GAINESVILLE — Rhonda Gladden had to leave the meeting early for a funeral visitation, so she jumped up quickly to speak her mind about property assessments.
"I have one concern in my life, and that is I can maintain the property that I own," said the Clarkesville woman. "And property tax, it seems, consumes my life."
Gladden went on to tell eight Georgia Senate Republicans gathered for the Georgia Solutions Summit that she may have to sell property she inherited from her father "because I don’t know what my local tax assessors are going to do to me."
"The solution I would offer you is we put a permanent freeze on tax assessments and then we change the tax assessment process," she added.
Gladden’s comments were among many suggestions offered during the forum Tuesday night at Brenau University’s Hosch Theater.
State Sens. Jack Murphy of Cumming and Steve Gooch of Dahlonega, whose districts both include some of Forsyth County, took part in the summit.
For Murphy, it was "important that we get out and hear from our voters."
"They’re the ones that can hire us and the ones that can fire us," he said. "I think we need to listen to them.
"They’re like our board of directors. We need to be able to listen to them and learn what’s on their mind."
Murphy, who represents District 27, said any chance to hear from constituents is important to ensure lawmakers’ votes reflect the opinions of their constituents.
"We’re having [the sessions] all around the state and in different areas of the state so we can get the varying degrees from people," he said. "The people in the southern part of the state, their concerns might not be the same as the concerns of the people in the northern part of the state.
"It’s important that we hear from them all from time to time to see where they’re at on things."
The senators got an earful Tuesday night on such hot topics as tax reform, health care and education.
One woman tried to get senators to pledge support for bottle legislation that would help curb landfill waste, saying she saw a quiet group of senators on the issue.
"I’ve been accused of a lot of things, but quiet is not one of them," said Sen. Butch Miller of Gainesville, who went on to welcome the suggestion but said senators couldn’t agree to legislation that has yet to be written.
Mike Scupin of the Lanier Tea Party Patriots presented several suggestions to senators, including working with other states on how to "take back states’ rights."
"Businesses are getting so much regulation out of Washington, D.C., that it’s killing business," he said.
Touching on the long-debated voucher issue, Scupin said, he would like to see "some scholarships presented to students so that they can go to whatever school they want to in Georgia."
"The money should not be tied to a school," he said. "It should be tied to the student and we should introduce competition into the marketplace of education by doing that."
Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers of Woodstock followed up on those comments, saying he believes the kindergarten through 12th grade system in Georgia "fails to work because we tell children that based on their U.S. postal mailing address that you must go to a [certain] school."
"We send children to school based on what’s good for the government instead of what’s best for the child," he said.
Rogers got loud applause from the audience and then a slight rebuttal on the issue from Bridget Rodriguez, president of the Hall County Education Association.
"I want to personally thank you for tabling the voucher issue in the last [legislative] session," she said. "What you just said spoke volumes because Hall County is very strong and adamant about giving students choice."
Rodriguez was referring to charter schools that present a certain style of instruction, such as math and technology.
"We’re supporting choice for children and it’s working very well," she added.
Throughout the forum, senators didn’t just sit quietly and take notes.
They frequently engaged with audience members, giving opinions, defending actions and stances, and boasting the state’s high ranking nationally in certain areas, such as the debt per capita.
Sen. Frank Ginn of Danielsville gave out his cell phone number for comments and questions after the event, which lasted about 90 minutes.
Gainesville is the fifth stop on a swing through the state of Senate Republicans hearing from constituents.
"The best ideas don’t necessarily start under the Gold Dome," Rogers said at the beginning of the summit, referring to the Capitol. "They start all across the state of Georgia."
The group also received a few kudos for holding the forum in the first place.
And, in the case of Richard Razel of Gainesville, praise for a particular bill.
"I just want to thank you for coming up with the sticker ‘In God We Trust,’" he said, loud hand claps following his comment. "I have that both on my Honda and my Toyota."
Taxpayers can spend an extra dollar for "In God We Trust," which may be placed over the county label.
The practice will be allowed even as Georgia issues a newly designed license plate — a process featuring a vote for the favorite design that ends Aug. 8.
"I like to advertise for my God," Razel said.
FCN Staff Writer Jennifer Sami contributed to this report.