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Commission candidate forum focuses on Forsyths growth

SOUTH FORSYTH — Four of the five Forsyth County commission candidates in the May 24 Republican Primary took part Wednesday in forum organized by the Smart Growth Forsyth organization.

The debate featured District 4 incumbent Cindy Jones Mills and challenger Kelly Warren, as well as District 5 hopefuls Justin Hawkins and Laura Semanson.

“Smart Growth does not endorse candidates for office, our tax-exempt status doesn’t allow us to do that,” explained moderator Claudia Castro, the group’s managing director. “So we provide these meet-the-candidate forums more as an educational venue, as an opportunity for the citizenry in the county.

Castro said Chandon Adams, the third candidate for the District 5 seat, was unable to attend due to a death in his family, but that his answers to the questions would be added to the group’s website.

The District 5 incumbent, Jim Boff, is not running for re-election to the post he has held since 2009.

The forum featured questions from the group, which had been given to the candidates beforehand, and some from the audience. Not surprisingly, many of the queries centered on growth.

The first question and opening statements allowed candidates to address a problem facing their district.

“One of the couple challenges, I would say, is infrastructure up north. Whether you go on Sanders Road or Nuckolls Road, you see a lot of the infrastructure is falling apart. Habersham sewer is a prime example,” said Justin Hawkins, a pharmaceutical sales rep.

Semanson, who previously worked in the technology industry, said the county has “done a very poor job during a period of very rapid growth of trying to identify who we are and how we want this community to look.”

“To me the largest challenge is to … have a much more concerted plan.”

According to Mills, “The first thing that’s staring District 4 in the face is the 1,400 lots that have been zoned but not built yet, that are tiny, tiny, little lots that are not in our [unified development code] right now … and we don’t have sewer for.”

Warrant noted that “the roads and schools are the two main things, [but] our infrastructure is lacking in north Forsyth and [District] 4.”

“Those definitely need to be improved,” she said. “… And we need that in place before any more building, residential building especially, occurs.”

Though the candidates were in agreement on several topics, there were some divisive issues. The District 4 candidates clashed on whether the commission’s regular meetings should be moved later than their current 5 p.m. start time.

“Absolutely,” Warren, a former educator said. “The decisions that are being made at the board of commissioner meetings are about our tax dollars, and [citizens] need to be able to be in touch and know what is going on at all times.”

Mills, president of CMC Trucking Company and a real estate agent with Bryan Properties, said the county has tried to accommodate those who wanted to speak.

“The politically correct thing would be to say absolutely, but no,” Mills said. “We changed the comment time where people could come and talk at the later time because of getting complaints. And we’ve not had one person come to even speak at the later time.”

In District 5, the candidates disagreed on whether voting should return to a countywide setup, rather than by district.

“I believe in a hybrid model,” Hawkins said.  “I would argue that voting how we are, it disenfranchises people with a larger population. But I think the people in north Forsyth cannot be dictated by the people in south Forsyth, so I believe in a hybrid model that’s four district commissioner s and one countywide chairman.

Semanson offered a different view. 

“I believe that the people should be able to look to any commissioner on the board and have that person be responsible to them,” she said.