Today's endorsements focus on the Lee County Board of Commissioners seats that will be decided Tuesday. The three contests will be decided by voters who cast Republican Party ballots.
The contest for District 2 in Lee County doesn't include an incumbent. Betty Johnson, who is serving a four-year term she won after serving as the county's tax commissioner, is stepping down at the end of the year. The two candidates who are running to succeed her are Luke Singletary and Ray Timms.
Singletary says he's running to protect his "investment" in Lee County, but that's not a reference to his family's financial investment in property. He says it is the personal stake that he, his family and friends have in the county. He also feels the county "needs some new ideas, fresh ideas on the commission. There's not a whole lot of different perspectives on the commission."
The pharmaceutical sales representative said he believes Lee will continue to grow, but he wants to ensure that "we have quality growth." He sees an importance in transportation improvements that would lessen the "natural east-west divide" in the county and says that is the reason that he supports the T-SPLOST referendum. He also wants maximum usage out of the new library/conference center, more transparency and collaboration among county entities, and quarterly town halls in different districts to hear the opinions of residents.
Timms, a heavy equipment technician, said prayer led him to run for the commission seat. A problem with government, he said, is that people and God need to be more involved. He said he is running to make Lee County a better place and to give the residents of the county their voice back in government.
"I think it's vital that we work with the surrounding counties to bring industry to our area," Timms said. "Yes, we need more retail to bring in tax revenue, but the people in our region need jobs. This is something we have to work on together."
He said he thinks Lee has a "good group" of commissioners and that he wants to learn from them, but also is prepared to speak up when he disagrees. While his district is important, Timms said, the board should look at each issue as what's best for the entire county.
In this race, we believe Singletary would bring some fresh, new energy to the commission and we recommend him for the seat.
In District 4, incumbent Rick Muggridge is being challenged by Frank Taylor.
Muggridge, as have the rest of the county commissioners, came under heavy political fire over the attempt by the commission to have garbage collection fees added to the property tax bills of county residents. A significant enough portion of the county voting population opposed the measure so that petitions to recall the ordinance were drawn up and the County Commission found itself pitted against Lee County citizens in a court case that was headed to the Georgia Supreme Court. That court action became moot when the commission withdrew the ordinance and placed the question of garbage fees on tax bills on a referendum in Tuesday's elections. It soon became apparent that commissioners running for re-election this year would be met with significant opposition.
Muggridge, an insurance agent, readily admits that commissioners created part of the backlash by failing to communicate effectively with constituents what they were trying to accomplish with the fee collection. But he said that shouldn't discount the accomplishments the commission has achieved over the past few years. Among those, he said, have been turning Grand Island, which had been a drain on taxpayers, into a self-sufficient operation; balancing budgets in the recession without layoffs, furloughs or job eliminations, and improving the rainy day fund balance. Muggridge has been appointed to the Department of Community Affairs board, a state agency that is important to local governments.
Looking ahead, Muggridge says he thinks Lee County will continue to grow, but not at the breakneck clip of the 1990s. He said areas that need to continue to be addressed are working with neighboring counties to improve the region, quality of life issues and finding ways to enhance business and agricultural growth.
Taylor, a retired engineer and teacher, said he is running to return the voice of Lee County residents to government, saying the current commission has become arrogant and has stopped listening. A member of the Tea Party, he says residents should be allowed to vote on "anything that affects their taxes, their property or their pocketbook." He believes local taxes should not be increased unless approved by popular vote and that any commission decision that affects residents' financially should only pass with a unanimous vote of the board.
As for the commission, Taylor advocates expanding the number of commissioners seven by adding a chairman and vice chairman elected at-large in the county. He said his experience with budgets while working with BellSouth will come in handy and he will meet with all department heads to determine waste that can be cut.
We understand that the garbage fee issue was a divisive one for the county, but we also believe that the cumulative body of work should be judged, not a single issue. We recommend that District 4 voters return Muggridge to the board for a new term of office.
In District 5, incumbent Bill Williams is being challenged by Greg Frich. The observations we mentioned in the District 4 race about the garbage fee controversy applies equally to this contest.
Frich, a defense contractor, is a retired Marine with two combat tours. He favors the Bible and Constitution as the cornerstones of local government and said he wants to do all he can to help promote existing businesses and to bring new businesses to the county. He's an energetic, engaging candidate whose Marine background comes through clearly in his drive and leadership skills.
He has already impacted the Lee political scene as a leader in the effort to recall the garbage fee ordinance. Frich is critical of the lack of responsiveness he feels the commissioners have given their constituents. In the Marines, he said, "The lesson I learned was the higher in rank you go, the more responsible you are to be a servant to your people."
Frich advocates having regularly scheduled town hall meetings at churches in the district and with businesses. "I believe we have four hard years coming up," he said, "and I believe in those four years we need strong leaders."
Williams, a certified public account, is much more low key, but has been instrumental in working behind the scenes to keep Lee's budgets balanced without tax hikes and layoffs that have hit other local governments.
Like Frich, he had an impact when he wasn't a commissioner. When he decided to run, he examined the county budget -- and found a $1.6 million error. "I just didn't like the way Lee County was running its finances," he said in explaining his initial commission run. "That ($1.6 million error) would have necessitated a tax increase" had it not be detected, he noted. Before he got on the commission, Williams said, commissioners had little to do with the budgeting process. He has drawn up the county's budget for the last four years and is known for keeping close tabs on every dollar.
On responding to constituents, Williams said, "I've responded to everybody that contacted me. They might not have liked what I was able to tell them, but I responded."
He too said the county's accomplishments -- especially with the budget -- have been impressive, and he said the budget, jobs and future road projects will be vital to the county. "Lee County is a heap better than it was four years ago," he said, adding the board works well together.
We believe Frich will have a positive impact on Lee County in a leadership role, but for this election we believe Williams has been the backbone of smart, effective use of taxpayer funds and has earned another term on the commission.
-- The Albany Herald Editorial Board