BRASELTON - For the first time in the town's history, candidates for four Braselton posts attended a forum to enlighten residents about their views.
Three council posts and the mayor's post are contested this season, and though each candidate seems to have similar views - no property taxes and smart growth for Braselton - they each bring a unique perspective to their races.
Mayor Pat Graham is running for a second term, saying the town would benefit from a continuity in leadership. She said she has been "a busy mayor" since she was elected and counts the creation of an ethics ordinance and financial policies for Braselton among her accomplishments.
Graham also established Braselton's planning and development department and initiated the creation of the unified development code. She called herself the driving force behind the decision to charge impact fees and worked to create overlay districts in the town.
Graham helped Braselton catch up on their audits - they had been delinquent since 1997 - and implemented an annual planning retreat.
"I came in with a lot that needed to be done," she said. "I set this government structure on course for success."
Braselton would be best-served to continue its forward momentum, Graham said, and if elected to another term, she wants to focus on creating a growth boundary so development happens where it is planned, and doesn't just pop up. She would also like to work with neighboring areas to create land-use plans that are compatible with Braselton's so the transition between borders is seamless.
Providing essential public safety services also tops Graham's list of plans.
She emphasized the time it takes to work with the governments of the four counties that the town straddles, and said her experience dealing with the other governments makes her the best person for the job.
"I think I've demonstrated my commitment to the residents of Braselton," Graham said. "I've done it for four years and I think I've demonstrated that we've made significant progress.
Jeff Forrestall, who is running against Graham, said he is primarily running to return the town to financial stability.
Forrestall said he has owned a number of different businesses, and wants to run the town more like a business. He knows how to lead and motivate people, he said, and wants to make government meetings more accessible to town residents.
The town exceeded its budget this year by $669,000, Forrestall said, and wants to use his experience as a Certified Public Accountant to put the finances in order.
"I've always done things the big way," he said. "I go where I can make the biggest difference."
Forrestall was reluctant to discuss his views on growth, except as they related to the town's finances, but said it is important to him that Braselton maintain a high standard.
"This town is a gateway standard-setter for everyone around us," he said.
Forrestall has no political experience, but was a former army captain. He was a platoon leader in the 48th Brigade and worked in the army's internal audit division, providing information that was passed on to the House of Representatives Ways and Means committee to justify the expense of the war in Afghanistan.
He resigned his commission last April and became managing partner of the accounting firm Forrestall & Co., which his father founded in the 1970s and which he joined in 1993. Other leadership experience includes his presidency of the Gwinnett chapter of the Georgia Society of CPAs, Forrestall said, and the board of directors for the North Gwinnett Food Cooperative, a food bank and thrift store.
Charles Ashburn decided to run for council because he felt that he could make an impact on the community, particularly when it comes to limiting growth.
Ashburn stressed Braselton's unique position as a town that straddles four counties, and said he is best suited to represent District 1 because of his fair mindedness.
"I am willing to listen to any concerns in my district," Ashburn said. "I believe I can make honest and comprehensive judgments on what best growth would be by having all the facts in front of me."
Ashburn said he would like to see Braselton grow in a positive manner, paying attention to roads and public safety.
His opponent, Richard Mayberry, has been a member of the zoning board of appeals for three years. Mayberry is a lifelong Braselton resident, and said he wants to be cautious when it comes to growth in the community.
"We have to look to the future before we approve any further developments coming in," he said.
Mayberry proposed adopting a curfew for the town to keep school-age children off the streets at night and said he would like to make council meetings later in the day so that more residents have the opportunity to attend.
He sees growth, traffic and crime as the main issues facing the town, and said that traffic and crime can be controlled, to a certain extent, by controlling growth.
Mayberry is a past president and current vice president of the Vineyard Homeowner's Association.
Ralph Richardson has spent two years on the Braselton Town Council and said he thinks his perspective on local issues is a valuable one.
Richardson said he welcomes growth to the area, but believes the town needs to enforce quality developments, whether they are residential or commercial. He is interested in revitalizing the downtown area to preserve its charm and history and would like to work to add sidewalks and crosswalks throughout the area to make it more pedestrian friendly.
New residents should be able to have the same high-quality services that longer-term residents already expect, he said, including an able police force and good water pressure.
"I know Braselton and I know District 2 as well as anybody," Richardson said. "I know 50 to 60 percent of them on a first-name basis. I know what their wishes and desires are. I'll best represent their interests."
He is running against Ami Ray, who said her grandfather was a council member in Stone Mountain and she has always felt compelled to serve.
Ray would like Braselton, to remain the charming place it is now, she said, and thinks there is room in the town for residential, commercial and industrial growth.
"There's a place in Braselton for everyone," she said. "You just have to see to it that everything is put in its proper place."
Ray said she would like to ease traffic congestion in the area and will use her background in communication to take issues in the town to the people. She also emphasized the importance of getting the revenues that development would bring to the town to help bring traffic lights and other traffic control devices to the area.
Incumbent Dudley Ray said it is important for him that the town continues to develop, but keeps its development at a high level and is able to maintain the infrastructure to meet citizens' needs.
Six years ago, he said, Braselton built an elaborate sewer plant to handle the expected growth. A high-quality water plant has also been built.
"Our infrastructure is in top-notch condition as the growth comes," he said. "I hope we can keep ahead of the growth."
Ray, like all the other candidates, said he is committed to keeping residents from paying a city property tax. He said he was most proud of some of the town's revitalization efforts that have already come about.
Jeff Gaston said Ray does not accurately reflect the demographic of his neighborhood, Chateau Elan, which houses the district. The council needs a young person with a family who is moderately affluent and plans to stay in Braselton, he said.
Gaston said he would like to give his neighbors a say in the way government is run. He would like to slow down the pace of development and build relationships with the four county governments Braselton interacts with.
Gaston said he would like to set Braselton apart from the surrounding areas.
"I want Braselton to become a place where people want to go and spend time," he said. "I want it to be a destination... I don't want to be a bedroom community for Atlanta, I want Braselton to have its own identity."
Gaston said he will do that by attracting quality businesses to the area. He would also like to create an e-mail list for residents where he can summarize the issues and solicit their input before meetings.