The event, hosted by State Rep. David Wilkerson (D-Austell) and the Powder Springs Community Task Force, drew five of six commission candidates and all three in the race to be the area’s school board member. The crowd swelled to more than 100 at the Ron Anderson Recreation Center in Powder Springs, with workers continuing to bring out chairs to meet the growing audience. Each candidate was given three minutes to speak, then after a half hour, they broke up for a “meet and greet” with attendees.
Commission candidates in the July 31 Democratic Primary spoke first, with former engineer and policy analyst Lisa Cupid of Austell saying that having children has shown her how change is needed in the south Cobb community.
“We’ve been here too long and just seeing this area remain, what I hear from some people, as the stepchild of Cobb County,” Cupid said. “We invest our taxes here. We invest our lives here. We have our businesses here. Our future is here. We expect more, and we deserve more.”
Ruth Negron of Powder Springs, who said she is the first Latina to run for Cobb County commissioner, touted her experience as assistant to former Commissioner Annette Kesting from 2005 to 2008 as evidence that she knows the ropes of county government.
“This is a diverse community, and I believe it’s time that government represents that diversity,” Negron said. “I am here to bring together that reorganization to promote economical growth and redevelopment. A good community doesn’t just happen by accident; it is formed by strong leaders, who have a vision, who have a purpose.”
Educator Dr. Michael Rhett of Marietta said he would like to use tax allocation districts to stimulate development in south Cobb, and even said the county should consider working to create community improvement districts in the Six Flags area, Mableton and Powder Springs. In his view, not enough is being done to help the Powder Springs area.
“You hear about Mableton, you hear about other places, but what about Powder Springs?” he said. “We need a comprehensive plan that’s going to incorporate all of south Cobb.”
Community advocate Monica DeLancy of Austell, who arrived 40 minutes late because of car trouble, said she has a long record of working for the community in Powder Springs.
“I came by bus, I came by cab, I came because I wanted to support you here in Powder Springs,” she said. “I’m committed to the cause. I’m committed to serving the community.”
Incumbent Commissioner Woody Thompson of Mableton, a real estate broker, said his accomplishments have included building recreation and aquatic centers on Six Flags Drive and completing the Silver Comet Trail and Mable House Barnes Amphitheatre.
“It takes a lot of cooperation working with commissioners,” said Thompson, who was elected to the Board of Commissioners as a Democrat in 2008 after originally serving as a Republican from 1997 to 2005. “That comes from years of experience.”
All three Post 3 school board candidates showed up, with educator Dr. Bobby Allen of Powder Springs being the only speaker on the night to draw repeated applause during his speech, even eliciting a few “Amens.” He said south Cobb needs new leadership to help it catch up to other parts of the county in education.
“I know it is a cliché to say it is time for a change, but I will say it is time for a change,” he said. “Education draws everything to an area … not many people will bring jobs to an area that fails in their educational ability.”
Karyn Harrison of Mableton, a sales representative, said that while she doesn’t have political experience, she has served on parent-teacher associations and other boards.
“All students should have equal access to high quality public education, and I also have an unwavering commitment to public education,” she said. “I want to stress that all students should be educated by highly qualified teachers that are motivated and committed to our children here in southwest Cobb County.”
Incumbent School Board Vice Chairman David Morgan, a school choice advocate, said the southern part of the county has made progress since he was elected in 2008, helping make the achievement gap the Cobb County School District’s No. 1 priority. He said he has also hosted over 40 town hall meetings.
“It’s one thing to stand and talk in generalizations about empowering people,” Morgan said. “It’s another thing to produce results.”
The only candidate in either race not to show up was commission candidate Connie Taylor of Powder Springs, though she did win the battle of yard signs on Macedonia and Hopkins roads leading into the event. The other candidates tried to catch up by handing out signs and other campaign paraphernalia to attendees.
Since no Republican qualified in either southwest Cobb race, the winner of the Democratic Primary is expected to be elected.
Candidates in some other races were also allowed to speak. Justin O’Dell, a Democratic candidate in the House District 41 race to replace retiring Rep. Terry Johnson; Gregory Gilstrap, the only Democrat running for Cobb County sheriff; and Nathan Wade, a candidate against incumbent Cobb Superior Court Judge Nathan Wade, briefly addressed the audience.
Elected officials from other parts of Cobb on hand included southeast Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott and central Cobb school board member Alison Bartlett.
After the speeches, some candidates stuck around for an hour to talk with potential voters.
Teacher Robin Benifield, 51, said she was impressed with Cupid and Rhett in the commissioners race and Allen in the school board contest, but will need to look at candidates’ websites before making a final decision.
“This is definitely a good forum,” said Benifield, who lives off nearby Hurt Road. “I love that I’ve been able to ask them specific questions and get answers.”
Wilkerson said this is the first forum he knows of where so many candidates have been able to mix and mingle so extensively with voters.
“I’ve been watching,” he said. “It looks like people have been talking with people they haven’t known before, and, hopefully, making decisions.”