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Bell rips Hall County Commission at candidates' forum; Mack touts her accomplishments
Hall County Commissioner Deborah Mack, left, answers a question while challenger Ashley Bell listens Tuesday evening during a candidates’ forum. Bell is challenging Mack, the incumbent, for the District 4 seat on the Hall County Commission. - photo by Tom Reed
Ashley Bell took a collective swipe at the Hall County Commission on Tuesday night, but said his comments were not necessarily directed at his opponent, incumbent 4th District Commissioner Deborah Mack.

Bell and Mack appeared at a candidates' forum Tuesday at St. John Baptist Church annex. The forum was sponsored by the Hall County Democratic Party.

Bell, who is making his third try for public office, said commissioners did not take proper action in agreeing to a lucrative contract for County Administrator Jim Shuler and failed to act to correct problems involving the clerk of Superior Court and the county tax assessors.

"People are very upset about this and are saying ‘Who is to blame?' and ‘Where can we go for leadership?'" Bell said. "The buck stops at the county commission."

In the case of Dwight Wood, the clerk of court, a loophole in state law allowed Wood to be personally paid $86,000 from passport acceptance fees. That amount was nearly double the $48,000 he collected in 2006.

Bell blames the county commission.

"Hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars have been given to one person," Bell said. "This is your money we're talking about."

Bell also brought up the case of the chairman of the tax assessors, Emory Martin, who is alleged to have accepted per diem for days he did not work.

"Somebody has to level the playing field and say ‘Not this time,' and stand up and fight for the very people who work hard and play by the rules," he said.

Mack, who was elected in 2002 to fill the unexpired term of the late Frances Meadows and was elected to a full term in 2004, did not respond directly to the allegations.

Instead, she recalled her accomplishments as commissioner, including securing county funds for a portion of the aquatic center that is being named for Meadows. She also highlighted the work that is under way on Black and Cooley drives, impoverished areas that had been a haven for drug trafficking.

"We've developed a lot of partnerships, including the home builders association, Habitat for Humanity and the Newtown Florist Club," she said of the project that has involved rehabilitating, as well as building, homes in the area.

"We want to restart the (U.S.) 129 South corridor initiative. It was going pretty good at one time, but it got stalled. We are working with businesses to clean up and beautify their properties," Mack said.

She said an overlay district, which also covers the U.S. 129 area, will involve beautifying the gateway into Gainesville along the highway.

Abb Hayes, chairman of the Hall County Democratic Party, said he is not worried about dilution of support in the contest between Mack and Bell.

"Competition only benefits the public. The more Democrats we have running, the better shape the people of Hall County will be in," Hayes said.

Hayes said voters will have to make a choice between voting in the District 4 county commission race and the countywide races for clerk of court and tax commissioner. The July 15 primary, which will decide the offices, is partisan. While voters in Georgia do not register to vote by party, they must choose a ballot of the respective party on primary day.

"What I'm interested in is attracting more people to the Democratic Party and the candidates we present, and not just local candidates," Hayes said.

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