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Turnover is a trend on commission
Growth cited as factor in elections
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Forsyth County News

In a trend of turnover, the Forsyth County commission will welcome two new members to the board in January.

The churn, which seems to happen every two years, was assured in last week's primary, though the two new members will not be determined until August and November.

Of the three seats up this year, only Brian Tam secured re-election. David Richard fell short in the primary and Linda Ledbetter chose not to run again.

Two years ago, Jim Harrell joined the board. In 2004, Ledbetter, Tam and Richard came on.
Chairman Charles Laughinghouse is the only commissioner currently on the board who has served more than one consecutive term.

"If people don't like the way things are going, they blame the commission, whether the commission's to blame or not," Laughinghouse said.

Ledbetter, who will be replaced by either Jim Boff or Julie Tressler in an Aug. 5 runoff, said the high turnover rate in Forsyth's commission can be attributed to polar views on growth.

"If you're for growth, you've gone and upset South Forsyth," Ledbetter said. "If you're against growth, you've upset central and North Forsyth.

"You can't blame south Forsyth for wanting slower growth. They've had so much so fast. And central and northern Forsyth, the only kind of growth they've had is growth in traffic."
Patrick Bell defeated Richard in District 4, which covers most of north Forsyth, following a heated campaign.

Bell carried all six precincts in that district and neighboring District 1. He won six of eight in District 5.
Conversely, Richard had a strong showing in Districts 2 and 3, which span south Forsyth.

The Cumming precinct in District 5 showed the most support for Bell, with about 70 percent. He got the least support in the District 2 Sharon Forks precinct, where Richard carried nearly 67 percent of the vote.

Overall, Bell received 55 percent of the vote, or 6,767 votes, and Richard received 5,485 votes. Bell advances to face Democrat Jon Flack in the Nov. 4 General Election.

Richard blamed complacency in the southern districts for the election's outcome.

"This is what not voting gets them," Richard said, citing his moderate growth stance in the support from southern precincts.

"They didn't come out in the numbers they usually do," he said. "District 2 is less concerned about how growth affects them, because they're not experiencing the growth problems ... they're happy right now."

Longtime Forsyth resident Mary Helen McGruder said differing opinions over the speed of growth is a factor in the high turnover of the commission.

She said with so many new commissioners just learning the ropes, consistency is sacrificed each election.

"In general, continuity in the commission is important," McGruder said. "Because with the history of turnover, just about the time a commissioner learns what they're doing and gets the job figured out, they get replaced and the county has to wait through the learning curve."

Ledbetter said the shifting dynamics of the board are a positive, because political figures "get complacent in their position and they stop listening to the people."

She agreed that commissioners who have been on the board a while are "more consistent because they know what they're doing."

"But for the common good, commissioners need to be replaced every four years," she said. "Swap out your politicians often."

Laughinghouse said when a commissioner first comes to the board it can take six months to a year to "come up to speed" on the current issues and procedures.

But he said seniority on the commission is less important than seniority in the government's staff. The positions of county manager and chief financial officer "are where you really need consistency."