Craig Lutz, Republican candidate for Hall County Board of Commissioners Post 1, answered questions about his campaign contributions and military record during a debate Monday at Gainesville State College in Oakwood.
In the first debate hosted by the college’s Politically Incorrect Club, Lutz and Democratic opponent Paul Wayne Godfrey talked about their backgrounds and answered questions from students and community members.
Lutz was asked about his campaign dollars — about $1,000 of his $20,000 is from Parsons, an engineering and construction company located in California.
“Parsons is looking to bid on some projects, and that’s fine, but I’ve assured them projects go to the lowest bidder,” Lutz said. “What Parsons has done is not illegal. They were not happy with a person in office because they were not able to have the opportunity to bid in the past, so they used their First Amendment right to have a voice with their pocketbook.”
Though a campaign contribution does not bind Lutz to helping Parsons, some voters asked why he would accept money from outside of the state in the first place.
“Why put yourself at risk?” said Phyllis Mercer, a Hall County resident. “No matter how you explain the philosophy behind it, it could later come back to haunt you. Even if Parsons later wins a lower bid, someone will always say you were involved.”
Lutz said he would refund campaign money if he felt a person or company thought they were entitled to special treatment as a result of a donation.
“Honestly, you could question any campaign contribution,” he said. “Running a campaign costs money, and I’m happy to talk to anyone about any contribution I have. The reports are on file with the Hall County Elections Office.”
Godfrey has raised about $3,000 in funds, including donations from himself, his brother and a few local residents.
After the debate, Godfrey also confronted Lutz about his military accomplishments. As students left the room, the discussion between the two became heated, and Godfrey yelled at Lutz to apologize.
On a website Lutz used during his campaign for Flowery Branch City Council, he listed that he was awarded the “Meritorious Service Medal” for service in the Air Force.
In a news release Monday morning, Godfrey, a retired lieutenant colonel, pointed out a problem.
“Mr. Lutz embellished his military career by claiming receipt of the Meritorious Service Medal, the noncombat equivalent of the Bronze Star. When I confronted him with his misdeed, Mr. Lutz did not come forward and admit his action,” Godfrey wrote. “Instead he chose to modify the inactive website used in that campaign in an attempt to cover up his deeds.”
Lutz explained after the debate that he received the Air Force Commendation Medal for Meritorious Service but not “the Meritorious Service Medal.” He brought his certificate to the debate this afternoon to show anyone with questions. The website has been corrected.
Godfrey and Lutz also debated two important issues facing Hall County — money and water — during the event.
“When the economy crashed, and Barack Bush let it go down — yes, it’s all of them. You have to blame all of them, right?” Godfrey said. “We had to tighten the belt; it’s been tightened and tightened and tightened and now we’re beyond where we can keep punching holes in the belt. I’m not sure how to fix it just yet, but the county staff has ideas. I believe the economy is coming back.”
With U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson’s ruling that would severely limit withdrawals from Lake Lanier come July 2012, county commissioners are pursuing a new reservoir, which would give Gainesville and Hall County residents water to use if Congress doesn’t reauthorize the lake for use as drinking water. Godfrey said he supports the plans for Glades Reservoir, and Lutz proposed a baby-step approach.
“Hall County needs to take control of the water situation, but we don’t need to spend $345 million tomorrow,” Lutz said.
“We need to spend it in increments and make that project scalable. That’s what I intend to do is to make it scalable so we can grow into it over the next 50 years and not build it all today for taxpayers to handle.”