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Hall Commissioner Bell to attend Florida debate
Trip paid for by private funds
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Hall County Board of Commissioners meeting

When: Today, 6 p.m.

Where: Georgia Mountains Center, 301 Main St. SW, Gainesville


One Hall County commissioner will be absent from the gaze of local government TV18 cameras tonight, but could be picked up by CNN cameras instead.

Hall County Commissioner Ashley Bell told The Times on Wednesday he would be attending the Florida Republican presidential debate tonight after an invitation from CNN.

The commissioner said he may get a chance to ask Republican candidates a question before a nationally televised audience.

"I think it's a great opportunity and an important election," he said.

That means Bell will not be at the Hall County Board of Commissioners meeting tonight.

The commissioner is leaving today for the debate, which starts at 8 p.m. in Jacksonville, Fla. The Hall County Commission meeting begins at 6 p.m.

With that absence, Bell will miss the chance to vote on at least two hot topics up for discussion at the local meeting — an annexation request from the city of Oakwood that would give the city access to Lake Lanier and a Dollar General

zoning request that's being opposed by Lake Ranch Estates residents.

Bell said he already took the time to learn about the topics and talk to the parties involved. He said he feels comfortable about the outcome of both votes.

"I would say 80 percent of the work happens before the meeting," said Bell.

Hall County Chairman Tom Oliver declined to comment on whether a presidential debate was a good reason to miss a meeting.

"I think it's the prerogative of each commissioner on how many meetings he attends," Oliver said. "It's up to his constituents to decide if they feel like he should be at more meetings."

Bell justified his decision to go the debate by saying he'll be part of a process that "affects everybody in my district and my country."

Bell is a supporter of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, making phone calls for the candidate before the Iowa caucuses.

However, he said if given the chance to ask candidates a question, it wouldn't be slanted toward one particular presidential hopeful but would relate to all candidates' plans to "turn this country around."

As part of an agreement with CNN, Bell said he cannot disclose the question he submitted to the cable news network days ago.

Bell's trip will be paid for with private funds, he said, not taxpayer money.

Editor's note: The time for the Hall County Commission meeting was given incorrectly in an earlier version of this story.