A Jackson County judge has issued a stay in a controversial election in Hoschton.
James Lawson, a candidate for Hoschton City Council, filed an appeal with the Superior Court of Jackson County, challenging the Jackson County Board of Elections’ decision to disqualify him from the March 24 race.
Judge Joe Booth signed an order Feb. 28 issuing a stay of the elections board’s decision. A court hearing is set March 11 at 2 p.m.
Judge Booth’s decision will impact early voting in the race, which opened Monday, March 2. Lawson's name will remain on the ballot and voters in Hoschton will be able to cast a vote for him until the court hearing is held March 11, according to Jackson County elections officials.
The decision calls into question the legal standing of Raphael Mayberry as a city council member. Mayberry, who is Lawson’s opponent in the race, has already been sworn in as a member of the Hoschton City Council.
Hoschton mayor pro tem Adam Ledbetter is standing by the city’s decision, defending the action in a social media post.
Faced with a potential recall, former Hoschton mayor Theresa Kenerly and mayor pro tem Jim Cleveland resigned their posts late in 2019.
The remaining city council members at that time — Hope Weeks and newly-elected members Shantwon Astin and Ledbetter — were forced to go to court to allow the council to continue functioning with a three-member council.
Kenerly's and Cleveland's resignations also forced a special election to fill those vacated seats.
Lawson and Mayberry qualified to run for Cleveland's old seat. Meanwhile, Weeks and Shannon Sell qualified to run for the mayor's position.
Because Weeks qualified for mayor, she was forced to resign her seat on the Hoschton City Council. (Her old seat will be filled in a May 19 election.)
That left only two council members remaining, making the council essentially non-functional until the March 24 election.
The county elections board voted 3-1 at a Feb. 12 hearing to uphold a challenge alleging that Lawson does not live in the city and cannot run for office.
Lawson filed a petition for judicial review in the Superior Court of Jackson County on Feb. 24. Lawson claimed the board had acted improperly by discussing his case behind closed doors and by discussing issues unrelated to the question of his legal residency.
After Lawson was disqualified, Ledbetter called a city council meeting on Feb. 24 and had Mayberry sworn into office. The move gave the council three members so that it could again hold meetings and function as a council.
It's not clear at this point if the court will allow Mayberry to continue in his role as a member of the council, or if his swearing-in is void until after the March 11 hearing. The Hoschton City Council has a meeting schedule for March 11 at 6:30 p.m.
When asked at that Feb. 24 meeting if the city had the legal authority to swear in Mayberry since Lawson's status was under appeal, Ledbetter said city attorney Thomas Mitchell had given the town the OK to do so.
Mitchell later defended the swearing-in via email to Mainstreet Newspapers. The city later posted Mitchell's comments on its Facebook page after Mainstreet said the swearing-in may have been premature.
"The City does not believe that it acted prematurely in swearing in Mr. Mayberry as it did on Monday, February 24, 2020," Mitchell said. "While the City always recognizes there are some risk when a decision is under judicial review, under the circumstances the City’s action was appropriate."
Mitchell also said that since no stay had been given in the case, he believed Mayberry could be sworn into office.
"Although Mr. Lawson has asked the Superior Court to review the decision of the Board of Elections, the statute specifically states that the mere filing of the appeal does not operate as a stay.... As there is no stay, the City may proceed in accordance with the Board of Elections’ decision. There is only one qualified candidate and he was sworn in to fulfill the duties of the unexpired term. Because the City now has three elected officials, it can once again take necessary actions on behalf of the citizens of the City of Hoschton."
Following Judge Booth’s decision to stay the decision, Ledbetter posted an additional defense on the city’s Facebook page.
“The City of Hoschton stands behind our decision to swear in councilman Raphael Mayberry,” he said. “The city attorney backs our decision and we will conduct business as usual until the March 11th hearing. If something changes after that, we will accommodate.
“Hoschton looks forward to getting to work and resolving issues that have been put on hold since January. Furthermore, the city is operating fantastically and look forward to having a full council and mayor soon.”
Why are you running for office? What are your main platform points?
My family has been here since the 1800s, and my roots are deep. I love this little town where I was blessed to be raised. I would really like for our current and future residents to share my same passion for our city, now and for generations to come. I am not a fan of career politicians nor government intrusion into our lives; therefore I have been hesitant to get involved and run for mayor. However, after recent events, I saw the need for quality leadership in Hoschton. Many residents and business owners requested that I seek office, not only to stabilize our current situation but also to have an educated, experienced, level-headed and responsible approach to the government of our city. I have accepted this challenge and shall put forth my very best effort to serve the citizens of Hoschton honorably.
I will work diligently to try to heal and unite our city so that we move forward instead of look backward. I will treat citizens’ tax dollars with the respect so rightly deserved. I will strive for less government and more accountability from that government. With input from our citizens and help from county and state offices, I will work to manage the future growth of Hoschton responsibly and effectively. I support term limits for the council and mayor as well as the idea of creating districts within the city. I will bring honesty, integrity and responsibility to the office of mayor.
How do you think Hoschton’s growth should be managed in the coming years?
Growth ... there are so many opinions and so much conversation! Hoschton is currently experiencing growth at a faster pace and on a much larger scale than ever before. I developed communities and built homes in our county for 25 years (until 2007), and I watched people move to Hoschton because they wanted that small-town feel while enjoying our convenience to the interstate. Often new residents would like to be the last one to ever move to our quaint city.
I presented requests at many zoning hearings where a “newer” resident would stand up and say “We moved out of Gwinnett County to get away from growth, and we are against this new development." What if we weren’t growing when they were looking for a home, and the window of opportunity had closed before they moved here? Continued growth is inevitable. We are between Atlanta, Gainesville, Greenville and Athens. We sit less than a mile from a major interstate and have two state highways within our city limits. Our neighboring county of Gwinnett has nearly one million people in it.
More growth is indeed coming, but with proper leadership and input from our citizens, it can have a positive versus negative impact. It can be appropriately managed by analyzing historical data from similar cities (What worked for them? What mistakes did they make that we can possibly avoid?), planning, engineering, zoning and proper land use. We all like to have restaurants, shopping and medical facilities nearby without the congestion that often comes with those conveniences. This provides the best quality of life for all citizens. It is a difficult balance! I would like to see Hoschton have recurring bi-annual or quarterly meetings with its citizens and businesses to discuss growth and planning for the city’s future so we can be more pro-active and consider “big picture” planning along with the individual projects.
What do you consider the top challenges the City of Hoschton will face in the next 10 years? As mayor, what would you do to address those challenges?
Our city will be faced with many challenges in the next decade. Of course managing growth, but also infrastructure, congestion, public safety, successful and sustainable businesses, parks/recreation for citizens and keeping the citizens informed and involved in our community. Short and long-term planning and zoning with input from all that are affected are the keys to success for growth.
I would pursue avenues available for studies, grants, future technologies and financing as related to our water and sewer system. We cannot have an influx of new people and businesses in our city without resources, most importantly water and sewer capacity. I don’t believe our current citizens should be responsible for funding the infrastructure of future residents and businesses; however, we should be responsible for maintaining current infrastructure and meeting any government-imposed mandates and guidelines for safety and health.
I will meet with state and county officials regarding long-term road and traffic planning.
I would work with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office with respect to what’s appropriate and necessary for public safety and get input from the citizens as to what they want for the future and at what cost are they willing to pay.
I will strengthen my relationships with staff at Jackson County Parks and Recreation to help with additional opportunities.
I will work to improve the relationship between city government and our current businesses by having more open communication along with being more welcoming/inviting to new businesses.
Please outline a brief biography and resume of yourself.
I am a Hoschton native who has lived, worked and served in our community for 55 years. I earned a bachelor’s degree in business from North Georgia College and have been a business owner in Jackson County for 35 years, currently TSG Outdoors and Trading Post, The Sell Group, LLC. Real Estate company and Sell Farms. I am a Federal Firearms License Holder, Georgia Licensed Residential Light Contractor, Georgia Licensed Real Estate Broker, and FAA Licensed Instrument/Commercial rated pilot.
My experience serving our community includes chairman of the Jackson County Airport Authority (2008-12), president of Jackson County Builder’s Association (2001-02) and Hoschton City Council member (early 1990s). I am also a 2001 Leadership Jackson County Graduate and avid Georgia 4-H supporter.
I currently reside on the family farm with my wife Kimberly, and I have three stepchildren, John, Kate and Alex. My hobbies/interests include travel, hunting, fishing, scuba diving, photography and UGA football. I am a member of 12Stone Church.
A meeting of Jackson County's key public agencies could be held in the coming weeks to discuss preliminary planning for a potential pandemic involving the Cornavirus known as COVID-19.
Jackson County Emergency Management Agency director Bryan Bullock said that he is trying to set up a meeting with representatives of Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center and local emergency officials (fire, EMS, police, sheriff, schools, hospitals, county and city officials) to discuss the impact the virus might have on the community.
Piedmont Athens Regional hosts the regional healthcare coalition of which Jackson County is a member and would be one of the key players in the event of a viral pandemic.
Meanwhile, a conference call with CDC officials and area medical personnel is slated for Thursday, March 5 to discuss Coronavirus response planning.
Although only two known cases of the virus have been detected in Georgia as of this writing, the COVID-19 virus has slowly been working its way across the country. Cases are now confirmed in Washington state, California, Texas, Chicago, New York, Georgia, Florida and Rhode Island and six deaths were recorded as of March 4 in the U.S.
Some medical officials have predicted that it will only be a matter of time before the virus makes it way throughout the nation, and world, given its highly-contagious profile. While many of those affected by the virus have only mild cases, the estimated death rate of 1-3 percent is high compared to the death rate for the regular flu, which kills thousands of people each year.
Last week, Gov. Brian Kemp created a state-level Coronavirus task force to begin planning for potential problems in Georgia. Bullock said that so far, the state's emergency management agency has not called any meetings of local officials to discuss the potential impact of the virus.
At the national level, the virus is already affecting international flights and disrupting some business supply lines, especially out of China where the virus began. The fear of a prolonged economic downturn due to the virus has tanked stock markets around the world, including here in the U.S.
If the virus does become a pandemic, what would the local response look like?
Every county in Georgia has an emergency operations plan which broadly outlines the response to various types of emergencies, from storm damage to terrorism to medical emergencies.
Under that plan, if there were a widespread virus emergency, this is how the response would broadly be structured:
• The chairman of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, Tom Crow, and the mayors from all nine local towns would form a committee that would oversee the community's response. That group would be responsible for declaring local emergencies, providing funding and manpower to meet the needs created by the virus and managing the financial aspects of an emergency response.
• If the virus became a pandemic with a high rate of infection and/or deaths, the county's EMA under director Bullock would set up a command center out of the Fire Training Center on Fowler Dr. From here, the county would manage its response depending on the impact the virus was having.
• Piedmont Athens Regional would be the focus of coordinating the medical response through the Jackson County Health Department, EMS and other local medical facilities.
• If mass care is needed in shelters, the local Department of Family and Children Services would be the lead agency to coordinate that response. The Red Cross would operate local shelters, assisted by the county's three school systems where some of the shelters would be located. (Shelters are generally in schools, churches and civic centers that have space and facilities to accommodate large crowds.)
• In addition to shelters, area points of distribution could also be set up to distribute supplies, medicine and food if needed.
• If transportation of people is needed, school buses from the county's three school systems would be used to move support personnel, patients or others.
• Local law enforcement agencies would provide security at shelters and other locations where needed.
• Other local emergency personnel, such as firemen, would likely provide assistance and support. Those with medical training would be especially valuable.
Early voting opened Monday, March 2, for the March 24 election.
Voters can cast their ballots in the Presidential Preference Primary for both parties and a tax break question for senior citizens in Jackson County.
The City of Hoschton is also holding a special election to fill an unexpired city council and mayor seat.
Shannon Sell and Hope Weeks are facing off in the race for mayor. James Lawson and Raphael Mayberry are seeking the empty city council seat (see related stories for more details).
Early voting is being held at the county elections office at 441 Gordon St., Jefferson, on the following dates:
Satellites will also be open in Braselton (Police and Municipal Court Building, 5040 Hwy. 53) from March 16-20 from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and in Commerce (Parks and Rec Building, 204 Carson St.) from March 16-20 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
On Election Day, March 24, voters will cast their ballots at their county polling location. The West Jackson polling location is the Braselton Historic Gym.
Absentee by mail ballots are available upon request. The request form can be mailed, faxed to 706-367-1193, or emailed to email@example.com.
Hoschton is seeking members for its planning and zoning board.
Four seats are open on the city's five-member board.
Those seats were held by Jan Gailey, Tracy Carswell and Ray Vaughn, whose terms expired December, 2019, and Gene Latham, who resigned. Latham's term expires in December.
James Lawson is the only current active planning and zoning board member.
Two applications have been submitted so far to fill the four seats.
"A planning and zoning commission is a local elected or appointed government board charged with recommending to the local town or city council the boundaries of the various original zoning districts and appropriate regulations to be enforced therein and any proposed amendments thereto," town leaders state.
For more information, contact city hall at 706-654-3034 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
An application can be found on the City of Hoschton Facebook page. Those interested in applying can email the application to email@example.com or apply in person at City Hall, 79 City Sq., Hoschton.
"You must live within the city limits to apply," town leaders state.
Why are you running for this office? What are your main platform points?
I am running for mayor because our city needs experienced and knowledgeable leadership during a period of rapid growth and citizen needs. I believe I possess these attributes and can lead the city in the right direction to balance the needs of our citizens and local businesses with the expected unprecedented growth in our area.
The rapid growth will be a manageable challenge if we properly plan, prepare and execute the agreed upon actions and modify our direction as situations warrant. We must be flexible during a time of many uncertainties and be able to shift our direction quickly. As mayor, my top priority will be the sustainability of our city’s finances. In conjunction with that, I will focus on the following items:
•Development – I will work with citizens and current business owners to find a balance that allows our community to maintain its small-town feel while welcoming growth. I will not support any industrial development near existing residential areas. I will work to provide our citizens with a vibrant, walkable downtown which may include a park, sidewalks, and golf cart paths along with other affordable amenities. I envision a grocery store, more restaurants, and local family entertainment that will allow our citizens reasonable proximity to these needs and activities. With proper planning and oversight, this can be accomplished in time.
•Infrastructure – Our wastewater system is about to undergo some necessary costly upgrades. I will provide the necessary oversight to ensure we receive what we pay for, stay within budget, and meet the project milestones. Our stormwater system, streets and cemetery also need attention. I will concentrate on these areas to address growing concerns while minimizing the costs to the city. I will engage the city staff and engineering firm to research and solicit for any available grants to reduce the cost burden to the city. In addition, I will work with our local organizations to increase volunteer activity in areas where this is feasible.
•Policies and plans – First and foremost, our city’s charter needs to be updated. Hoschton is ready to mirror the administration of others in the area such as Braselton and Jefferson by moving to a City Manager form of government. This will allow us to better manage the administrative aspects of the city, execute the legislation passed by the council, and allow the council to focus on preparing for the future. The Comprehensive Plan update is due this fall. It will cast the vision for our city for the next 20 years. Strong ordinances, updated policies, and a clear vision for the future are a necessity to our growing community. These items are critically important to providing structure to the daily operations of the city and provide our staff and elected officials the direction needed to move into the future.
How do you think Hoschton’s growth should be managed in the coming years?
A major concern is the undeveloped property within and adjacent to the city that will have significant impact on our citizens and local businesses if not properly controlled. It is imperative that we manage the growth and control these areas by ensuring commercial and industrial developments are kept a reasonable distance away from residential areas.
Zoning regulations for these types of developments should be strict to minimize disruption to the daily lives of our citizens. The Comprehensive Plan update from 2015 does a good job of addressing this by calling for “appropriate buffers and landscaping between incompatible uses.”
As mayor, I will ensure we adhere to the Comprehensive Plan as this expresses the vision for the future of our city. This year, there will be an update to this plan which will provide a forecast and vision for the next 20 years. I will work with our citizens and local businesses to ensure their input is considered and included. I will also work closely with both the county and neighboring cities to make sure potential development is beneficial for all affected parties. While proper zoning laws are important, planning for smart growth is necessary. We need to make sure that proper planning is in place for the future.
What do you consider the top challenges the City of Hoschton will face in the next 10 years? As mayor, what would you do to address those challenges?
As previously addressed, growth is a major challenge. Our existing infrastructure is aging and needs attention and future infrastructure needs will have to be addressed. How we meet those demands without incurring unmanageable debt will be one of the biggest challenges in the coming years. As mayor, I will reassess where we are with current developments and slow some things down to determine what direction is needed to ensure the financial viability of the city in the future. This will include a close look at our wastewater treatment capacity to make sure we can handle the future needs with projected revenue. Our citizens and local businesses should be the major benefactor of our decisions, not developers and realtors.
Another challenge involves citizen involvement. We have had a difficult year and we need to find ways to involve citizens and bring harmony to the community. As mayor, I would like to restore trust and provide opportunities for citizens to get involved and be heard in a constructive manner. I will start by implementing a Citizens Advisory Board to work with city council and staff on issues we are facing. I will also initiate quarterly town hall meetings where citizens can express their concerns and suggestions to their elected officials so they may better work on their behalf. Honesty, integrity and transparency should be our guiding principles in order to bring people together.
Finally, I know that with the expansive growth there are concerns about fire, police, EMS, schools, traffic and more. While much of this doesn’t fall under the jurisdiction of the city, I think it’s important that we build relationships with county agencies and neighboring cities so we can work together to tackle the challenges. For those issues and challenges unique to the city, I will meet with officials from cities like ours to gain knowledge and understanding on how they are addressing comparable challenges. I believe we can learn from others, which in turn will improve our success, reduce mistakes and let our citizens benefit from the outcome.
Please outline a brief biography and resume of yourself:
My name is Hope Weeks. I have served on the Hoschton City Council since 2018. I grew up in Gainesville and moved to Jackson County 14 years ago. I have lived in Hoschton for seven years with my husband, Ronnie, and two children, Tyler, 19, and Gracie, 14, who both attend Jackson County Schools. I graduated from Brenau University with my bachelor’s degree in accounting. I have over 19 years of experience in both the private and public sectors. I am a Level 2 Certified Government Finance Officer and a graduate of the Leadership Jackson program. I currently serve as the treasurer of the Jackson County GOP, assistant treasurer for the 9th District GOP and vice president of the Hoschton Women’s Civic Club. I have chosen to raise my family in Hoschton because it is a great place for my children to grow up and has all the benefits of a small town. It would be a privilege and an honor to serve as the Mayor of Hoschton and to work with the citizens to build a vibrant and safe community for current and future generations.
There have been an overwhelming number of reports on social media, the news and television about Coronavirus (COVID-19).
Here are some of the currently known details and most common misconceptions regarding the new disease.
Wearing a face mask will protect me from getting the COVID-19 infection.
FACT: It is important for everyone to remember that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) does not recommend face masks for the general public who are well as a protection from COVID-19 or other respiratory diseases. Certain models of professional, tight-fitting respirators – such as N95 respirators – can protect healthcare workers while caring for patients with certain infections. Healthcare workers are fit tested for these masks annually and are trained to use them properly.
Additionally, if people stockpile masks at their homes out of concern, they could inadvertently prevent healthcare facilities from getting the supplies they need for ill patients and the staff treating those patients. Instead, good hand hygiene – washing hands for at least 20 seconds – is very important and cough etiquette – covering your mouth while you cough or sneeze and then washing hands or using sanitizer – is highly recommended.
The flu vaccine can protect me from COVID-19.
FACT: There is no vaccine currently available to protect us against COVID-19 illness. The flu vaccine is highly recommended to prevent influenza, which is currently much more common in the U.S. than COVID-19. It is very important for us to be prepared for any new public health event, but that should not distract us from focusing on what is common currently in the U.S., like flu.
Antibiotics are effective against COVID-19.
FACT: COVID-19 is a viral illness. Antibiotics are effective against bacterial infections. As of now, there is no proven evidence to support the use of antibiotics for COVID-19. Unnecessary antibiotic use can lead to the development of resistant bacteria and other complications.
COVID-19 can be transmitted through packages or letters.
FACT: According to the World Health Organization (WHO), currently there is no evidence that mail can transmit COVID-19. WHO reports that this virus does not survive long on objects such as letters or packages.
Every person who gets COVID-19 dies.
FACT: Based on the reports to date, the global mortality rate is between 2 and 2.5 percent. Risk of hospitalization or mortality is higher in elderly patients and those with other chronic medical conditions. More than 80 percent of COVID-19 patients have mild, flu-like symptoms.
COVID-19 is currently more common than flu in the U.S.
FACT: The CDC estimates this season we have had 32 – 45 million flu cases as of the end of February. While COVID-19 has been identified in multiple countries including the U.S., based on the current reports as of March 2, it is less prevalent than flu.
Spraying alcohol or chlorine all over the body can kill COVID-19.
FACT: Spraying alcohol, chlorine or bleach all over the body will not kill any viruses that have already entered the body or protect from those who could have the virus. These chemicals are used for disinfection of objects or surfaces. When they come in direct contact with eyes, skin or mouth, they can be harmful.
We will learn more about COVID-19 in the coming weeks and months. Always try to get updated information regarding COVID-19 from reliable sources like local public health authorities, CDC and WHO.
In the meantime, it is important to stay home if you’re sick, consult a healthcare practitioner if you have flu-like symptoms and return to work only after your symptoms have improved and fever has resolved. We can each do our part to prevent the spread of illness by practicing good hand hygiene, cough etiquette and disinfecting surfaces. And, we should all remember to show compassion and empathy to each other.
For more information about Northeast Georgia Health System, visit nghs.com, and for the most current information about COVID-19, visit cdc.gov or who.int.