In North Hall, the Republican primary battle between Scott Gibbs and Shelly Echols for the Hall County Board of Commissioners District 3 seat was sparked in August 2017 — though they didn’t know it yet.
Candidacies wouldn’t be declared for another five months at least, but a dispute over a reduction in ambulance crews in rural Hall County in favor of more populated areas was the quiet start of the current primary contest in District 3.
Key election dates
Registration deadline: Close of business April 24
Primary: May 22
Last day to mail an absentee primary ballot: May 18
General election: Nov. 6
More info: Hall County Elections Office
The district runs from Weaver Road in East Hall around Gainesville and across all of North Hall to Thompson Bridge Road. It’s Hall County’s largest and most rural commission district.
Last summer, a plan was developed to cut ambulance teams from Station 6 on Old Cornelia Highway near Lula, Station 11 on Bark Camp Road in Murrayville, Station 10 on Ga. 52 in Gillsville and Station 9 on Poplar Springs Road and relocate the staff to stations near Gainesville and South Hall.
County administration changed course before the plan was made public and kept the Lula med unit in place, at the time not explaining why the change was made.
Hall County Fire Services and county administration argued the overall plan was necessary to help keep the county’s Insurance Service Office rating, which helps tamp down the cost of insurance for homeowners, while the department was dealing with a staff shortage.
But public criticism for the plan boiled over and the county eventually dropped it in favor of the status quo.
At the center of that initial decision from the county to keep the team near Lula? The Echols family and Jaemor Farms, which used its clout in the district to keep an ambulance crew stationed near Lula.
“We were able to have ours restored, but that was one of the things that made me start paying attention more to the county commission and the business of the county,” Shelly Echols said in March.
For his part, District 3 Commissioner Scott Gibbs said the public got ahead of the commission on the ambulance issue.
“It was only being discussed. The fire chief brought an idea and all of a sudden it got public that we were doing it,” Gibbs told The Times in March. “We had just heard it. We hadn’t even talked about it.”
While the issue was an administrative call and wouldn’t have gone to a commission vote, Gibbs said it was “something that was going to affect my district to that extent, we would have to all discuss it and really agree to it. There were two commissioners in favor of it because they were going to pick up ambulances, but I never thought that it was a good idea to give somebody something and then take it away.”
The exercise ignited the Echols family’s frustration with Gibbs, who has represented District 3 since 2011. Now Shelly Echols and Gibbs are in a $50,000 race to represent North Hall.
Gibbs is the owner of Gibbs Grading and Utilities and is married to Jennifer Gibbs, a CPA and consultant.
Echols works as the human resources director at her father’s bus company, Daniel’s Charters, and is married to Drew Echols of Jaemor Farms.
They’re both lifelong residents of Hall County and represent the natural District 3 split: Gibbs in North Hall and Echols in East Hall.
Gibbs has been on the commission for seven years and sees the 2018 run as his last for a seat on the five-member commission. He’s basing his run on infrastructure projects like the North Hall Community Center and the Ga. 365 sewer expansion in East Hall.
“One of my proudest moments is seeing the sewer going up 365 to help spur development along a major transportation artery,” Gibbs said. “Infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure is what I think helps drive and make the county a better place. It brings in more industry, which then takes some of the tax burden off of residential tax payers.”
Echols’ pitch centers not only on the ambulance run-in from 2017, but the commission’s decision to raise taxes in 2017 and what she described as low morale among county employees — all of it revolving around a central criticism of Gibbs.
“The more I paid attention the more I realized people want a commissioner who is going to listen to them, who is going to be honest with them,” Echols told The Times after she announced her campaign.
In his interview with The Times, Gibbs didn’t respond to criticism from Echols. He’s presenting himself as an infrastructure-minded builder who is ready to handle the growth coming into the county from the south over another three-year term.
He’s also sitting on more than $25,000 in fundraising, according to his March filing with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission. Gibbs has raised $25,850 as of the March reporting period.
He had $17,163 on hand in March.
Echols is putting her own showing in on the fundraising front. She’s raised more than $25,419 in her bid for the District 3 seat and has spent about $5,000. She’s got $20,233 on hand going into the final month of the primary.
Both candidates tout their Republican bona fides: Gibbs noted the first Republican presidential candidate for which he cast his vote was Ronald Reagan.
When she was a high school teacher after graduating from the precursor to the University of North Georgia, Echols was the sponsor of her school’s Young Republican Club.
The Republican primary is set for May 22. Along with the District 3 race, there’s a primary challenger in District 1, where incumbent Kathy Cooper is facing challenger George Thorndyke.
This story has been updated from its original version.