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Issues aplenty at town hall meeting in south Forsyth

SOUTH FORSYTH — A local lawmaker will go into the 2016 legislative session in Atlanta with fresh memory of issues and concerns facing Forsyth County residents who showed up to a town hall meeting Thursday night.

State Rep. Mike Dudgeon, who serves District 25 in south Forsyth, held the open meeting in the Lambert High School cafeteria as an invitation to hear and discuss any topic of interest, though he hit on five main ideas.

Dudgeon apologized for the way he said he and other lawmakers handled the withdrawal of the bid for Sharon Springs, which would have been county’s second city.

He mentioned a lack of communication between the delegation and the Sharon Springs Alliance, an organization that advocated for a city in south Forsyth due to what members described as a lack of local control and “growth on steroids.”

The bill’s withdrawal was officially announced Jan. 4, with the delegation citing state concerns about the “city light” concept.

However, Dudgeon said there is a possibility of “reactivating a Sharon Springs township, which would be limited very much to just zoning and code enforcement, which was the original intent of Sharon Springs, and a very low tax that would be constitutionally guaranteed.”

The makeup of the county commission was also broached, though no one in the half-full cafeteria was in favor of a mentioned sixth person being elected to the panel as a countywide chairman.

“There are questions of ties, but legally a 3-3 is no different than a 0-6 vote,” Dudgeon said. “I will say that every county our size and bigger has a countywide chairman, at least one person accountable to the whole county so that you don’t have complete district-level thinking.”

Those in attendance Thursday seemed unanimously against adding another commissioner.

“It’s just the opposite of what we were told the people in Sharon Springs wanted,” Jody Moses said.

Bob Rorke suggested instilling term limits to all elected and appointed officials, though he also said he has aired the idea before without an agreeable reaction.

Education reform and teacher pay raised concerns, too, on Thursday.

Dudgeon mentioned recommendations that were sent to Gov. Nathan Deal after an education reform commission was formed last year. He served on it.

Teachers are currently paid on a schedule that is fixed and based on years of experience and degrees.

Recommendations suggest adding a merit-based component to teacher salaries, which would be based on teacher evaluations and students’ test scores.

A number of educators spoke against that idea, saying they do not want to be allowed a raise only if their students score well on standardized tests.

“We’re concerned about pay because our higher degrees may not be recognized,” said one woman among a group from Settles Bridge Elementary School. “I’m worried that the extra effort I’ve put in won’t be honored and won’t be reflected. I feel like I’m being punished for my career choice.”

Dudgeon mentioned it is not known what the governor plans to do with the recommendations but that, as proposed, current teachers would be grandfathered in and, therefore, not affected.

Other topics brought up included:

* Casino gambling – Dudgeon said he initially has seen a 2-1 ratio against bringing gambling to Georgia.

* Fireworks — Dudgeon said he expects the bill passed last year to allow aerial fireworks to be tweaked.

* A change to the medical cannabis bill passed last year to allow controlled growth locations.

* House Bill 721, an anti-human trafficking bill that would help protect women and children being sold into prostitution and people being used for slave labor.

* Religious freedom and Medicare expansion.

The 2016 Georgia General Assembly convenes for this year’s session on Monday.