DULUTH - Gwinnett's slumping economy was the hot topic Monday during a candidate forum hosted by the Northeast Atlanta Metro Association of Realtors.
With questions centered on vacant shopping centers, abandoned houses and poverty, candidates had to defend the ability to keep the county's slogan "Success Lives Here" a reality.
"In the next four years in Gwinnett, we'll be faced with some very tough choices," said District 1 candidate Carol Hassell, who faces Shirley Lasseter and Bruce LeVell in the Republican primary July 15.
All agreed that enforcement of county codes should be stepped up, although political newcomer Glenn Pirkle, who is running for chairman, said he did not support the registration of rental property owners. Incumbent Charles Bannister, as well as Lasseter and LeVell, said the idea should be pursued.
Bannister took an opportunity, after challenger Lorraine Green left the forum, to say her proposed homestead option sales tax would bring more poverty into the county, but he defended the county's practice of reassessing property values.
Bannister went as far as to promise the county's poverty rate would not grow astronomically if he is re-elected, saying economic development programs are in place to get the county surging again once the economy turns for the better.
Pirkle said the county needs to work toward cutting wasteful spending, and he called the government's stormwater fee a ploy to raise revenues while claiming to cut taxes.
Lasseter said revitalization to make the Gwinnett Place area and other communities "destination points," could re-energize the county's economy, and LeVell, a member of the MARTA board, said public transit would help bring jobs to the county.
Some fireworks ended the night, when Buzz Brockway, standing in for incumbent District 3 Commissioner Mike Beaudreau, called out Republican challenger Doug Stacks for a recent mailer swiping Beaudreau for alleged dishonesty.
Instead, Brockway said Stacks was too friendly with developers and would face conflicts of interest with his job as planning director for the city of Lilburn.
"You need a leader who is honest and has integrity," Stacks said, blasting Beaudreau for a vote to raise commissioners' salary and for voting against hospital funding but approving the building of a minor league baseball stadium. "I'm running on promises I can keep."