Forum at Cagle’s

Source: Cherokee Tribune

By: Michelle Babcock

Almost 300 people gathered under a pavilion at the Cagle’s Dairy Farm on Tuesday to hear two-minute speeches from nearly 30 candidates running for local, state and national seats.

The forum was sponsored by the Cherokee County Farm Bureau, Cherokee Chamber of Commerce and the Cagle’s Dairy Farm in Canton.

Candidates whose opposition did not attend the forum were given two minutes to speak to the crowd, while groups of candidates running for various seats were given two minutes for opening statements and one minute to answer any audience questions.

The forum was moderated by Tribune Managing Editor Rebecca Johnston and Vice President of WLJA Radio Michael Searcy.

David Pennington was the only candidate in the race for Georgia’s gubernatorial seat to attend the forum and said he was “on a mission to return Georgia back to its rightful place” as “the most powerful, successful economy in the South.”

“You do it through limited government principles, less taxes, less regulations and open and transparent government,” Pennington said at the forum.

All three candidates for the Georgia House of Representatives District 22 seat were at the forum to speak to voters.

Meagan Biello said she has a vested interest in the area she hopes to represent.

“I live in District 22, I work in District 22, my kids go to school in District 22,” Biello said. “I have the most skin in the game. I have a degree from the University of Georgia — a business degree in economics and political science.”

Wes Cantrell said he is running for the seat because he wants to continue the legacy of leadership left by former Rep. Calvin Hill (R- Macedonia), who died in 2013.

“I want to eliminate the state income tax and replace it with the fair tax. I want to ensure parents have as many choices as possible for how they want to educate their children,” Cantrell said. “I want to protect the rights of the unborn, and our God-given rights. And I want to nullify Obamacare.”

The incumbent, Rep. Sam Moore (R- Macedonia), said the purpose of government is to preserve “freedoms and liberty.”

“The federal government is actually working against us,” Moore said. “It’s time for state governments to stand up and do something about it. That’s what I have been doing, and what I do plan to do while down there.”

All seven candidates hoping to fill three seats on the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners attended the forum and answered audience questions.

County Commission Chair Buzz Ahrens and challenger Jackie Archer were both in attendance.

Ahrens said he’s made significant achievements as the commission chair over the past seven years, including the park expansion, economic development growth, public safety improvements and bringing additional jobs to the area.

“We’re going to continue the economic development trend, we are on the radar, our time is now,” Ahrens said. “We will promote the opportunity zone… the local infrastructure needs improvements… we’ll continue the parks build-out… we will make sure you have the lowest tax burden per capita in the region.”

Archer said she is a fiscal conservative and was previously a Holly Springs city councilwoman.

“My No. 1 goal for Cherokee County is to foster economic growth,” Archer said. “I pledge to be a good steward of all your resources. One of the main reasons why I had decided to run was because I didn’t like what was happening in Cherokee County.”

The two candidates vying for the District 1 seat on the Board of Commissioners explained their reasons for running.

Incumbent Commissioner Harry Johnston said he’s been on the board for 14 years, is a lifelong Republican, a Certified Public Accountant in his day job, and has been the fiscal leader on the Board of Commissioners.

“The result of those 14 years are great county services— really outstanding county services and facilities— and exceptionally low tax rates,” Johnston said. “We have the second-lowest tax rates in metro Atlanta, and the 11th-lowest out of the 159 counties in Georgia. That’s really a terrific record. My opponent can’t run against that record… We’ve got the best quality of life anywhere.”

Steve West said he’s running for the commission seat because he’s a businessman, born and raised in the county.

“I was recruited by the District 1 constituents… I had no idea I was going to be doing it,” West said. “As far as parks and recreation— yeah, we got two parks under construction, but the fact of the matter is we still play on the same ball field I played on 45 years ago. Should’ve been done a long time before now. If we can come to a solution on this debt, maybe in the future we’ll be able to build more parks and get more employee raises.”

Candidates for the District 4 commission seat— Larry Singleton, Scott Gordon and Joe Roberts— were also on hand.

Singleton said he’s been part of improving the county for years, while also helping to roll back the mileage rate.

“Over the past decade, I’ve been kind of disappointed about what’s been happening, or really what’s not been happening, in District 4,” Singleton said. “The past 60 days, I’ve been going door-to-door talking to voters, talking to business owners, and they’ve been telling me they want a strong commissioner who will demand fairness. Who will ask the Board of Commissioners to be more responsive to the needs of District 4.”

Gordon said he’s a registered architect working in downtown Woodstock, and has worked with the city and county on numerous projects.

“As an architect, I understand the needs of the county,” Gordon said. “I have a highly vested interest in what happens in this county, and that’s why I believe that the citizens of this county need a trustworthy commissioner. One that does more than identify problems but actually puts plans on the ground.”

Roberts said he wants to address why so many residents leave the county for work, and to address traffic issues by “opening up the roads.”

“This county needs a good tune-up,” Roberts said. “I’m a mechanic and I’m used to fixing other people’s problems… I want to do something.”

All eight candidates vying for the four open Cherokee County School Board seats were also at the forum.

District 3 School Board candidates John Harmon and Brett Ladd each explained why they thought they were the best person to fill the open seat.

Harmon said he’s a business owner and is adept at budgeting and auditing, saying, “It’s just what I do.”

“I have three children, two of which attend Hickory Flat Elementary School,” Harmon said. “I am running for school board initially and greatly because I have a vested interest. Not only in my children, but in the other 39,000 children in Cherokee County Schools.”

Ladd said he’s a lawyer, a dad and a Republican, and said he wants to build bridges between the school board and state legislators.

“Often during this race, I’ve been asked by people ‘What’s the single most important thing that affects Cherokee County schools?’ And, despite taxes and student achievement and great things… the one thing that I hear the most often is about the lack of trust,” Ladd said. “That’s why I chose to run for school board.”

District 4 School Board candidates Rick Steiner, who is the incumbant, and Robert Strozier expressed their reasons for running.

Steiner said he’s been on the board for nine years, starting in 2005, and was the chair in 2011.

“During that time, we have increased our population in the school system by 7,000 students, 10 schools, and I’m proud to be part of that,” Steiner said. “In this 21st century with a global economy, I think our kids need someone who has experience.”

Strozier said he’s a conservative, Christian Republican, and opposes Common Core.

“I am for school choice, and I believe we have to use every dollar in the most efficient way possible,” Strozier said. “One of the things that bothers me the most— we have 30 children per classroom. We have to get our class size down.”

District 5 School Board candidates Clark Menard and Erica Williams explained their reasons for wanting to be on the board.

Menard said his family moved to Cherokee County for the great school system, and he decided to run for the seat after attending meetings when board members discussed issues that he said were not related to the students.

“I want to get [the school board] back on the right track. I want to return the focus to our students, our children. I want to make sure we’re taking every interest of theirs to heart,” Menard said. “We have got to get classroom sizes down… We need to encourage vocational opportunities… Cherokee County needs to implement a career and charter academy.”

Williams said she is a pre-K teacher, and said she’s all about education, “from the classroom to the kitchen table.”

“I have three C’s that I want to work on, which is community— I want to make sure our community is involved in our education and we have a larger conversation. I want to work on school culture— make sure classrooms have what they need to manage the class sizes for 180 days. I also want to work on communication,” Williams said.

District 6 candidates Mike Chapman and Susie Tlacil spoke to voters at the forum about why they decided to run for the seat.

Chapman said he was on the board for 11 years, with four years as the chair and two years as the vice chair. He also served on the Appalachian Technical College board of directors, Chapman said.

“When I left the board in December 2012, I was very proud of what I accomplished,” Chapman said. “Today, frankly, we need to get back to teaching and learning, and get our school board focused on the kids. I feel my job is not done. I was ready to retire and move on, but I feel I need to get back and do what I can and help our school system.”

Tlacil said she has the endorsement of the Canton tea party, and is running to be “a parent’s voice on the board.”

“I think it’s time to see a fresh outsider’s view of what an experience of a real parent in the district is,” Tlacil said. “I want a district that promises a culture where parents and teachers can speak out without fear of repercussion for their paycheck or for their children, and I don’t think we have that. Transparency, fiscal responsibility.”