Mak­ing their case

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - BRYAN FAZIO bfazio@cov­

Phil John­son, Jared Rut­berg and Ron­nie Cowan an­swer ques­tions.

As can­di­dates for two Newton County seats open in the 2016 Gen­eral Pri­mary Runoff Elec­tions an­swered ques­tions dur­ing a fo­rum at the Newton County His­toric Court­house Thurs­day, in­fra­struc­ture was the com­mon theme among the three can­di­dates in at­ten­dance.

The Newton County Repub­li­can and Demo­crat par­ties, along with SmartGrowth Newton County, hosted the fo­rum, co-spon­sored by The Cov­ing­ton News and the Newton Cit­i­zen, just days ahead of the early vot­ing pe­riod for the runoff start­ing Tues­day, July 5 at the Newton County Ad­min­is­tra­tion Build­ing, and a few weeks be­fore the July 26 elec­tion.

Board of Com­mis­sion­ers Dis­trict 5 can­di­dates Ron­nie Cowan and Jared Rut­berg, both Repub­li­cans, shared their ideas for com­mis­sioner and Chair can­di­date Phil John­son, a Demo­crat, told the crowd why he would be a good choice to lead the BOC. John­son’s op­po­nent, Marcello Banes did not at­tend the event.

Sarah Todd, Newton County Demo­crat Pres­i­dent, Ray Cowan, Newton County Repub­li­can Pres­i­dent and Johnathan Paschal, SmartGrowth Newton County Pres­i­dent, asked the can­di­dates around 20 ques­tions con­cern­ing with sev­eral as­pects of Newton County’s present and fu­ture.

The re­cur­ring theme from the can­di­dates was that Newton County needed an im­prove­ment in in­fra­struc­ture, on its roads, within its pub­lic safety and among its lead­ers on the board of com­mis­sion­ers.

“Our in­fra­struc­ture is in ter­ri­ble shape,” John­son said. “We have not in­vested in our in­fra­struc­ture.”

When asked about SPLOST projects, all three can­di­dates pointed to their wish list, which in­cluded pub­lic safety, the land­fill and roads.

“It’s a long-stand­ing is­sue that a lot of things have been ne­glected for a long time and a lot are in­fra­struc­ture based,” Rut­berg said when asked what would be the top five or six items on his SPLOST list.

Through­out the fo­rum Rut­berg told the au­di­ence that his ex­pe­ri­ence as a busi­ness owner who turned around and made three busi­nesses prof­itable would be a ben­e­fit to the county, which is strug­gling to bal­ance its bud­get ahead of fis­cal year 2017.

When asked about le­gal ex­penses, Rut­berg said they “need to go through the county man­ager. As a busi­ness owner, I have plenty of ex­pe­ri­ence del­e­gat­ing.”

Cowan, who is an at­tor­ney, pointed to his le­gal ex­pe­ri­ence through­out the fo­rum and said he would be able to guide the county through le­gal forms with­out pay­ing for the ex­pense of us­ing the county at­tor­ney.

“I watched the BOC meet­ing and the county at­tor­ney was asked to do things that should be done by the de­part­ments,” Cowan said when asked the same ques­tion as Rut­berg. “As an at­tor­ney, I can say what should go to the at­tor­ney and what should be done by man­age­ment.”

John­son, who is also an at­tor­ney, in­formed the au­di­ence that he be­gan the process to run for county Chair two years ago for the sole rea­son of his 10 grand­chil­dren. Since mak­ing the de­ci­sion to en­ter the race, John­son said he has met with sev­eral county de­part­ments, at­tended meet­ings and “can hit the ground run­ning in Jan­uary.”

“The Chair is go­ing to be cru­cial in defin­ing roles,” John­son said in re­sponse to a ques­tion con­cern­ing the county’s new county man­ager form of gov­ern­ment. “It’s not go­ing to be a ques­tion of a power strug­gle; it’s go­ing to be the chair work­ing with the county man­ager and dis­trict com­mis­sion­ers.”

The three can­di­dates agreed on most the is­sues pre­sented, which ranged from the solid waste au­thor­ity, to fu­ture de­vel­op­ment and com­mu­ni­ca­tions with cit­i­zens.

The win­ner of Cowan and Rut­berg will be the new Dis­trict 5 com­mis­sioner due to lack of Demo­crat op­po­si­tion. The win­ner of John­son and Banes will meet Repub­li­can Aaron Varner in the gen­eral elec­tion Nov. 8.

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