Hiawassee, GA – Monday night’s Forum for Hiawassee City Council posts consisted of opening and closing statements, prepared questions asked of each of the seven candidates, followed by inquiries from City residents. Professor John Van Vliet of Young Harris College moderated the panel at the Towns County Civic Center on October 2, 2017.
Following an Invocation, the National Anthem, and the Pledge of Allegiance, the forum began.
Former Mayor Pro-Tem of 4-months, Ms. Ordiales, opened with her qualifications and achievements – retirement from managing an estimated $12 million dollar budget while employed in Miami with AT&T, extensive local community service involvement during her 18-years of full-time residency in Towns County, and a list of improvements the City has experienced since Ordiales was elected to Post 5 in 2015.
Barry Dearing, Founder of Van Keith Insurance, an 18-year local business with an estimated $8 million dollar budget, spoke of his professional expertise, his affection for his fourth generation hometown, adding he looks forward to serving the community.
When asked to cite main goals within a five-to-ten year span, Mr. Dearing conveyed he plans to keep both resident’s and business owner’s interests in mind and will treat citizens equally while respecting the past, and presenting new ideas for the future. “I want to leave Hiawassee better than I found it,” Dearing expressed.
Ms. Ordiales strives for “self-sufficiency” and would like to implement a program with WorkForce Georgia to teach subsequent generations the skills necessary to match area business demands, such as tourism and nursing. Ms. Ordiales also noted a need for improved infrastructure, specifically the sewage system. “Growth is coming. We need to be ready,” Ordiales warned.
Barry Dearing agrees infrastructure expansion is necessary for future growth and plans to work with the Towns County Chamber of Commerce to promote Hiawassee and Lake Chatuge’s beauty. Mr. Dearing intends to encourage business growth geared toward the region, keeping the workforce local with a 5% incentive.
Liz Ordiales hopes to compete with other cities by carefully planning economic development through connections with outside agencies, attracting companies to fill empty storefronts, and advancing the travel and tourism industry.
Confliction between the two Mayoral candidates arose regarding the Franchise Tax. Liz Ordiales referenced Hiawassee as one of only 11 Georgia cities lacking the 4-7% taxation necessary to cover expenses, citing storm damage cleanup as an example, after Barry Dearing said he considered the tax an “unclear thing that’s been untold.”
The candidates vying for Post 2 seats on the Council are 12-year incumbent, Jay (“Junior”) Chastain, and retired Postmaster, Patsy Owens.
Patsy Owens grew up in Towns County, retired from 31 years of employment management with the Post Office, and says her goals are to “make the City better and make it safe.” Patsy Owens vows to listen to the citizens concerning their needs and prevent the financial losses seen in the past. Owens says she is “willing to learn to help any and all of you.”
Incumbent Jay Chastain, Jr. has served as a Paramedic for the past 31 years and while he “doesn’t want to see the City change what the Forefathers brought in,” he foresees a need for increased public safety alongside steady advancement. Chastain favors cooperation between city and county agencies and confirms increased revenue from tourism will result in lower taxation. Jay Chastain encouraged residents to “vote their hearts.”
The final candidates to speak were those hoping to fill Post 5, the seat left vacant by Mayoral candidate, Liz Ordiales.
Nancy Noblet “spent 17 years in business, has experience making hard decisions, and has worked with budgets” in the past. Ms. Noblet says she wants to hear the people’s visions for Hiawassee’s future. Nancy Noblet assured voters she is “rooted and grounded” and has a desire to serve, while doing what’s best for the City. Noblet hopes to increase family oriented events on the Square and aims for a shift of focus directed toward the community’s youth.
Anne Wedgewood, a candidate with a history in real estate, says she is a “watchdog,” a “what if” brainstormer. Ms. Wedgewood describes herself as an analyst, valuing fiscal responsibility. A volunteer with the Chamber of Commerce, Wedgewood expressed interest in attracting more visitors from the Atlanta suburbs by supporting “Mom and Pop” businesses, and specialty enterprises, such as craft breweries.
Last to address the voters was unopposed candidate for Post 1, Amy Barrett. Although guaranteed a seat on the Council, Ms. Barrett hopes to receive votes of confidence. Barrett portrayed Hiawassee as “the best place on earth, a slice of heaven.” Ms. Barrett is active in an array of community services – from volunteering with the Friends of the Library, assisting the school system, and providing veteran support. Once a waitress who worked to advance her husband’s legal studies, Barrett promises to “accomplish great things” and says she looks forward to serving the City.
Questions permitted from Hiawassee voters, directed toward the Mayoral candidates, ended the forum.
Liz Ordiales was asked about growing traffic concerns. Ordiales revealed the Department of Transportation has authority over Highway 76 and the City is “confined in what they can do.”
A resident asked Barry Dearing how he plans to run both his business and the City if elected. Dearing explained he has been sequentially retired for the past two years, with his wife handling the operations. Mr. Dearing conveyed he grasps the obligation of serving as Mayor is “more than a full-time job.”
Early voting for Hiawassee City Council begins on October 16, 2017.
The election will take place on November 7, 2017.