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Race heats up for seat in District 3
District 3 incumbent candidate Commissioner Jim Harrell, standing, speaks Thursday during a Forsyth County Tea Party forum. Seated from left are District 3 candidates Joshua Shorr and Todd Levent, District 1 candidate Pete Amos, District 3 candidate Mark Venco and District 1 candidate Brant Meadows. - photo by Jennifer Sami
District 3 commission candidates came out swinging Thursday during the Forsyth County Tea Party forum.

All four candidates -- incumbent Jim Harrell, Todd Levent, Josh Shorr and Mark Venco -- attended the event.

There were accusations and corresponding clarifications, and while the forum wasn’t designed to be a debate, candidates were able to use their question response time to touch on previous comments.

Levent threw some barbs toward Harrell’s request that people look at his voting record and experience to set him apart from his challengers.

“I can’t stand another four years of it,” Levent said about Harrell’s board experience, later using the term “arrogance” to describe Harrell’s response against the recent law requiring vote-by-district elections in the county.

But Venco came to Harrell’s defense, saying using the world arrogant is a “disgrace.” He then made perhaps the harshest accusation of the evening, regarding a discussion dating back to a Forsyth Citizens for Responsible Growth meeting during qualifying time.

“Because of their dislike and fear of Mr. Shorr and Mr. Harrell getting into office,” Venco said directly to Levent, “you asked me to drop out of the race in fear of splitting the vote.”

Levent used time from a later question to “clear some air” in response to the accusation, saying the responsible growth group invited him to meet with Venco.

“They told me that Mr. Venco had not signed up yet to qualify … and that they believed that he would join my committee and help me get elected,” said Levent. “I apologize to you for how that all went down, but the fact is he wasn’t even qualified yet. I thought he was coming here to help me get elected.”

Levent also apologized for insulting Harrell, who later accepted.

Harrell also took a few stabs at Shorr regarding his proposal to use zero-based budgeting to help solve the county’s financial struggle.

“This year we introduced zero-based budgeting, in case some folks weren’t watching,” Harrell said.

Shorr later responded, saying “we don’t have true zero-based budgeting, which I think we do need.”

Thursday’s forum, held at the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce events facility, combined both the District 1 and 3 Republican candidates. Each of the six candidates was allowed opening and closing remarks, answered one question on cutting jobs and expenses to manage the budget, and responded to two audience questions specifically geared toward the individual candidate.

Asked about his position on a proposed property tax increase, Venco said the rate should stay where it is.

Harrell responded to a question on Bethel Park, saying he’s not against the proposed YMCA facility, but that the county is being forced into a situation without having a say in the matter.

Shorr couldn’t answer which one specific budget expenditure he would cut, saying every expense would need to be closely reviewed and adding that he would have to seriously look at benefits and give voters a say before spending money on the Lanier Golf Course.

Levent said he would handle illegal immigration according to the law of the land, adding if they’re not here legally, they shouldn’t be in the county at all.

The candidates are slated to meet again at 6:30 p.m. Monday for the Forsyth County Republican Party debate at the Forsyth County administrative building.