Making their case
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.