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GOP candidates back tolls at forum

LAWRENCEVILLE - Transportation alternatives were a hot topic Thursday during a forum for commission candidates.

During the United Ebony Society event, all three Republicans vying for chairman of the Gwinnett Board of Commissioners said they supported the use of tolls to build roads, although they agreed the funding should not be used for already existing lanes such as Ga. Highway 316.

Commissioner Lorraine Green, who is seeking the top post, said she believed a planned extension to Ronald Reagan Parkway would be an ideal project for tolls.

"The beauty of that is the users of toll roads are the ones who pay for them," she said. "The choice would be the consumers'."

Incumbent Charles Bannister said citizens will learn about a toll possibility in coming weeks.

While District 1 candidate Bruce LeVell said he believed an extension of MARTA into Gwinnett County would help solve traffic and air quality issues, incumbent Mike Beaudreau, who is seeking re-election in District 3, said he believes that is not a "core competency" the county should pursue.

Beaudreau, whose opponent in the primary, Doug Stacks, did not attend, said government cannot be called upon to solve all community problems, including teen social issues.

"We have to be extremely careful about how far we go."

The forum got heated when Bannister asked Green about her failure to get support on an issue and Green asked Bannister about missing meetings of the Transit Planning Board. But Green turned a failed attempt to change a high-rise ordinance into an issue about the commission allowing too much density, while Bannister fired back about using his time to fulfill other county obligations.

Without naming the offender, political newcomer Glenn Pirkle said he wanted to end fees, especially for stormwater, with his chairman campaign.

"We'd like to see this county run wisely in the future and not buy real estate that is overpriced," he said.

For the District 1 candidates, the forum was more genial.

"No sense being tacky," former Duluth mayor Shirley Lasseter said during the question and answer session. Lasseter described herself as an accessible candidate and even gave out her cell phone number for the television audience.

Carol Hassell, an environmentalist who is a former Suwanee councilwoman, said she wanted to see greater enforcement of qualify of life laws to "send a message that we will not tolerate the kind of conditions that foster crime."