Originally created 10/25/98

Officials target of accusation

CANTON, Ga. -- When two commissioners accused of being overly friendly with developers lost their re-election bids, many residents of this rapidly growing county thought the community's quiet, country atmosphere had been saved.

They didn't realize that the lame duck commissioners, along with one who didn't run for re-election, had a few more months to approve zoning requests. And they did, rubber-stamping every application that developers put before them at the first meeting after the primary.

Intense media scrutiny, criticism from residents and three lawsuits followed that meeting, but two of the three pro-development commissioners vowed to keep approving new construction -- including several large, high-density subdivisions.

Chairman Hollis Lathem, says he's "doing this for the good of the county and nothing else." Mr. Lathem and Commissioner Jimmy Long were ousted in the primary, while Commissioner Rebecca Ray, who had been voting with them, did not seek re-election.

On Friday, with six TV news crews looking on, Ms. Ray swung the majority to the anti-development forces when she voted to reject or table three proposals, including a controversial 660-home subdivision.

The 220 people in the audience erupted in applause after Ms. Ray cast her first no vote. Mr. Lathem did a double take and asked Ms. Ray to repeat her vote.

"All I can say is, God bless Rebecca Ray," Deborah Wallace of Hickory Flat told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "She's finally heard the will of the people."

A month earlier, there was no cheering for the board. The commissioners passed 14 zoning requests at the September meeting -- most of them by a 3-2 margin -- despite vocal and angry opposition to many of the projects.

"People have asked me what is going on with our commissioners," said Iloana Sanders, a commissioner who voted against many of the proposed developments. "They've said, `Is there anything we can do to stop this?' and unfortunately there is not."

Many residents who fear that overdevelopment will force Cherokee County, northwest of Atlanta, to go the way of its crowded, traffic-clogged neighbors to the south.

Resident Emily Turner reprimanded the commission at meeting.

"I just want to say that the rezoning that has already taken place, and that will take place obviously, is going to cause the taxpayers more of a burden," she told the board. "We've got to show some responsibility. Individual responsibility is what I'd like to see from my commissioners and I'm not seeing that."

So far this year, 76 zoning applications have been filed and more are expected. All of last year, 51 were filed.

The anti-development forces urged people to defeat the commissioners in this Republican stronghold, and 22.2 percent of registered voters took part in the primary -- nearly double the state average.

Emily Lemcke and Larry Singleton defeated Mr. Lathem and Long in the primary. With no Democratic opposition, Ms. Lemcke and Singleton will join the board in January.


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