Together... Building A Better Dade
What are the top two or three responsibilities of a county government? Similarly, what are the two or three areas that should be prioritized in the budget?
County Commissioners are on the front line when an emergency or disaster strikes.  Public safety is the most important responsibility a County Commissioner faces in local government.  As County Executive I will ensure the safety and lives of our citizens and visitors are always protected.  The Dade County Sheriff’s Office and Dade County Emergency Management Agency have been charged with the duty of protecting life, protecting real and personal property, and mitigating general disruptions to community life.  Likewise, the Emergency 9-1-1 service to our County is a critical need that cannot be forfeited.  Communication is the backbone of an emergency services program.  Over the last 18 years I have assisted with grants and source funding to provide our citizens dependable access to fire, law enforcement, emergency medical, and other services when there is an emergency.  In Georgia, there are two basic types of fire departments.  There are “career departments” that employ full-time paid employees, and there are volunteer departments that rely primarily on volunteers.  As County Executive I fully support our volunteer fire services team to continue saving lives and protect property by providing the necessary capital tools required to keep our citizens safe.

I have personally been responsible for Dade County’s annual budgets for the last 18 years.  I have to say that public safety i.e. law enforcement, fire protection and all emergency services provided to our citizens must always remain a high priority in the County’s budgeting process.  This also includes Emergency Medical Services which provide reliable ambulance service to those in need at a moment's notice.  When your loved one is lying on the floor in pain, and you dial 9-1-1 then I expect our EMT workers to reach your family members as soon as possible to assist them and save those precious lives.  All County governments services are important, and we all have different perspectives, from Parks & Recreation to the Courts, from Elections to Animal Control, from the Library to paving roads and removing the solid waste from our community.  But public safety remains my number one priority in Dade County.
What do you think the current board has done well, and do you see any areas for improvement?
Although I don’t currently serve on the Board of Commissioners, I do however serve the Board of Commissioners as the County Clerk and Chief Financial Officer.  I will have served in this role for 18 years this November 2024.  My office reduced the need for printing so many documents and files due to migrating our processes over to document imaging.  This process also includes our Commission meeting agendas and minutes that may now be found online on the County’s website.  Also, providing all documentation to all citizens, that formerly only a county commissioner had access to in our recent past.

As CFO I worked side by side with our commissioners to rebuild the County’s fund balance from a negative number in 2013 to over a 3 million dollar balance in 2023.  This process has taken 10 years of conservative financial budgeting and maintaining limited spending from our general fund.  Basically, if we didn’t have it to spend, then it was delayed or cut from the budget.  The County’s fund balance is relative to our net worth which can be thought of as a kind of savings account. We have accomplished the building of our fund balance with one of the lowest millage rates in the entire State of Georgia over the last five years.
What experiences, expertise, etc. qualifies you for this position?
I have served as County Clerk and CFO to the Board of Commissioners for almost 18 years making me the most qualified candidate running for County Executive.  I have served under 13 different county commissioners over that period of time which has provided a wide scope of perspectives during my tenure in these positions.  In 1993 I  earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Georgia in Political Science with a concentration in Public Administration.  I also received a diploma from Louisiana State University Graduate School of Banking & Finance in 2001.  Since 2006 I received a diploma for completing the requirements as a Certified County Clerk in the State of Georgia from the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government.  From that same school I received a diploma of Clerks Master Education Program too.  Furthermore, I have already completed half of the requirements to become a Certified County Commissioner as provided by the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia through UGA’s CVIOG.  Courses from these programs include:  County Government Law, County Government Revenue & Finance, Economic and Community Development, Ethics, Human Resources Leadership Institute, Property Appraisal and Taxation, Public Health and Safety, Citizen Engagement, County Operations and Management, Intergovernmental Relations, Leadership Development, Quality of Life and Social Issues, plus many other academic classes.  Each of these academic tracks requires 48 hours of coursework, and could potentially take years to complete.  Overall, my day-to-day operations working side by side with County Commissioners and Mr. Ted Rumley, current County Executive, has provided the on-job training necessary to prepare me to take office on January 1, 2025 without ever missing a beat in local government operations.
How should the Dade County Board of Commissioners communicate with the public, and how should individual members communicate with constituents?
Ultimately, communication between a County Commissioner and their constituents is a personal decision that each District Commissioners must decide for themselves.  I doubt a board policy dictating otherwise would ever pass this legislative body regarding this individual’s commitment to their constituents.  Therefore, I can only speak on my behalf, not for each member of the Board of Commissioners.

I will communicate with the public through most forms of social media.  As we’ve seen lately, some forms of social media have been outlawed on the Federal level, however, the great majority of social media outlets are fully utilized.  Therefore, I would commit to using these outlets on a weekly basis and during times of emergency or other more timely situations that warrant such posts.

Clearly, as an elected official I feel we have an obligation to not only use social media, but our local news media, the Dade County Sentinel, the local radio station partners, www.discoverdade.com, and media outlets in Chattanooga such as Channels 3, 9, 12 and 61.  As a board I recommend using the county’s website www.dadecounty-ga.gov and the county’s social media outlets to fully communicate announcements and happenings of local government operations.

Our Emergency 9-1-1 continues to manage and announce weather events and other special announcements through direct telephone calls and/or texts that users may subscribe to directly.

Furthermore, I would encourage the use of products like TextMyGov that use a mobile phone’s regular messaging as a way to relay information to citizens by sending a text along with a picture of any issues that citizens may be facing.  For example a driver may report a pothole along with a picture of the surrounding area to assist our local public works with knowing where the pothole is located.  This type of communication would also allow us to communicate direct messages to constituents who may like to subscribe to such alerts or allow them to participate in surveys regarding local issues.  This in turn would enable commissioners to make better informed decisions about these issues before voting in public.

I would encourage more town hall meetings, especially regarding major announcements or at times we need public input.  Instead of having the community always come to the county, perhaps it is time the County officials go back to the community to seek responses to these type issues.
The next commission will inherit several projects, namely the animal shelter and reservoir, and related costs. What are your views on and plans for these projects?
The citizens of Dade County have clearly spoken on the issue of constructing an Animal Control Facility.  If this project has not been completed by the time I take office, then I would like to see that item placed on the January 2, 2025 Commission meeting agenda to discuss plans to begin construction.  The people have waited too long for this plan to come to fruition.  Costs of the construction are only going to increase with each passing year.  The building we planned to build in 2009 based on construction costs would now only pay for about 1/3 of that building.  The costs to construct this facility will come solely from sales tax revenues, not property taxes.  But the funds to run this facility would be required to come from general operations of the county according to State laws.  I recommend the County and the City of Trenton join in partnership to construct and operate this facility by sharing the ongoing expenses 50/50.  There’s no need for a City Shelter and a County Animal Facility….one building should be plenty large enough to accommodate the needs of both the City and County.

Regarding the reservoir I have had very mixed emotions about this process and progress.  Since the City never agreed to take ownership of the land off of Sells Lane, and the Dade County Water and Sewer Authority voted to give their half back to the County, then the land at the proposed reservoir is 100% owned by the people of Dade County.  Will a lake be built for recreational purposes?…I have no idea, because simply put ~ that is a Board of Commissioners decision.  Am I opposed to another source of clean water? – no.  Am I opposed to having a lake to provide recreational uses for our citizens? – no.  But only if we can attain federal or state grants to make this happen, again under the approval of the entire Board of Commissioners.  Furthermore, the recreational value of the property extends past having a lake, since the property has direct access to Lookout Creek.  There are trail grants currently available to utilize for better access points near and along the creek for canoeing and kayaking, as well as hiking trails and picnic areas that may be installed along Lookout Creek.  The people of Dade County have a vested interest in the 61 acres appraised at over $500,000 whereas the county’s final purchase price was $355,000.  Again, the entire board should deliberate about the future uses of this property, allowing that discussion to dictate which direction we take next to create a place for local citizens to visit for recreational purposes.  If future testing shows that a lake is not sustainable, then we may consider a portion of this property being placed back on the taxable digest.

In regards to the future water security of Dade County I have already spoken at length with the Regional Director of NRCS and will continue to look for the best possible solutions.

Regarding all other projects e.g. the construction of the Elections Building and renovation of the Historic Courthouse and Train Depot, all of these projects appear to be on schedule to be completed before the end of the current year.  The Dade County Sentinel has done a fabulous job documenting these three projects and may be accessed online.
Do you have any goals for/opinions about county-owned property?
All property belonging to the county is vested in the county commission, which has “original and exclusive jurisdiction” over the control of county property.  When opportunities to purchase private property are made available to county leaders, then those in charge have a fiduciary responsibility to investigate the need for the proposed purchase.  This is why under State law (OCGA § 50-14-3(4)) there is a provision to hold a private meeting, which is known as an Executive Session, to allow all five commissioners to discuss the future acquisition of real estate.  Once a determination has been made to consider purchasing real property, then the county should have a declared purpose or goal for use of that property.  But for the county to simply purchase land and hold it for no intended purpose would not be something I’m in favor of.  When private property is transferred to public lands, then that means the county’s tax base just dropped, meaning that land is no longer subject to property taxes being collected on that real property.  If no other values in the entire county changed that year, then that means for the local government to collect the exact amount of taxes as it did in the prior year, that the purchase of said property could cause a tax increase…something I oppose.  Overall, if county owned property ceases to be used by the public to the extent that no substantial public purpose is served by it, then the Board of Commissioners should consider placing that property back on the taxable county digest by declaring it as surplus property and disposing of it properly either through a bidding process or public auction.
What are your views on industry in Dade County, and what role does the county government play in industry?
The Dade County Commission plays a critical role in economic and industrial growth in our community.  Dade County has a wide range of industries from medical tubing to fabricated metal product manufacturing jobs totaling around 17% of all employed individuals working in our county; making it the largest single group of employees.  There are 19 manufacturing firms that make up 1,255 jobs in Dade County alone.  The Industrial Development Authority (IDA) was created under a local constitutional amendment in 1967 and has successfully bridged the gap between the public and private sectors to facilitate job creation projects that are desirable to both.  Although I am proud of the past accomplishments of our IDA, I am much more interested in our future.  I look forward to collaborating with our IDA, Economic Development, Chamber of Commerce and local business leaders to bring more high tech, higher-paying jobs as well as find new ways to fully utilize our beautiful landscape for tourism.  Together we have made our entire community stronger for supplying these much needed manufacturing jobs to many who now reside in Dade County as a result of having these jobs.
What are the biggest obstacles to a flourishing life that Dade County families currently face?
Loss of “trust in government” institutions such as our federal and state governments have caused what I fear may be cultural and generational obstacles for even local county government leaders.  When our elementary children see the world news highlights showing public officials serving in Congress tossing out words like fellow Americans being called “deplorables” and labeling others as “white nationalist”, and they hear about hateful speech coming from the mouths of elected officials in our State legislatures across the country, those words are changing the hearts of an entire generation.  I will be a leader of not only the adults in our county, but the children too.  I love Dade County, and hope that the people will see my love for them.  I will always show respect to my fellow elected officials, even when we don’t fully agree on all the issues laid before us.

Although we have a clean source of water and available growth in our local sewer plant, we must be constantly aware of our future growth potential.  Aging infrastructure decisions at the county level concern both the type and location of infrastructure.  The most common infrastructure decisions made by the board of commissioners pertain to the following:  roads and bridges, new water lines, sewer, parks and recreation facilities, law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services facilities.

Planning for our future sounds easy, but it takes a lot of effort by numerous partners in our region.  Dade County has an active comprehensive plan that is reviewed every five years, but more community input is required at these type meetings to encompass all ideas from the ground level up to the County Commission.  Planning includes:  capital financing, comprehensive planning, fire master plan, health care, implementation program, infrastructure decisions, regional partnerships, service delivery strategy, short-term work plan, emergency preparedness and water needs.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower said it best, “ Plans are nothing:  Planning is everything.”  Our county must be proactive in planning and not reactive to events or situations that blindside us.  Because together we are building a better Dade.

Together We Can Make a Difference