Sitting outside a breakfast restaurant in downtown Decatur on July 23, Stan Watson was already wondering how the CEO and the board of commissioners might better communicate with each other when the next budgetary season arrives in December.
“I don’t think the budgetary process should be dragged out,” he said. “Right now we’re picking a fight on something that affects people’s lives.”
Watson, a former state representative, walked away with the board of commissioners’ District 7 seat in the July 20 general primary, defeating three other first-time candidates with 68 percent of the vote, according to official county results. Assuming no one mounts an astoundingly effective write-in campaign, Watson will sail through the November election unopposed and take office in January.
Until then he said he plans to learn the ground-level basics of being a commissioner, which he said he expects are somewhat different to the broader duties of a state representative. He was first elected to represent state House district 91 in 1997 and left in 2008 to run for county CEO against Burrell Ellis.
Now, as the board of commissioners winds down after contentious budgetary disputes with Ellis’ office, Watson said he wonders why commissioners don’t fashion their own budget as the CEO prepares one and then iron out the differences in conference – more like the state legislature. “The present process is not working,” he said.
Reaction to the budget process and a straw poll on the Republican primary ballot that showed a majority of those who voted preferred a county manager to an elected CEO have led to renewed discussion over whether the CEO’s powers will be changed (or whether the position is even necessary). Watson said he’d like to see more credible, comprehensive data on the issue and would rather let voters decide rather than the commissioners or local state legislators.
“Don’t leave it to me or Commissioner (Larry) Johnson,” he said.
Beyond learning the basics, Watson said he focused on trying to develop new revenue streams for the county as it anticipates continued budgetary hardships. He said he wants to make sure any possible development of Doraville’s vacant General Motors plant is more than mixed-use retail and should be a destination for people. He also said he’d like to lure the construction of a federal courthouse and an amphitheater to the Stonecrest area.
He said it would be possible to pay for the projects with a hotel/motel tax increase or a state-approved increase to the 7 percent sales tax, which the board of commissioners can no longer boost themselves.
Beyond that he said he is thinking about ways to boost code enforcement and improve education in DeKalb County, first by improving communication between the board of commissioners and the school board.
“But my first priority is to learn the nuances of my position,” he said.
Rep. Hank Johnson and Republican challenger Liz Carter won’t be able to relax like Watson. Both are preparing for the November general election in which Carter seeks to unseat the 4th congressional district representative, who’s seeking a third term. Carter beat three other Republican candidates with 55 percent of the vote, and Johnson beat Democratic challengers Vernon Jones and Connie Stokes among others with about 55 percent.
Johnson said Carter is a conservative Tea Party sympathizer and doesn’t share the politics and values of the heavily Democratic 4th district.
“I will not take Mrs. Carter lightly, but frankly she’s got an uphill climb,” he said. “Her views are very much in line with the Tea Party, and the Tea Party calls for less government, and they oppose every initiative that has been introduced by our President Barack Obama.”
Carter said she doesn’t plan to change her campaign as she heads into the general election and labeled herself a “conservative, moderate Republican.” She said she doesn’t believe her party affiliation will be the deciding factor in the election, and she reiterated her credentials as a business consultant.
“This is not the year of the political party,” she said. “People have a real opportunity for true representation this year. Congressman Johnson is a nice man, but the issues that have been facing our country and this district need someone with a business approach.”
Carter also said she believes she would be more attentive to constituents whom Johnson has neglected from Washington. Johnson countered, saying he’s held more than 20 town hall forums and other gatherings, including three recent job fairs in the district. He also said he planned to host a foreclosure prevention event during the final weekend in July with several other congressmen.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there, and you expect that during election time,” he said. “She’s wrong when says that I have been missing in action, if you will.”