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Solicitor general, BOE candidates square off

GOP forum first of two this week

POSTED: April 23, 2014 12:04 a.m.
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FORSYTH COUNTY — From the federal Common Core education standards to domestic violence, the community got to hear responses Monday night on a variety of topics from five candidates in the May 20 primary.

The three people running for the District 1 Board of Education post and two of the three solicitor general hopefuls attended the forum, which was organized by the Forsyth County Republican Party.

School board incumbent Ann Crow and challengers Amanda Nixon and Mark Weiss opened the session at the Forsyth County Administration Building, fielding questions about Common Core, the local school system’s budget, charter schools and school prayer.

All three candidates said they supported charter schools, however Crow said her backing is limited to underserved systems, adding they’re not needed in Forsyth.

Nixon and Weiss were both for vouchers, though Nixon said “we’re not at that point in Forsyth County.”

Despite their opinions, as well as those on school prayer and Common Core, the issues are set by state law and can’t be altered by individual counties.

One topic that can be controlled at the local level is how to raise money to relieve crowded schools and plan for the system’s continuing growth.

Crow, who’s seeking a fourth term, said she’s hopes voters approve the May 20 bond referendum to fund school construction, as well as a possible future extension of the special purpose local option sales tax for education, or SPLOST.

“Without it... we would probably have to raise the bond millage rate,” Crow said. “SPLOST dollars have enabled us to keep our bond millage rate very stable. It’s also allowed us to build schools on time and under budget.

“Having the SPLOST dollar is almost becoming an essential part of funding education for capital improvement.”

Nixon also supported using sales tax money to fund education.

“I don’t want my millage rate to go up, I feel very strongly about that,” she said. “In order to increase the upper trajectory of our population growth, we’re going to have to do something.”

Weiss, however, said he was opposed to using bonds and sales tax revenue, saying he would instead work to build relationships with state officials to bring about impact fees on new development — currently not an option allowed for education funding.

“We need impact fees. One-time impact fees to pay for the roads, the schools — the brick and mortar — we need that,” he said. “We have to change and the best way to do it is to get our state and local officials to allow us to do impact fees.”

Much of the discussion during the solicitor general segment was on the incumbent, Donna Gopaul, who was unable to attend due to a previous campaign commitment.

Her two challengers, Susan Zereini and William Finch, criticized Gopaul for her absence, management of the office, its budget and handling of cases, as well as her political leanings.

The office prosecutes misdemeanor criminal cases in the county’s State Court, as well as some Magistrate Court issues. Gopaul was appointed to the post by Gov. Nathan Deal in March 2013.

Gopaul’s absence Monday night aside, the discussion mirrored that of a debate held in February by the Forsyth County Tea Party.

Zereini highlighted her 13 years of prosecutorial experience, while Finch focused on his dedication to Forsyth County, where he’s lived and worked since 1993.

Both candidates agreed alternate offerings such as drug courts, as well as pre-trial diversion programs, are essential to the court’s success.

When asked what he’d bring to the office, Finch said it’s crucial an “element of education be part of any sentence that’s handed down in Forsyth County.”

“Those recommendations to the court need to be made by the prosecutor so that it is not just simply a punishment, it’s an education,” he said. “Because it’s no secret that the less educated you are, the more likely you are to commit a crime and the more likely that you are to reoffend.”

When her dedication to Forsyth was questioned, Zereini said she and her husband chose to move to the county in 2006.

“I was a prosecutor where I was needed ... wherever I’ve been, I’ve always given my heart to the citizens of any county,” she said. “There is no special rules for Forsyth County as far as being a prosecutor. Being a prosecutor in New York or Georgia is the same. It’s being a prosecutor.

“This is where I’m raising my family. This is where my children attend public schools. This is where my husband conducts business ... I know the community, I’ve been out there.”

No Democrats have qualified to run for solicitor general or the school board post, so the primary next month will essentially decide the contests.

The forum was the second of four the local Republican Party has planned this month spotlighting different races in the primary.

The next, which will feature a question-and-answer session on the school system’s bond referendum, as well as candidates for state school superintendent, is set for 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the county administration building.

 

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