Originally created 07/18/04

Experience is key race issue



As is often the message when a political newcomer looks to unseat a longtime incumbent, experience versus new blood has become the campaign theme for the two candidates for Columbia County Commission District 3.

Diane Ford, who joined the county Board of Commissioners in 1993 and is the group's longest-serving member, said her experience gives her an edge.

"Columbia County is growing so very fast, and trying to keep up with the growth and manage the growth and still analyze each issue on its own merit, I think I can do that," she said.

"I don't need any on-the-job training."

Mrs. Ford is being challenged Tuesday by Greg Kernaghan, who said he became interested in running after discussing issues with his neighbors in the Stratford subdivision.

"When she first started in there, she started, too, with no experience," he said.

"You've got a little bit more younger, more diverse county than what we've had in the past, and I feel that I'd be a little bit more open-minded and little bit more understanding as far as needs."

Because there is no Democratic opposition, the winner of the county's District 3 Republican ballots will assume the post.

No candidates came forward to run against commissioners Tom Mercer and Lee Anderson.

Both Mrs. Ford and Mr. Kernaghan pointed to managing the county's growth as a key issue for the commissioners. Often, the most heated public response to the board has come from zoning-related decisions and how closely those votes support the county's growth-management plan.

"You try to apply that guideline and the ordinances we have along with the wants and wishes of your constituents," Mrs. Ford said. "We have seen here lately that there's some areas with that plan that need working on."

Mr. Kernaghan said the growth-management plan, which must be updated every five years in keeping with state law, should undergo more frequent reviews.

"It's sitting on a shelf every five years, and as fast as we're growing it's doing us no good," he said. "We need to look at it a minimum of every two or three years."

Mrs. Ford, who has been certified by the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, also touts the improvements that have come to the rural part of her district during her tenure.

"We've been able to run the water lines; we've been able to pave the roads; and we've tried to manage growth. And we've balanced our budget," she said, adding that the county has earned an AA- bond rating while also having reserve money in the $41 million budget.

Mr. Kernaghan said he believes in term limits for county commissioners.

After three four-year terms, "you kind of get complacent. ... You might not be open to new ideas," he said.

Q&A with district 3 candidates

1. Do you think county property taxes will need to increase during the next four years?

Mrs. Ford: "I don't think property taxes will need to increase with all the people that we're seeing come into the county and all the business coming in to the county. I think the business will relieve some of the burden on the taxpayers."

Mr. Kernaghan: "I don't think so right now. I think if we work to draw in the business, then we should be all right as far as that goes ... as long as the SPLOST fund gets approved."

2. Do you support the idea of privatizing land around Thurmond Lake?

Mrs. Ford: "Most of the people up here that I've represented up here over the years would like to see the lake left in its pristine setting. For the time being, it's fine the way it is."

Mr. Kernaghan: "Me personally, I like the lake the way it is. If the Corps decides to sell some of their property, and there's any kind of development up there, I think it needs to be light development."

Reach Vicky Eckenrode at 868-1222, ext. 115 or vicky.eckenrode@augustachronicle.com.