October 25, 2013

Candidates mingle at League of Women Voters picnic

Charles Oliver
charlesoliver@daltoncitizen.com

— Nine candidates made a final push for votes Thursday night at the annual picnic of The League of Women Voters of the Dalton Area.

“I want to thank the league for giving us this opportunity and hosting this event,” said Dalton City Council member Gary Crews, who is running for re-election for the Ward Four seat on the council.

About 40 people from across Whitfield County got a chance to eat and chat with many of the candidates in the Nov. 5 municipal elections in Dalton and Varnell as well as next year’s non-partisan election for a seat on the Conasauga Superior Court.

Crews noted the council’s accomplishments over the past four years in cutting taxes and trying to make the city more attractive for people and business.

“My focus over the next four years will be on economic development,” he said.

His opponent in the nonpartisan race is J.K. Ware, a fifth-generation Daltonian.

Ware also promised a focus on economic development.

“I want to see the city diversify its industry,” he said.

Ware has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Kennesaw State University and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Tate O’Gwin is running unopposed for the Ward 2 seat on the Dalton City Council. Incumbent Dick Lowrey is not seeking re-election.

O’Gwin grew up in Cobb County and earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business. He and his wife moved to Dalton six years ago. They both own small businesses and are involved in several community organizations.

Steve Laird and Dr. Pablo Perez face each other for the Dalton Board of Education seat currently held by Mark Orr, who is not seeking re-election.

Perez, originally from Peru, came to Dalton in 1999 to practice medicine. He said that schools need to set high standards for students.

Laird noted that Dalton High School currently has a graduation rate of 80 percent.

“I don’t know if we can get that to 100 percent. But I would like to see it higher,” he said.

Laird said the key is to reach children early and make sure they are at or above grade level by third grade.

Businessman and Varnell City Council candidate Jan Pourquoi praised the growth the city has achieved over the past four years and said he’d like to continue that growth. Pourquoi, who has expressed concern about the city’s debt level and it not having a reserve fund, said he’d like to strengthen its finances. He also said he would like to find some way to organize the community to reach out to those in need, particularly elderly people.

Pourquoi faces Michael Willocks, who was not at the event, for Seat 2 on the council. Brent Newsome, who currently holds the seat, is not seeking re-election.

Varnell mayoral candidate Anthony Hulsey also expressed concern about the budget, saying he would keep a close eye on spending. Hulsey, a Georgia State Patrol trooper, said he would like to see the city grow and said he wanted to find ways to extend sidewalks and to beautify city streets.

He faces former City Council member David Owens in the election. Owens served on the City Council from 1997 until stepping down in August. He served as mayor pro tem for 14 years, and served as interim mayor for several months in 2008 after Lindsey Metcalf stepped down as mayor and before Dan Peeples was elected to fill the remaining term.

Owens said his top priorities if elected would be phasing out the city’s property tax, ending registration fees for youth sports and extending sewer throughout the city.

Conasauga Superior Court Judge David Blevins also spoke.

“It’s a privilege (to serve as a judge),” he said. “We are doing something I think is very important.”

Blevins said he thinks the court’s most important role is protecting children.

Blevins will be up for re-election in the general primary in 2014. That is currently scheduled for July but the General Assembly is expected to move to May to coincide with the date a federal judge set for primaries for federal offices.

Dalton Municipal Court Judge Jim Wilbanks, who has announced his candidacy for the Superior Court, attended the picnic but did not speak.