City candidates meet voters at country forum

Under a tin-roofed pavilion with a picturesque rolling pasture behind them, Canton City Council candidates on Tuesday answered questions at a candidate forum 20 miles from downtown Canton.

The event was part of a long-running series of forums sponsored by the Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce, the Cherokee County Farm Bureau and hosted by Cagle Family Farm outside Ball Ground.

In an informal setting, candidates and potential voters mingled. Though the city council election is coming up Nov. 5, candidates for county and General Assembly seats in 2020 came out to introduce themselves and court voters.

Audience members asked what the Canton candidates thought about growth, the now-ended downtown entertainment district and more.

There are three people vying for the Ward 1 seat now held by JoEllen Wilson, who is seeking re-election. Wilson stressed the need for continuity on the council, which will have a new mayor and at least one new member next year. She said seeing through existing projects such as creating a better growth plan, building new water-and-sewer infrastructure, and building downtown parking decks are important.

Candidate Bob Reilly stressed the need to reduce the density of new housing coming into the city, saying it taxes the city’s infrastructure. He emphasized the need to update planning frequently and also factor in safety in the process. Reilly also said that south Canton is an area that “needs help,” and could be an area targeted for directing future growth.

Candidate Kathy Strom emphasized her lifelong love of Canton. “I was an R.T. Jones (hospital) baby and am a graduate of Cherokee High — Go Warriors!,” she said. Strom said she would work to help spur economic development if elected. She said her son is in college and would like to see job opportunities that would keep him in the community instead of having to look elsewhere.

Shawn Tolan is the only candidate who qualified in the Ward 2 election and will take office next year.

Mayoral candidates Bill Grant and Dwight Pullen ended the evening.

Grant cited his service during two terms as a city council member in Ward 2, during which he also served as mayor pro tem. As mayor Grant said he would work with the council to create and put a development master plan in place. He also said the city needs “a diversity of housing,” options and would work to encourage that. He said proposed $70 million in water and sewer improvements would be paid for through growth in the number of water and sewer customers.

Pullen said his work as a school superintendent in Chattooga County would be an asset for Canton residents because of that system’s similarity in budget and staff to the city government. Pullen said the city has had poor leadership in recent years. He said the city had traded valuable property in The Bluffs to the school board for “two old buildings,” and then sold those buildings “too cheap.” He said the city “gave away,” its fire department.

On the issue of the city’s now discontinued entertainment district in which people could carry to-go cups with alcoholic drinks on downtown sidewalks, candidates expressed mixed views.

Reilly said he was “neutral” on the issue and if it came up for a vote again, he would vote as his constituents wanted.

Pullen said he had initially opposed the idea, but after spending time downtown after the district was created “I haven’t seen any problems.” He said the question should be put to a citywide vote.

Grant said the issue had been overly “politicized” from the beginning when it was first raised in 2018.

Wilson said she voted to create the district and supported it being renewed. The district was killed last month in a 3-2 vote, with entertainment district opponent Mayor Gene Hobgood casting the deciding vote. Wilson was not at that meeting.

Strom said the entertainment district makes downtown more attractive for residents and visitors alike and would support it being re-established.

The candidates are expected to participate in another forum Oct. 23 in downtown Canton.

Cherokee Tribune
Gary Tanner