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Harlem, Grovetown vote Tuesday

Posted: Sunday, November 04, 2001

For the first time Tuesday, Columbia County officials will handle elections duties for the city of Harlem, as three people run for two City Council seats.

Three candidates also are seeking two seats on Grovetown City Council. Columbia County has handled those elections for years, and the polling in both cities is expected to run smoothly. In each city, three candidates are seeking two winner-take-all seats, with the top two vote-getters taking the posts.

Both races also bring new blood to each citys government. Robin Root, who this year was chosen among her Council peers to hold the mayor pro tem post in Harlem, should easily win re-election to her Council seat.

Competing for the Harlem seat vacated by Gary Holley are two new candidates. Robert Winter is a newcomer to politics, while Craig Brooks - the son of former Columbia County commissioner Lee Brooks - already has political experience in his own right, and has assisted city officials on rewriting purchasing procedures.

A woman and two men also face off in Grovetown for two Council seats. Rosa Lee Owens, a former school board candidate, carries name recognition and unwavering support of Mayor Dennis Trudeau into the race. (In fact, just over a week ago, Owens pleaded with Columbia County school trustees to name the new Grovetown Middle School after Trudeau.)

Owens is a strong favorite, with the other seat going to either George James or Bruce Stoddard. Stoddard is a relative unknown with no political experience - or baggage, for that matter - while James is a former two-term Council member and former candidate for mayor.

Like Brooks, James strong name recognition could help as he tries to return to the Council. Also like Brooks, James has family ties to county government: Highly regarded former county clerk Elaine Matthews is James sister, and chairs his campaign.

Such county ties could be increasingly important after the election when these candidates consider a couple of issues important not just to their cities, but to the next decade of Columbia Countys government:

Currently, the two cities receive more of the local-option sales tax than would be reflected in their share of county population. The ratio under which the tax is divided between the county and city governments changes again next year in response to new census figures, and city leaders will be under pressure to justify getting a bigger share of the tax.

Under the present County Commission map, one commissioner represents a district in which both cities are located. In either of two new maps recently approved by county commissioners - without input from city officials or county citizens - the cities remain isolated in one Commission district. City leaders should explore the benefits of each city anchoring districts, and work with county officials to boost the cities clout.

Theres a lot more on the table for Columbia Countys two municipalities. The elections are Tuesday; after that, the real work begins.

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