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Dacula election candidates tackle growth

DACULA - Rush-hour traffic jams, new restaurants and grocery stores, population growth - these aren't the concerns of a quiet little town more than 40 miles from a big city.

But the days of Dacula being a quiet little town are over.

The charm of the 100-year-old city is still here but so are the challenges created by rapid residential and commercial development.

For some residents, it's time to fix the afternoon traffic jam near Dacula High School. For others, the problem is new businesses setting up shop too close to existing homes.

Other residents want to make sure the city remembers what it values most as development encroaches upon Dacula. People here still think it's important to plan a big Fourth of July parade, know how the Dacula Falcons are doing and make time for an ice cream cone at Dairy Queen.

How Dacula handles growth will be a top priority when voters head to the polls Nov. 8.

Mayor

In the mayor's race, incumbent Jimmy Wilbanks faces city Councilman Hubert Wells and Terrance Brand, a newcomer to Dacula politics.

Wilbanks, who has served as mayor since 2002, wants to finish several projects aimed at improving recreation and mobility, including Maple Creek Park and additional sidewalks linking downtown with other city centers. Another goal is enhancing the city's infrastructure by building wider roads and expanding sewer service.

The lack of adequate sewer lines "is probably one of our biggest challenges," and Dacula needs to work better with Gwinnett County's government to see the project through, Wilbanks said.

"We don't have the money to do it alone," he said.

Wilbanks, active in local politics since he first held the mayor's post in the early 1970s, said his experience gives him an edge.

"I've worked with all the people in this city. I've worked with Gwinnett County,'' Wilbanks said. "I know this city and the challenges it faces. Growth is coming, and we have to balance it with our small-town appeal."

Wells also wants to tackle growth. But his goal is to allow Dacula residents to play a greater role in the process. It's time for city politicians to listen better, he said.

"We have to change the way we've been doing this and open up the mayor's office so citizens and (city leaders) can talk on a one-on-one level," Wells said. "There's too much good-ol'-boy politics in Dacula. We have to bring this into the 21st century."

Wells wants to launch a series of town hall meetings to discuss the big issues, such as traffic along Harbins and Dacula roads. Like Wilbanks, he said how well the city works with the county government is important. But, he said the relationship needs improving.

"We just have to start working more closely with them," Wells said.

Brand comes to the mayor's race with a citizen's perspective. He also said the city council and county government don't cooperate well enough.

"The relationship needs to change from being adversarial to showing cooperation," Brand said. "It's one reason we are not getting the improvements we need.''

Brand also wants to protect property values with stronger enforcement of city codes, such as those meant to keep cars from being parked in front yards.

"It does not take a professional politician" to run the city the right way, said Brand, a former Army colonel who spent years in the Reserves and fought in Desert Storm. "It takes a road map, ambition and teamwork.''

City Council

Incumbent city Councilman Wendell Holcombe will retain his seat. Holcombe is running unopposed.

The 24-year veteran of city politics said Dacula is a lot better off than it was a decade ago.

"(But) we still need more commercial development to improve our tax base,'' he said.

Holcombe wants to battle the city's traffic problem and expand the sewer system.

After so many years served on the council, "I've got the experience and the knowledge" to get key projects finished, he said.

In the only battle for a council seat, incumbent R.G. Hale faces challenger Gregory Reeves.

Hale said he is focused on attracting more business to the city because commercial development is the key to a stronger tax base. Hale said the city has landed Publix and is trying to lure another grocery giant in Kroger.

"(But) we still need to do more," he said. "We've grown a lot, but you can never build too much tax base."

At 35, Dacula native Gregory Reeves is the youngest candidate in the field, but he said growing up in the city helps him relate to residents as well as any longtime council member.

It's my hometown, too" Reeves said. "I was born and raised here."

A Realtor, Reeves understands the concerns of homeowners who want to find a city where solid planning for residential and commercial growth will protect their property values.

"We can't have hodgepodge zoning," Reeves said. "It has to be uniform. We have to maintain an aesthetic code."

Reeves, who wants to improve traffic and bring in more businesses, also said the city needs to enhance public safety.

"I see too many people speeding down side streets," he said. "Gwinnett police has a precinct in Dacula, but the units have to cover areas outside the city. It's too much for Gwinnett police to have such a wide responsibility and monitor the city's smaller streets, where most of the speeding takes place.''

The Candidates

Mayor

Jimmy Wilbanks

•Age: 63

•Education: University of Georgia, bachelor's degree, zoology, 1963; University of Georgia, master's in education administration, 1968

•Occupation: Retired. Former teacher, University of Georgia Continuing Education; Georgia Emergency Management Agency

•Political experience: Mayor of Dacula, 1970-73; second stint as mayor, June 2002 to present

•Family: Single

Hubert Wells

•Age: 55

•Education: Stone Mountain High School, class of 1968

•Occupation: Self-employed plumber

•Political experience: Dacula Planning and Zoning Board, four years; Dacula City Council member

•Family: Wife, Pam; children, Travis, 21, and Evon, 18

Terrance Brand

•Age: 64

•Education: High School, Chambersburg, Penn., class of 1959

•Occupation: Retired U.S. Army National Guard; Eastman Kodak

•Political Experience: None

•Family: Wife, Carolyn; children, Terrance II, 31; Stephanie, 34

Council Seat

R.G. Hale

•Age: 78

•Education: Monroe A&M High School, class of 1944

•Occupation: Retired, former business manager Southern Bell Telephone Co.

•Political Experience: Dacula City Council since 1991

•Family: Wife Betty; son, Dennis, 54, daughter, Joan, 49, son Griff, 41

Gregory Reeves

•Age: 35

•Education: Dacula High, class of 1988

•Occupation: Realtor

•Political Experience: None

•Family: Single, no children

The Schedule

The Gwinnett Daily Post, over the next two weeks, will preview what citizens in Gwinnett's cities will find on the ballot when they vote in the Nov. 8 election. The story schedule is as follows:

•Oct. 23: Sugar Hill

•Oct. 24: Loganville

•Wednesday: Berkeley Lake

•Thursday: Auburn

•Friday: Buford, Lawrenceville

•Saturday: Duluth

•Sunday: Braselton; on this day, the Post will also publish its

voters' guide

• Today: Dacula

•Nov. 2: Snellville

•Nov. 3: Norcross

•Nov. 4: Lilburn

•Nov. 5: Uncontested races