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Community group reaches out to city, county islands
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If you live on a street where some houses are in the city of Gainesville and some are in Hall County, it can be hard to know which elected officials to turn to.

City and county officials are working to solve the problem through the One Community Organization by coming together once a month to address issues and answer questions for residents in the Gainesville area.

On Saturday, Hall County Elections Superintendent Charlotte Sosebee and City Clerk Denise Jordan will speak to residents about elections from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. in the Greater A Manger/Cooley Drive Community Center.

The Nov. 3 municipal election ballot will be especially tricky because one of the candidates listed is no longer eligible to run for the Gainesville Board of Education.

Longtime school board member Kelvin Simmons has been deemed ineligible to run for re-election for the Ward 4 seat because of a new state anti-nepotism law. Simmons’ wife, Audrey Simmons, is the Eighth Grade Academy principal at Gainesville Middle School.

House Bill 251, effective July 1, states that no school board member can serve in the same school system where a spouse or immediate family member is an administrator.

Delores Diaz and Richard Lacey are the candidates now hoping to fill Simmons’ Ward 4 seat.

Formerly known as the Citizens
Involvement Advisory Roundtable, The One Community Organization meets the second Saturday each month in different locations.

"This was started years ago when I first went to council (in 1996)," Gainesville Mayor Myrtle Figueras said. "I started it and (former Commissioner) Frances Meadows decided she would help."

The roundtable began by meeting at different churches and evolved into the One Community Organization this year.

When Ashley Bell joined the commission in January, he wanted to get involved in the group and gave it a name that helped describe its mission.

"We are all in one community. Let’s work on things together," Figueras said. "Every elected official who represents Wards 3 or 4 is always there."

Bell said Hall County District 4 has challenges because of the many county islands surrounded by the Gainesville city limits.

"We’re not differentiating between city and county," Bell said. "We just deal with the issue without getting caught up in the politics."

Bell said with people’s busy schedules, it can be difficult to get to government meetings, especially when there are so many that could affect your area.

"It’s been a very productive way to set goals for the community," Bell said. "We bring in city and county counterparts so people can see what’s going on from both angles."

Figueras said 25 to 40 people usually come to the Saturday meetings to get information and ask questions, though she would like to see more.

"As long as people are getting information, that’s key," Figueras said. "This meeting is one of my greatest joys in life because I believe that with accurate information, citizens will make appropriate choices."

Bell said forums like One Community Organization are an important way for candidates to reach voters in municipal elections that usually draw a low turnout. The school board election is especially important to taxpayers because schools take the lion’s share of property tax money.

"People want to see where the future of Gainesville City Schools is," Bell said.