Yes, Bethlehem, there is an election.
More famous for its distinctive Christmas postmark than its politics, Bethlehem has a three-way council race on tomorrow’s ballot, but the contest garnered very little interest in the three weeks of early voting that ended Friday.
Only five town residents voted in person at the Barrow County Board of Elections & Registration. A sixth requested an absentee ballot by mail but as of Friday had not returned it.
However, Mayor Sandy McNab said Monday that the early voting activity might not reflect what will happen on Tuesday.
Unlike voters in a couple of the larger cities, Bethlehem’s voters will be able to cast ballots in both the municipal and county elections in the same place, which is at city hall.
“They can vote in both elections in the community room, so it’s more convenient to do that,” McNab said. “It’s closer to home. They don’t have to drive to Winder. They can get out and do a little socializing on Tuesday.” McNab said he doesn’t recall another time when the municipal governments and the county government had elections on the same day.
On the county ballot are two questions – one about changing to a county-manager form of county government and the other about allowing sales of beer and wine on Sundays.
“That might bring some of them out; I don’t know,” he said, noting that when he was first elected mayor in 2007 only 26 people voted.
On the town’s ballot in Tuesday’s election are the names of three candidates who are competing for the same council seat: incumbent Scott Morgan and challengers Doug Koestel and C.L. Wood Jr.
Koestel and Wood told the Barrow Journal that they have no complaints about the job that Morgan has done over the past four years, but each is retired and wants the opportunity to serve on council. Wood is a former councilman.
The mayor agreed.
“It seems like everybody is on the same page,” he said. “It’s just pick who you want.”
Koestel has lived in the Bethlehem area for more than seven years, but has been a resident of the town only since his residence was annexed into the city about two-and-a-half years ago. His wife, Mary, formerly owned Cottontail Cottage, and he is retired from Sonic Corp., where he was a vice president.
“Now I want to be more involved and not sit on the sidelines,” he said. “I have time to help the community and the citizens.”
Koestel said he agrees with the plan to annex properties to Hwy. 316 in order to broaden the town’s tax base, but he doesn’t want “growth for growth’s sake” that would affect the small-town feel of Bethlehem.
He said he is a graduate of the University of Louisville in Kentucky and was president of his fraternity, Tau Kappa Epsilon. He and his wife have been active in the community since arriving in the area, Koestel said.
"I just want the opportunity to serve," he said. "If I don't make it this time, I will run again in two years."
Wood, a native of Bethlehem, served on the town council for more than four years. He said he did not run for re-election in 2007 because of his long hours at the former General Motors plant in Doraville.
“At the time I was working 10-12 hours a day and was off only one Saturday a month,” Wood said. “I was not only a councilman but a member of the Masonic Lodge and had a meeting to go to also.”
He retired eight months after the election on July 1, 2008.
Wood said he wants his council seat back because he wants to serve the community just as anyone else on council does.
“The council meets, the council makes decisions on what needs to be done – roads, trash, keeping the town the way it should be – and the council and mayor are supposed to be good stewards of the people’s money,” he said.
“I am not saying I am going to go on council and try to do this and that and the other. I’m not going to do that, because as all cities are now, they are getting by but do not have an abundance of cash money.”
Wood said since he has not served on the council for four years, he’s not sure of the town’s current financial situation.
“I would just say I would like to go on the council and see what we can afford to have done. One of the biggest things I’ve always pushed and always liked is to keep the town clean, to make sure there’s not trash.”
Incumbent Morgan said he has worked over the past four years with the mayor and council to try to get a traffic light at the intersection of Hwy. 11 and Star Street. The project is on hold temporarily while town officials work out with Georgia Power the cost of relocating utilities.
Morgan said other achievements by the mayor and council over the past four years have included amending the business license ordinance, annexing property into the town, and increasing patrols by the Barrow County Sheriff’s Office.
A director of planning and zoning for the City of Cumming, he sees Bethlehem poised for “quality future growth.”
“Given our close proximity to University Parkway, and with Hwy. 11 running through the town, our location is prime when those corridors begin developing in Barrow County,” Morgan said. “Barrow Crossing and the development between Hwy. 81 and Harry McCarty Road are precursors to this type of quality growth.”
Morgan said he has resided in Bethlehem for a decade while raising his family.
“I was raised with the belief you should give positive effort back to the community in which you live,” he said. “That was my reason for wanting to serve on the City Council initially and continues to be my goal in running for re-election.”
Bethlehem’s polling place is open Tuesday from 7 a.m.-7p.m.