Editor's note: This is the second in a series of profiles on the five candidates in the special election for the District 3 seat on the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners.
Shannon Bearfield said she was already trying to make a difference in the community but it was the impact of COVID-19 on Whitfield County and the nation that led her to seek elected office for the first time, a seat on the county Board of Commissioners.
"It started with volunteer work and community service," she said. "I began to meet leaders in our area and began to get more interested in government and politics. And this past year, I began to attend Dalton City Council and county Board of Commissioners meetings. And then COVID-19 and its impact on our community really affected me."
As much as the pandemic itself, Bearfield said she was concerned that the nation still seemed so divided on so many issues.
"You would hope that a crisis would bring everyone together," she said.
Bearfield is one of five candidates in a March 16 special election for the District 3 seat on the Board of Commissioners. The others are:
• Jonathan Bagley, director of procurement for chemical company Polyventive in Calhoun.
• Shane Day, global sales director for Tiarco Chemical.
• John Thomas, a realtor and former member of the Whitfield County Board of Education.
• Chad "Bubba" Young, an insurance agent and former University of Georgia football player.
The winner will complete the late Roger Crossen's unexpired term, which ends on Dec. 31, 2022. Advance voting starts Monday in the county courthouse.
A 1997 graduate of Dalton High School, Bearfield studied at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton before enlisting in the U.S. Air Force. She spent four years in the Honor Guard, which participates in presidential ceremonies and burials of veterans at Arlington National Cemetery. Her last two years of service were spent as part of a flight crew that performed mid-air refueling for planes above the Middle East supporting combat in Afghanistan and Iraq.
She returned to Dalton and received a bachelor's degree in biology from Dalton State College and a doctorate of pharmacy from South College.
Bearfield said dealing with COVID-19 will be one of the commission's biggest challenges.
Commissioners last spring required masks in county buildings to prevent or reduce the spread of COVID-19 but allowed that requirement to expire. Commissioners voted in December to require masks in county buildings but overturned that requirement in January.
"Nobody likes to be told what to do," Bearfield said. "Having said that, our county leaders have a responsibility to protect not only the residents but the county employees. We provide the sheriff's office and the fire department with the equipment they need to protect themselves. We should do everything in our power to keep county employees safe when they are on the job. I think it falls under that responsibility to keep employees safe to put in a face covering requirement for county buildings."
Bearfield said commissioners should also focus on affordable housing. She noted that during a candidates forum Tuesday a candidate spoke of the need for $250,000 to $400,000 homes for professionals. That candidate was Thomas.
"I hope that we can attract the sort of white-collar jobs that can afford those homes," she said. "But what I keep hearing from people that I am talking to is that there is a desperate need for affordable apartment living in Whitfield County. Nobody seems to be talking about that. That's a challenge. It should be equally important."
She said she hopes if a referendum on the March 16 ballot that would allow commissioners to create tax allocation districts (TADs) passes, one might be used by a developer to create more affordable housing.
“I support TADs but only as long as we can maintain full and complete transparency,” she said.
TADs freeze the value at which a property can be taxed for general revenue. Taxes collected on additional value created by improvements to the property are dedicated to pay for infrastructure, public artwork or other amenities to attract a developer or developers to that area.