This week, residents in south Forsyth had the opportunity to get quality face to face time with local representatives from government, education and law enforcement organizations.
"We have, we think, everyone you need here to be able to hit just about any topic," Jones said. “Each one of them has been great, we find it to be really informative and we hope you find it to be really informative." On Tuesday night, District 25 state Rep. Todd Jones, along with Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Freeman, Board of Education member representing District 2 Kristin Morrissey and Forsyth County Commissioners Laura Semanson and Dennis Brown (Districts 5 and 2, respectively) stood for a public question and answer town hall meeting at the Old Atlanta Recreation Center in south Forsyth.
Before the meeting started, Morrissey said that by continuing to hold the open town hall meetings, they hope that people will realize the amount of communication that happens between the various branches and levels of government and give people better, more complete answers.
"It's nice because a lot of stuff the questions will cover crosses over from local or state, county or Board of (Education), so it's helpful that we can finally answer a question all at once with all of us here,” Morrissey said. “Sometimes I might know something and they might know something and you put it together."
She said that the format allows residents to write down their questions or send them in advance to have the panel discuss.
After a short introduction by Jones the panel went into questions and answers.
The questions and answers in this story have been slightly altered for clarity and focus.
"How can we get more speed signs along Mathis Airport Road and Windermere Parkway? Aside from signs, what can be done to slow speeders on these roads?"
For the first question, Jones turned the spotlight to Freeman, who quickly asked the resident to clarify where on the roads they were specifically talking about.
"First, that’s a county road, so signs are pretty easy,” Freeman said. “I mean, if that's an issue that we think will help or if we think people aren’t paying attention or if it’s a little confusing because they are so far apart — signs are fairly cheap.
“I know that between the two commissioners here and myself, we can make that happen."
He then passed the question off to Brown who stated that while signs may be cheap, where they can be put is a little more of an involved process, requiring a study that shows a need for a sign before it is installed.
"For Commissioner Brown to just go put a stop sign up somewhere, it gets very un-scientific and messes up the flow of things," Brown said. "I will tell you there are several studies. There’s one going on at Bagley Road right now ... and we try to base all of our decisions ... on something scientific.”
“I hear you, the staff hears you, we are working on it.”
The return of Sharon Springs
Jones then read off a handful of questions about Sharon Springs, largely centered on whether possible cityhood would ever become a serious issue again.
First, Brown stated that the issue of cityhood would not be one brought up by him in the future. Instead, he talked about pivoting to what takeaways the failed Sharon Springs vote left them with and other solutions that they saw.
"What is important to all the commissioners and everyone on the staff of your county government is: 54.8
Brown said that his main goal is figuring out new fixes for the problem of why residents felt so passionate about the new city.percent of the citizens voted for the new city. That tells me as a commissioner that we've got a lot of work to do," Brown said. "The reason they wanted the city is, there’s things out there that we need to fix, and we hear that loud and clear."
"That was something that happened, and it’s something that we need to be able to refer to and understand,” Semanson said. “Whether it passed by 54 percent or failed by 48 percent, there were enough people that passionate that felt that something should happen ... I think we owe it to them to hear what's going on, to be able to provide something to them so they feel like this is home.”
She said that they were already in the process of working towards that goal, planning to improve the aesthetic in the south end of the county.
"One of the things we have started to focus on ... is be able to bring a better standard to our community in basic guidelines when we have a gateway into the county," Semanson said. "I think that there’s a lot we can do as a county to set that standard as far as our borders and what the expectation is from within.
"No more chain link fence. We should expect better.”
"Developers are benefitting greatly by taking advantage of the draw created by the excellent (Forsyth County) schools. Are developers taxed by each new building project in such a way to directly benefit the school district? If not, why not?"
Morrissey said that currently according to the state constitution, impact fees for development can only be charged for roads, emergency services, libraries and parks, not schools. In 2015, the county's state delegation introduced a bill to change that, but it failed, not making it out of the senate finance committee.
At recent Board of Education and board of county commission meetings, Morrissey said that both bodies approved a new updated resolution to approach the bill again.
"This time we are a little more savvy," Morrissey said.
Jones took over, saying that he is 100 percent in favor of the measure and will be backing it at the Capitol.
"We hope that we are able to, as Kristin said, put the politics through a different lens so we can move this through," Jones said.
"What should Georgia's legislature do about gun violence in our schools and general public?"
Again, Freeman took the lead on this question, explaining that currently the sheriff’s office, government and school system are unified behind a plan to approach school gun violence at its roots: Promoting awareness and positivity in schools.
“If you think guns are the problem with the issues that we have in school, then that's a short-sighted view,” Freeman said.
He said that after the shooting in Parkland, Fla., he and Forsyth County School Superintendent Jeff Bearden initiated the School Safety Task Force, increasing safety spending by millions and by using a multi-faceted approach to work at the issues.
"Are there some issues with guns, yeah, but we've got to be worried about our kids wanting to pick up a gun or grab some other kind of weapon or commit some act of mass violence. … We've got to be in the prevention business not the apprehension business,” Freeman said.
He said that the Board of Education recently funded 11 additional school resource officers, and soon every major high school will be receiving an additional school resource officer.
Additionally, Freeman said that the school system has funded and hired six safety advocacy specialists for the county schools that will focus on at-risk kids, talking to them every day, gauging how they are doing.
"These people are there to interact with and counteract the worst of the worst we have – I don't mean worst kids, I mean worst problems, worst things that come up." Freeman said. "As important it is to the 42 school resource officers we'll soon have in the school system, they are there, God forbid if something happens … These six advocates will get into their heads, find out what's going on, try and work with them."
The McGinnis Ferry expansion project — “Can we do an 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. work schedule, versus a 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., which is bad for traffic."
With just minutes left in the meeting, Jones cut straight to the heart of this question, explaining where the project is happening and what parties are involved.
"For those of you that don't know, this is a very complicated project. Why? Because the state’s involved, because of the 400 interchange and the 85 interchange and there has been money pumped in from the state to begin with," Jones said.
He said that aside from Forsyth and the state, Alpharetta and Johns Creek also have a stake in the project. But ultimately control is held locally.
"I can tell you we will speak to them ... it's a two-lane road, and we clearly can't have them shutting down McGinnis Ferry, even one lane of it, during the day,” Jones said. “I can't fathom what would happen.”