The two men seeking to replace outgoing District 1 Commissioner Ron Thigpen are both Columbia County transplants, although one had a longer journey to get here.
Doug Duncan, who moved to Columbia County in 1991, is an Augusta native, who can trace his local roots back more than 150 years.
“I guess my claim to fame is that my grandfather played baseball with Ty Cobb,” said Duncan, 51, a vice president at MAU Inc. “Ty Cobb was his coach – the Summerville Little League Team. Ty coached it and Ty Cobb Jr. and my grandfather were friends.”
Hafeez Chaudhry, Duncan’s opponent for the District 1 seat, has lived in the county longer -- 25 years, but traces his family back to Lahore, in northeast Pakistan, where boys grow up playing not baseball, but cricket.
“Columbia County has done a very good job to accept and to integrate the new citizens which have moved into this area,” said Chaudhry, 65, a businessman and retired Savannah River Site engineer. “I’m a perfect example of that.”
Both men see a future of growth in coming years and an influx of new residents that come from both near and far away seeking opportunity and a better life for their families.
“We know about the Army Cyber Command, Plant Vogtle, plans for (Georgia Regents University) growing. From that I can deduce that our community is going to grow, no doubt about it,” Chaudhry said. “To keep and enhance the quality of life we are accustomed to in Columbia County will be hard work for our elected officials. They need to stay one step ahead of this growth we’ve got coming and manage that growth.”
More residents will mean more demand for services and amenities, he said. His chief concerns are building and maintaining infrastructure, without creating additional tax burden on property owners, especially those in his district.
As more infrastructure and quality of life improvements are needed, he wants to make sure the county explores and examines all options, including revenue bonds, special tax districts and state and federal grants to finance these projects.
“These are all tools which are available to us. It is time to assemble a team of experts to start pondering and give proposals of how this growth can be financed and give recommendations,” he said. “I would look at all these options. That’s what we engineers do.”
After spending a year working in Columbus, Ohio, Duncan said his eyes were opened to what could go wrong if leaders don’t set good policies and “government runs amok.”
“I saw the dark side,” Duncan said. “Franklin County had an income tax, and the home taxes were almost $16,000 a year.”
Duncan said with the growth coming from the new Army Cyber Command headquarters at Fort Gordon, the county has a great opportunity and also a huge challenge.
“I think we are at a crucial time in our county with potentially unparalleled growth with Fort Gordon, and the possibility of a new hospital being built,” he said. “That puts us at risk to loose what has made us the No. 1 county in which to live and do business in Georgia, in my opinion. We have to manage that carefully.”
Duncan, current chairman of the Columbia County Development Authority, said it all comes down to common sense growth management planning.
“You find other communities that have faced what we are facing and you get ideas and find out what worked,” he said. “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”
Chaudhry said he is pleased with the how well the county has been run by the leaders who have come before him, but now he hopes to step in and do his part.
“Credit goes to the past leadership to bring us to this level,” he said. “However to get to the next level we need to get to change the status quo. We need to bring in new faces, new ideas, who can take us Columbia County to the next level of excellence.”