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1st of 3 Flowery Branch seats to be decided by residents

POSTED: September 18, 2010 11:27 p.m.
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Chris Strickland

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Two Flowery Branch residents with deep ties to the South Hall town are vying for a spot on City Council on Tuesday.

Chris Strickland and Amanda Swafford are seeking to replace Craig Lutz, who left the council in April to run for the South Hall post on the Hall County Board of Commissioners.

The candidates are similar. Both are in their mid-30s and, though they now work in other communities, grew up in and around Flowery Branch, including attending South Hall Middle School.

"This place is a great place to grow up and a great place to raise a family, and we need to make sure we've got somebody there to keep it that way," Strickland said.

"And that's why I want to run. I want to be the person who understands what Flowery Branch is all about and knows how to deal with growth so that we don't lose that identity.

"We have to grow. If you don't grow, you die. There's no in-between ... but there's a way to do it without getting greedy and causing yourself trouble further down the line."

Swafford remembers the influence of her grandfather, who owned Mooney Manufacturing Co. in Flowery Branch.

"Watching him and observing him and listening to some of the obstacles he faced in dealing with governmental things (related to) a manufacturing plant ... had a real strong impact on me," she said.

She said she believes the voters should have choices.

"That's one of the reasons I got involved in this race," Swafford said. "At the time before I was going to qualify, there was only one candidate ... I felt that it was important to give everybody a different choice."

Both candidates also have former political experience.

Strickland, 36, a teacher in Gwinnett County, ran for Georgia state representative in 2008. He lost to incumbent Rep. James Mills, R-Chestnut Mountain. And Swafford, 34, a litigation manager for a Gainesville law firm, was elected to the Sacramento County (Calif.) Land Use committee.

Both gave slightly different responses when asked what they regarded as Flowery Branch's most pressing issue.

Strickland answered with the proposed utility rate structure that comes up for a vote at Thursday's council meeting.

"Going more to a user-friendly rate is a move in the right direction," he said.

The new structure essentially ends the city's practice of charging residents different amounts based on how long they have lived in the city. But council members informally have favored lower rates for those who use lower amounts of water and sewer per month.

"We have to be careful we don't balance the budget on the backs of the more susceptible people in this economy," Strickland said.

Swafford said she believes infrastructure needs are apparent in the city, particularly transportation.

She recalls returning to Flowery Branch after several years away and seeing the growth's effects on the city.

She described the experience as "eye-opening."

"That said, the preparation for that growth - I don't feel like was there," Swafford said. "There's definitely a lot of catch-up work that has to be done and (the city) has got to really find some creative alternative funding sources."

City officials need to keep in mind "realizing that most of (its) revenue is coming from the citizens," she added.

Once the Post 1 seat is filled, the city can turn its attention to two other council races.

Flowery Branch also is planning an election Nov. 2 to fill the mayor seat vacated by Diane Hirling, who retired to Florida earlier this year, and a council seat being vacated by Interim Mayor Mike Miller.

Miller has said he plans to resign Sept. 27, the first day of qualifying for those two seats, to run for mayor.

Qualifying ends Sept. 29.

 



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