Questions on topics ranging from gun control and illegal immigration to local infrastructure and zonings were all on the table on Monday night during a panel discussion held at West Forsyth High School by the Forsyth County Tea Party.
For over an hour and a half, participants at the event and people watching it streamed live at home were able to submit their questions to the panel of local representatives, which including state Sen. Greg Dolezal, state Rep. Sheri Gilligan, Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Freeman, District 1 Commissioner Molly Cooper, District 3 Commissioner Todd Levent and District 3 Board of Education Member Tom Cleveland.
Here are just a few of the 26 questions that the panel discussed.
“With the recent shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, Red Flag Laws have come back into the news cycle; there’s even been some support for the red flag laws by President Trump. What is your stance on red flag laws in the state of Georgia?”
Asked of Dolezal, Gilligan and Freeman, the first question of the night concerning “Red Flag Laws” or laws that allow the removal of firearms from the possession who are deemed to be a danger to themselves or others, was met with unanimous disapproval.
All three panelists stated that they had grave concerns about such a law being implemented in the state of Georgia, citing concerns with constitutional protected rights and issues it would reportedly cause to due process.
“Red flag laws are a violation of the Second, Fourth, Ninth and 10th amendments to the United States constitution, so it’s as simple as that for me,” Dolezal said to the crowd. “What happened in any one of these shootings is not a failure of government, it’s a failure of family, it’s a failure of morality, it’s a failure of society, it’s a failure of many other things.”
Gilligan said that in her experience, red flag laws would interfere with the rights of law abiding citizens, stating that more is needed to strip an individual of a constitutional right.
“If it comes to my desk, I’m voting no,” she said.
“Forsyth County Schools recently released architectural renderings for the Academy for Creative Education that includes an 1,800-seat performing arts center. Given the fact that we have students taking classes in trailers here at West Forsyth, is this the best use of our bonds? Do you support this project?”
Cleveland, a longtime member of the Forsyth County Board of Education, answered this question by walking the audience through the growth that the school system has experienced in the last 10 years.
He stated that because the system has grown by 53% over the last decade and how the state school funding works, crowding has always been a top issue that they have dealt with, using portable classrooms to offset classroom sizes.
“The state today, they are not really going to gamble that we will continue to grow even though I think it’s a pretty sure bet,” he said. “We have to have a kid in the school system two years before we get a dollar to support their education, so we have to house them in some way without overcrowding the classrooms.”
Cleveland said that in the school bond that was approved by voters in 2018, the system received funding to build four new school locations, East Forsyth High School and Hendricks Middle School which will open in 2021, Poole’s Mill Elementary which will open in 2020, and the Academy for Creative Education and Performing Arts Center which is proposed to open in late 2021 or early 2022.
All of these new school locations will help offset the crowding at other county schools, school officials say.
Explaining to the crowd that Academy for Creative Education will be the new home for Forsyth County’s alternative learning programs — Gateway Academy, Forsyth Academy and Forsyth Virtual Academy — Cleveland said that the new school is part of the system’s effort to close the county graduation rate, which is currently at 94%.
Giving the state perspective, Dolezal piggybacked onto this question to say that in the coming year he would be pushing for legislation to allow school systems to gather impact fees from new development.
“There is no more expensive thing that we do, when we are growing fast as a county, than build a $20, $30, $40 million school,” he said. “Right now that is being paid by you; it’s being spread out amongst the tax payers, as opposed to being paid by new development.”
Referencing recent violence in Dawson County where a woman was shot and killed by her husband, one woman asked Freeman, “What else can we do to ensure victims receive all the assistance needed, particularly when there are children involved?”
Freeman said that while he couldn’t speak on cases that occur in other counties, as the county’s top law enforcement official and partner of the Forsyth County domestic violence shelter Family Haven, he could speak to the efforts in Forsyth County to combat domestic violence.
“We at the sheriff’s office we employ two full-time victim advocates, and their job is solely to work with our victims, primarily domestic violence, primarily victims of violent crime,” he said. “Which thank God we have a very small amount here in Forsyth County, but we do have some.”
These victim advocates, according to Freeman, follow up with victims of domestic violence and work with them and their families to find the right services that fit the situation.
“My victim advocates work extensively on temporary protective orders of domestic victims who are seeking help, to make sure that we can help protect them from an aggressor,” he said.
But with all the work they do year-round, working cases and spreading awareness in partnership with groups like Family Haven, Freeman said that they “can’t ever do enough.”
“It comes down to a real simple thing,” he said. “I was raised by some good parents with some good old Georgia common sense, and that is, ‘A man doesn’t put his hands on a woman.’ It’s just that simple.”
“What is the status of addressing the sewage/waste runoff into Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee River? Other man-made lakes are pristine in comparison to what’s allowed into Lake Lanier.”
The idea that sewage is being pumped into Lake Lanier was immediately quashed by Levent, who stated that anything a sewer plant puts back into the lake would be cleaner than the lake water itself.
“All of those rules are set forth by GEPD,” he said. “Those people that are afraid of sewer plants over septic tanks are wrong. That’s why it’s called sanitized sewer.”
Levent said that in reality septic tanks should worry people more, because they have the potential to leach through the ground and find underground water sources, potentially putting hazardous materials into waterways untreated.
“So you are going to see that this county is going to have to those sewer plants in the future, whether we like it or not,” Levent said. “We’re dealing with it. We are going to see what the future brings us. But just know that when water comes out of these plants, it’s cleaner.”
“Is the state legislature considering any laws requiring hospitals to pre-disclose costs for outside providers, i.e., anesthesiologists?”
While answering this question, both Gilligan and Dolezal shared personal anecdotes with the crowd about how their own families had been affected by undisclosed healthcare costs, calling the problem a “kitchen table issue.”
Dolezal told the crowd that when his daughter spent some time in the NICU, his family was left in the dark on what it would cost them.
“Throughout the process we were asking the question, ‘What is this going to cost, what is this going to cost, what is this going to cost?’ and nobody had any answer,” he said. “It wasn’t that they were holding information from us. It was that they didn’t have any information, because the real answer is that it depends on who your insurance company is. It depends how something gets coded, it depends who walks in the door tomorrow to treat your daughter.”
Voicing his frustration at the system, Dolezal said that healthcare, and price transparency specifically, is going to be at the top of the legislative agenda in the next year.
“We buy healthcare differently than we buy anything else that we buy in the world,” he said. “There’s nothing else that we buy that you go into have a service rendered to you and you do not know what you are going to pay, therefore you cannot value shop, you cannot compare costs.”
Dolezal said that they are also considering legislation that could bring down prescription drug prices by as much as 35% by implementing consumer rebates.