Candidates Square off at Dacula Forum
Mike Beaudreau, Jerry Oberholtzer, Mike Korom and Tommy Hunter attempt to win over voters during two-hour question and answer session.
Being the incumbent can be tough.
After eight years as the District 3 Gwinnett County Commissioner, incumbent Mike Beaudreau has made a number of decisions which challengers Jerry Oberholtzer, Tommy Hunter and Mike Korom were eager to question during a June 14 candidate forum at Stars and Strikes in Dacula.
Each candidate was given the opportunity to ask two questions of another candidate. Five of the six questions asked by Hunter, Korom and Oberholtzer were directed at Beaudreau -- most calling the incumbent’s bona fides as a fiscal conservative into question.
Hunter asked how Beaudreau could support the county trash plan based on conservative principles.
“How do you rectify in your mind taking away the right of the residents to choose who they do business with even though we have ordinances that prohibit illegal dumping that could’ve been enforced, and then increasing the bureaucracy in the county by forming a new division and new -- I guess you call it -- revenue streams?” Hunter asked.
As he has in the past when questioned about the trash plan, Beaudreau defended his decision.
“What you had in the previous system, frankly, was socialism,” he said.
Beaudreau explained that when someone dumped trash under the old system, the taxpayers were required to foot the cost of cleanup and the person doing the dumping was receiving services for which they had not paid.
Citing increased recycling by residents and his belief the state will eventually mandate a similar system, Beaudreau called the decision to implement the trash plan a mature one.
“It was absolutely the right thing to do,” Beaudreau said.
Korom not only questioned Beaudreau’s vote regarding the trash plan, but also asked if he stood by his decisions regarding Coolray Field, the Rabbit Hill cell tower issue and the service delivery strategy dispute.
Claiming that Coolray Field is now making money, Beaudreau said the Lawrenceville baseball stadium is “not the financial disaster that some have predicted.”
Without addressing the other issues specifically, Beaudreau said the county needed to look ahead.
“This county can get caught up in decisions of the past and point fingers and continue to go down that road or we can move forward,” he said. “And I think the community is tired of the nitpicking and the finger-pointing about these issues.”
Beaudreau added that he has “eight years of making difficult decisions” whereas his challengers have not.
“Anybody can throw rocks from the outside and say ‘I would’ve done it differently’,” he said.
Calling his experience as a commissioner irreplaceable, Beaudreau emphasized he was ready to put past issues to rest.
If having his conservative principles challenged wasn’t difficult enough, two of the candidates also questioned Beaudreau’s ethics.
Korom asked Beaudreau why he had accepted a $1,000 campaign donation from Gary’s Grading when he had vowed not to take any money from developers. Beaudreau denied Korom’s assertion that the company does development work.
“A grading company is not a developer pure and simple,” Beaudreau explained.
He said there is not a single developer on his campaign disclosure statements.
While Beaudreau was able to easily answer that question, he appeared to struggle with one asked by Oberholtzer.
“Commissioner Beaudreau, you accepted $11,100 in campaign contributions from the Johnson family … all owners and officers of the Southeast Culvert Company. Southeast Culvert sells water and sewer pipe to Gwinnett County. You voted to approve the contract. How do you explain the obvious conflict? Oberholtzer asked.
“I can’t at all espouse the accuracy of what he just said,” Beaudreau replied. “Southeastern Culvert provides pipe to folks all over the southeast. They’re one of the leading culvert companies in the country. Again, if you look at my disclosure, I’m extremely proud of the fact that we have over 100 donors, all different backgrounds, anywhere from firefighters to teachers to retired professors to engineers and Jerry, the issue goes a lot deeper that that because again, when you’re talking about contributions to campaigns, you also have to take a look at your tax record and you’ve raised taxes in one swoop 44 percent in the City of Snellville. There’s no denying that.”
Beaudreau touted his own record of “making difficult decisions,” but did not return to Oberholtzer’s original question during the two-minute period allocated for his response. He instead discussed his family, his reason for living in Gwinnett County and his reason for seeking office.
“It’s a calling,” he explained.
Though he fielded many more questions than he asked, Beaudreau did get the chance to quiz Oberholtzer further regarding Snellville’s tax increase. Oberholtzer explained it was not a tax increase, but was instead a millage rate increase.
“When your tax digest goes down 35 percent and you raise the millage rate 25 percent, it’s a tax decrease for most people,” he explained.
Oberholtzer then went on the offensive saying Beaudreau had increased taxes for Snellville residents by double-taxing them for eight years.
“You refused to settle the service delivery [dispute]. You made citizens in the cities with police pay double for it and, when it came time to settle it, you stopped it,” Oberholtzer claimed.
Oberholtzer said the SDS could’ve been settled in 2010, but Beaudreau voted against the proposed settlement. Oberholtzer also raised the issue of Beaudreau’s voting record on certain Gwinnett County land acquisitions.
“You were the second vote in all these land deals [Kevin] Kennerly got indicted for,” Oberholtzer said.
Oberholtzer concluded his response by saying he was very proud of what he accomplished in Snellville.
As part of the two-hour forum hosted by the Dacula Memorial Day Queens, the candidates were asked several questions by debate moderator J.D. Brandon and were also given the opportunity to make closing statements.
Korom used his closing statement to explain that he would bring a fresh start to Gwinnett.
“I am truly the only one wholly and genuinely untarnished by the culture of corruption that has identified our county commission,” he said. “I am the only one who can steer us past the bickering and infighting, the backroom deals and the favoritism.”
Hunter vowed to work hard and make the people of District 3 proud.
“I will get up every day with your best interests at heart,” he said. “I’ll work hard to do the best I can.”
Though he already has years of public service to his credit, Oberholtzer said the service delivery dispute made him realize there was still work he could do.
“I’m very proud of what I did in Snellville and I believe with leadership like myself working with Jimmy Wilbanks and the other mayors, we can make Gwinnett great again,” he said. “We’ve got serious problems we’ve got to address. I’m not perfect, but I’ll tell you every day I will work for you.”
Beaudreau also promised to work for his constituents and called himself the most qualified for the job.
“We’re going through our struggles like the rest of the country, “ he said. “But if you’re willing to consider giving me four more years, I will work the very hardest that I can.”
Beaudreau, Oberholtzer, Hunter and Korom are all running as Republicans. Since there are no Democrats running, the race for the Gwinnett County District 3 commission seat will be decided during the primary. The general primary/nonpartisan election will be held on July 31. The runoff, if necessary, will be held on Aug. 21. The deadline to register to vote in the primary is July 2.
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