Though three Columbia County Commission seats are up for grabs in the Tuesday primary, only two are contested.
Commission Chairman Ron Cross will face off against retired businessman Brett McGuire, while District 4 incumbent Scott Dean again faces a challenge from Harlem resident David Payne.
Much of the fight between the candidates has focused on finances and taxes, but an accusation of marital infidelity and inappropriate text messages has spread a cloud over the District 4 race.
WGAC radio journalist Scott Hudson reported last week that Dean admitted exchanging inappropriate text messages with a county employee when Hudson asked Dean whether he had cheated on his wife.
Dean, a Georgia Department of Agriculture grocery store inspector who owns a Harlem restaurant and inn with his wife, denied having an affair.
Dean has not returned multiple phone messages or responded to an open records request to review text messages he received or sent to county employees. Dean took office in July 2008 to fill the unexpired term of Lee Anderson, who had resigned to make a successful run for the state House.
Before joining the commission, Dean was mayor and a city councilman of Harlem, where he said he oversaw two millage rate rollbacks.
A chairman of the commission's Management and Financial Services Committee, Dean recently said he was instrumental in plans to cut property taxes by a quarter mill.
A retired truck driver from the Savannah River Site, Payne unsuccessfully ran against Dean in 2008 for the District 4 seat.
In a questionnaire Payne filled out for the Columbia County Republican Party, Payne lists his previous political experience as a short stint as a justice of the peace.
Payne's platform includes cutting county spending and slashing financial support for state-run agencies. He also wants to institute a series of town hall meetings with his constituents.
"When the people within an area are strongly against something, our elected officials should be respectful and should convey to state and local officials how strongly the residents/taxpayers object to an issue, rather than just dismissing their objections," Payne said in the questionnaire.
During his campaign, Cross has touted that there have been no millage rate increases while he has served in office.
Cross was specifically referring to the portion of the millage rate that funds the maintenance and operations for county government. Like Dean, Cross said he spearheaded an effort to lower that portion of property taxes by a quarter mill.
In 2008, Cross and the commission raised the millage rate for fire service and debt retirement, but offset the increase by rolling back what taxpayers owed for maintenance and operations.
Cross has noted that, despite the economic recession, Columbia County has continued to prosper during his two terms of office.
During a recent forum, Cross said that April and May sales revenues from this year are the highest they have ever been.
McGuire insists the county can do better.
Prior to the quarter mill tax cut, the Appling resident advocated a half-mill reduction in property taxes, which he said is possible by increasing government efficiency.
While county officials were formulating a new budget, McGuire criticized a commission edict that all departments eliminate 5 percent of their expenses from the budget. He believed a more thorough examination of department budgets was required to seek out wasteful spending.
Some departments might be able to cut 30 percent, while others might need more financial resources to be effective, he said.
District 1 Commissioner Ron Thigpen, an executive with Georgia Bank and Trust, is running unopposed in the primary.
None of the candidates will face Democratic opposition in the November general election.
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