are wrong for our county.

-On what he brings to the commission: A voice of reason and a consciousness that is not currently there. I will work with the Coweta County Development Authority to encourage high quality job growth.

Fiscal Responsibility: Runaway spending such as we had on the Coweta County Justice Center has got to be stopped. Our Justice Center, while it is beautiful, is a monument to government. The taxpayers are tired of these monuments. Coweta County did need a new courthouse, but it did not need to be as lavish and ostentatious as what was built. I contend that we could have built a high quality, high tech courthouse for a least two-thirds to one-half of what was spent.

We have empty shopping centers that could have been made into wonderful court complexes with ample parking for much less money. We should have at least looked into less expensive alternatives. Our commissioners that put the new courthouse into place saw the opportunity to build something new as an open checkbook into the tax payers pockets.

I am against any tax increases. Period. And I am for a repeal of the 1-cent sales tax (SPLOST).

On SPLOST: Fayette County is bragging about the increase in sales from Coweta County residents because of their now lower sales tax rate. Since Fayette County voters voted down the SPLOST, Coweta residents have been going to Fayette county for major purchases of electronics and furniture and other high dollar items leaving our merchants lacking in sales. Our SPLOST money has been used on wasteful spending. The ninth grade buildings were built to shelter our incoming freshman from the rest of the school, but my daughter spends one-half of her day in the main building at Northgate High School. This was a wasteful use of our SPLOST money. Why not just add onto the schools if they needed more classroom space. We already have a separation of ages, it is called elementary, middle and high School. All high school students should be located in one building, not spread out in under utilized, over priced buildings. Our “Ninth Grade Buildings” are being used for upper classman classes anyway, so where is the separation? Just another case where the county saw an opportunity to spend money so they spent it.

On property tax: The worth of our houses are dropping, yet our homes are being re-appraised to higher values. If we are ordered by the State of Georgia re-evaluate because the state believes that the properties in our county are under estimated, then lower the millage rate to offset the new appraisals.
Everyone knows our homes are not worth as much now as they were two years ago, but our taxes are higher, our values, according to the tax commissioner’s office, have not gone down but the real estate market says otherwise.

Stop passing ordinances that are getting us sued every time we turn around. Ordinances and bad deals are getting us sued constantly because they are not well thought out before they are passed. We need to look at the possible impact of the ordinances before we jump into a vote to pass them. I have never seen Coweta County embroiled in as many lawsuits as I have in the last few years. I grew up in South Fulton County and my family lived in Coweta, I have seen the changes over the years and this is not a good change.

On safety: I want to work with the Coweta County Sheriff’s department to increase the patrols in our district. Currently we have an increase in crime in our area and a lack of patrols. I understand that some of this may be due to budgetary constraints and a lack of man power. I will work with the Sheriff to make sure he is getting the funding he needs to properly protect our citizens in all parts of the county. Our Sheriff’s office is efficiently run and if they need additional funding to protect us all, then let’s give it to them and cut the spending from somewhere else.

On roads: We need good roads and bridges. There should never be a washed out bridge in Coweta County that takes 4+ years to rebuild. Potholes should be properly repaired, not filled in with a bag of asphalt once a year only to become a pothole again in a month. Railroad crossing guards should not take years to get approved as accident after accident happens and the death toll rises.

Coweta County has attracted a thriving movie industry but we could do more. Additional incentives and more cooperation will bring more movie and TV production into our county. Drop Dead Diva is an excellent example of the additional revenue generated by TV production. Sets have to be built and furnished. Much of those materials are bought locally to the benefit of our local merchants. Sales of furniture, cars, food, hotels, as well as the rental of apartments, offices and houses are all generated by having a television or film production in our county. Enormous sales tax revenue is generated. Local county and city permits are purchased. These productions are bringing millions into our local economy that we otherwise would not have. This activity should be fostered not hindered.

As a small business owner, I have a proven and recognized track record for fostering entrepreneurship and helping small businesses grow, I understand what it means to “roll-up-my-sleeves” and do the “heavy lifting.” My experience has taught me to stretch every dollar in order to maximize its results. I operate my business lean and efficiently in order to minimize overhead costs and reduce waste and excess. I believe our local government can do the same, given the right leadership.

-On why voters should trust him: Voters should trust me because I have no agenda other than doing the right thing for the county’s residents. My business is not dependent on ordinances passed, contracts granted, land being rezoned or development happening. I don’t have to make sure a property is rezoned so that I can sell it, I don’t have to make sure the county is adding infrastructure so that I can design it. My business is not impacted by the items that are voted on by the County Commissioners.

-On how he “sees” Coweta, now and in the future: Coweta is currently a bedroom community. The majority of our white collar workers work outside our county because of the lack of work for them in our community. We are loosing jobs to our neighbors because of a lack of cooperation in quality business development and improper management from the commissioners.

I will work with the Development Authority to allow them to give the incentives needed to attract the high-quality white collar jobs that we so desperately need. We have a highly trained workforce with college degrees that can not be used in our county because of the lack of jobs, it is time to bring the jobs home, reduce our commute times and make Coweta’s workforce one of the highest paid workforces in the Metro Atlanta area instead of one of the lowest paid.

-On commercial and residential development and zoning: Commercial development should be kept in the areas that are already set aside for commercial development. We should not have shopping centers popping-up in residential areas and gas stations in the middle of nowhere. I would like to see the size of residential lots increased to 2.5+ acres for lots that are created from this point forward. I don’t think that developers should be able to create ‘set asides’ or ‘green space’ to make up for the lack of lot size. We need controlled, high-quality growth that that benefits the county’s residences, not just the developers.

District 3 candidate Bob Blackburn:

Being a native of Coweta County, my family settled here in the late 1840’s. I have a strong community connection and desire to see Coweta County be better than ever. I was born here on October 30, 1956 in Newnan Hospital. I attended Elm Street Elementary, the old Junior High on Jackson Street, graduated from Newnan High in 1974, and from Auburn in 1979 with a Finance degree. While in high school I worked my summers at Newnan Water and Light Commission cutting grass, and life-guarding at the Elks Club pool.

Later after graduating college and entering the business world, my career lead me to the banking industry at First National Bank of Atlanta, the insurance industry and then into real estate for the last 22 years with my own firm. I feel confident I can be a voice of the people first and foremost. I want to see our county be better than we have been for future generations to come.

Helping set the ground work for the future is my goal. As a county commissioner I will approach every issue on the table with a “WE” mindset not an “I” or a for “ME” mentality. People and businesses at all levels are hurting and the County has to be in a position to create positive growth. We as a commission have to do whatever it takes to bring them relief and ensure a vibrant economic environment to facilitate jobs and job creation at a steady growth. Not a growth then bust, but a continuous effort to ensure our growth as a community.

I feel we can do better for our county than ever before. The opportunities abound in a down economy if you know where to look. We need to put Coweta First and make it Better for our children. Being educated here , we need to continue to improve our schools and lay out the ground work for future generations to succeed in the years to come. Laying out the ground work is what is often overlooked in most counties.

Growth by industry moving here or expanding here is the front runner at most commission meetings. I want to change that with my candidacy in 2010. We need to grow new business from within our county. Make it attractive and beneficial for businesses to want to come to Coweta and for citizens to have the opportunity and incentive to start a business here.

To give back to Coweta, through public service, and to help ensure our future for all citizens, we can make Coweta Better. I have lived here all my life and have a stake in making “Coweta First and Better.” My goal is for me to give back to the community and help to make Coweta a better place to raise a family. We can bring about a better quality of life, for your family and mine. It will be an honor to serve you, the 3rd District, as your county commissioner. Whether you are a citizen or a business, I do believe Coweta’s motto should be “What can we do for you, to help and assist you? “

Coweta is so well positioned with workforce talent, location, and resources that will allow us to move forward despite the economic downturn. I will make it my duty to serve in this manner for all of Coweta County.

I have been married for 21 years to Jennifer Justiss Blackburn, with our two children Matt, age 19, and Victoria, age 16. Matt will start his second year at Auburn University this fall, and Tori will be a junior next year at The Heritage School. God has been good to me and my family. We are members of Central Baptist Church in Newnan and having served on the grounds committee and as an usher. Being a match for an organ transplant in October of 2009, my son was able to receive one of my kidneys. We have been blessed with a wonderful second chance for our son. Both of our children and I have been Baptized at Central Baptist Church, and it holds a very special place in my heart. My family have been members here since the church was built back in the late 1890’s.