Newcomers elected in Harlem, Grovetown

Grovetown, Harlem see low voter turnout at polls

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Despite disappointing turnout at some of the polls, voters elected new leaders in Grovetown and Harlem on Tuesday.

Only 4.3 percent of the active registered voters in Grovetown – 206 voters – went to the polls Tuesday.

“(It’s) very low,” Columbia County Board of Elections Executive Director Nancy Gay said. During a similar election in 2011 that also included the Sunday alcohol sales ordinance, 12.8 percent of active voters turned out.

In Harlem, 221 residents voted, constituting 16.1 percent of active voters.

“Harlem, for an election of this size, that was more typical, but Grovetown, no,” Gay said.

Harlem voters re-elected incumbent John Thigpen, 53, and newcomer Danny Bellavance, 54, to the City Council. Thigpen, who earned 149 votes – 35.99 percent – is a chemical senior operator at DSM Chemical in Augusta and served on the council since 2003.

“We definitely want to keep moving in the direction we’re moving,” Thigpen said, adding that the new make-up of the council will continue what he said has been the council’s objective stance and citizen-oriented service over the past several years. “No agendas, I think we’re maintaining that.”

Bellavance, who got 119 votes – 28.74 percent – is a backflow technician with Akima and works at Fort Gordon. Bellavance said he wants to preserve the city’s small-town feel by properly managing its growth.

“I just want to get involved in the growth of Harlem and make sure it’s done the right way,” he said. “That’s the main thing.”

Incumbent Rudolph Dixon got 47 votes, 11.35 percent. Newcomer Lee Ann Meyer got 98 votes, 23.67 percent.

Harlem Mayor Bobby Culpepper, running for a third term unopposed, was re-elected with 162 votes.

In Grovetown, two newcomers were elected to replace incumbents. Lee Briggs, who was appointed to fill the more than four remaining months of former Councilman Sonny McDowell’s term, lost re-election with 89 votes, 25.65 percent. Incumbent Bruce Stoddard, who served 12 years on the council, did not seek reelection.

Voters elected retired Columbia County teacher Sylvia Martin, 59, who earned 146 votes, 42.07 percent. Grovetown hairdresser Vickie Cook, 54, won the second seat with 110 votes, 31.70 percent.

“A lot of exciting things are going to happen,” said Martin, adding she’d been considering public office in the city since before her retirement.

Martin served on a community board involved in the city’s Urban Redevelopment Plan and said she’s particularly interested in seeing that plan, including the creation of a downtown center, carried out.

Like Martin, Cook said running for a city office is something she has considered for while. She’s hoping to bring more family-centered events and activities to the city.

“I’m just excited to get in there and see what we can do, all of us, the mayor and council,” Cook said.


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