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Lee candidates: District 1 ignored

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

LEESBURG, Ga. -- Mary Egler took something of a circuitous route to get on the Nov. 2 ballot as a challenger to incumbent District 1 Lee County Commissioner Dennis Roland. But now that she's there, Egler said she's in the race to win it.

"I'm going to be a county commissioner next year," Egler said. "I've just got that feeling. I'm not saying Mr. Roland is not in touch with the people of our district, but he seems to face obstacles with every step he takes.

"My candidacy is not anything personal against Mr. Roland. I just feel like it's time to get someone on that board who is willing to do what it takes to address the issues that most affect the people in the northern part of Lee County."

Roland, who surprised incumbent Jackie Sizemore four years ago to win a first term on the Commission, said he's often stood alone during his four years in office to try and shed light on the issues that impact District 1.

"I'm not going to try and take credit for any of the things that we've passed in the last four years that address the needs in the Smithville/Chokee District," Roland said. "We are finally getting a fire station, but I credit the previous Commission and the taxpayers for helping make that a reality.

"I also think it's important that we've gotten Graves Springs and Old Smithville roads paved. But there are other things I worked hard for that didn't pass that would have saved the county lots of money."

Roland points to his efforts to require cross training by fire and EMS personnel, to require subdivision developers to account for stormwater and greenspace requirements and to outsource right-of-way maintenance as ideas that "would have saved the county millions of dollars."

And he said the county's poor ISO rating that is sending home insurance rates in the county skyrocketing, his call for an agricultural center to accommodate the county's No. 1 industry and the ongoing conflict over a proposed library/conference center project will be key issues in the next four years.

"I've talked with people who are paying $1,200 for insurance who have been told their rate would be going up to $3,000," Roland said. "People like that don't like seeing their tax dollars support someone (in the southern portion of the county) who's paying $800 for insurance on the same size house.

"I'd like to see us use the SPLOST (special-purpose local-option sales tax) and state money we have to build a library and just a library. I think for a county whose No. 1 industry is agriculture, an ag center would get more usage than a conference center."

Egler, who ran unsuccessfully against Republican Roland four years ago as a Democrat, decided to run in this year's election as an Independent. To qualify she had to get certified signatures from 5 percent of the district's active voters. That she did so, she says, shows her determination.

"I've talked with a lot of people on our side of the county who say there's just not a lot being done for the taxpayers here," she said. "The people in north Lee County pay taxes, too, and they deserve to get some benefit from those taxes.

"I got out and walked the streets in the district and talked with people about my plans as a commissioner. It was hard work, but now that I'm on the ballot, I'm glad I did things this way. I was able to meet and talk with a lot of people about the problems in the district."

Egler, 57, said improving fire/EMS service, providing more recreational activities and improving maintenance of the roads in District 1, which contains 85 percent of the county's 200-plus miles of dirt roads, were vital issues.

"I've made it clear to the people that I've talked with: I can't promise anyone that I'll get a single road paved," she said. "But there's no reason these roads can't be better maintained. The damage that's being done to people's vehicles on some of these roads is unbelievable.

"One of the things I do promise the people of the district is that I will listen and learn everything I can. I'm going to find out what's being done and what can be done. I believe that you have to know the foundation before you can walk somewhere. I will work very hard to serve the people of Lee County."

The 57-year-old Roland, meanwhile, said he will continue to speak out about the issues that affect the district.

"Maybe (other commissioners) will get tired of me fussing about some of these issues and give in," he said. "But I am going to keep talking about them because they're important to the people of the county. I have no personal animosity toward anyone, and I'm not going to make personal attacks. But I will work hard for the people in the Smithville/Chokee District.

"And I will continue to support Sheriff (Reggie) Rachals and our law enforcement personnel. If we can keep the crime element from moving into our county, I believe we're going to see an increase in commercial growth as businesses in Dougherty County continue to move here."

The District 1 race will be contested as part of the Nov. 2 General Election.