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Politics run hot in South Hall races

Competitive slate of GOP hopefuls tackle growth issues

POSTED: March 8, 2014 11:30 p.m.

Though perhaps unsurprising, what appear to be the most hotly contested races for local elected office this year will be fought in South Hall County.

Ken Cochran and Kathy Cooper will square off for the District 1 Board of Commissioners seat to replace Craig Lutz, who is running for the Public Service Commission.

Meanwhile, Mark Pettitt and Traci Lawson McBride are challenging incumbent Brian Sloan for the Post 2 Board of Education seat.

Perhaps even more unsurprising, all these candidates are running as Republicans.

South Hall is in many ways a microcosm for the most pressing issues facing the county today. Whether it’s commercial and residential development, infrastructure spending, traffic, schools or public safety, the area encompasses a litany of interests along the political spectrum.

“Between the good and the bad, you have a lot of attention on the area,” said Steve Slowick, president of the Grandview Estates Homeowners’ Association and an outspoken critic of the way the county is managing growth in South Hall.

The area is politically active, evidence in the number of residents from South Hall who show up regularly to defend their interests at planning and county commission meetings. Moreover, the area has its own active political group, the South Hall Republican Club.

And as residents grow more involved in local public policy and the decision-making process, candidates vying for office will have to expand their rhetorical palate to address the issues rising in South Hall. First and foremost, that means alleviating concerns about how growth will impact the area rather than focusing exclusively on how it will benefit the county’s bottom line.

“People are very concerned down here ... they do not want another Gwinnett County,” said Janet Upchurch, owner of Sample Pleasures Gifts & Antiques in downtown Flowery Branch. “While we want this area to grow, we want it to grow with a lot of thought.”

Nathan Goss, a Flowery Branch father of four school-aged children and executive director of recruitment at Brenau University, said growth in general was not the issue candidates would have to address “so much as it is the type of growth for that area.”

The school board is certainly not immune from these concerns. Residents in South Hall already fear the overcrowding of Flowery Branch High School. And new development and growing density will force whoever wins the Board of Education seat representing the area to make some tough fiscal choices, particularly given that each candidate has pledged not to raise the millage rate on property taxes.

Despite South Hall growing into the hotbed of political activity in the county, some residents say there just aren’t enough choices on the ballot. The more the merrier, they say, even if that means wishing a few Democrats or independent candidates would throw their hat into the ring.

Because only Republicans are running for the Board of Commissioners and Board of Education seat representing South Hall, the May 20 primary is effectively the general election. The winner in each race will face no challenger in November.

“I think it’s always nice to see diversity,” Upchurch said. “Diversity is what made this country.”

Goss agreed, saying that more candidates from both sides of the political aisle would likely weed out emotional pandering to voters in favor of pragmatic, fact-based solutions.

“I’m always about opposing views,” he added. “There’s such a thing as a healthy debate. Sometimes it can be taken for granted if there’s not an opposing voice.”

But there’s nothing quite like a good sports metaphor to encapsulate the feeling.

“If I go into a sports store, I want options,” Slowick said. “I don’t want one golf ball. I want a selection.”


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