City Council candidates differ on Dalton Utilities bill at League of Women Voters forum

Matt Hamilton/Daily Citizen-News

Varnell City Council member Bob Roche speaks Thursday night during a candidates forum at Dalton's Mack Gaston Community Center hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Dalton Area.

Three of the four candidates for mayor and the City Council of Dalton expressed skepticism Thursday night for a proposal to allow Dalton Utilities to borrow money for electrical assets without a public referendum.

"I never want to take away somebody's right to vote," said council member Tyree Goodlett at a candidates forum at the Mack Gaston Community Center hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Dalton Area. Goodlett is running unopposed for the Ward 3 seat in the Nov. 5 city election.

The state House of Representatives narrowly defeated a bill that would have allowed the utility to borrow money for electrical assets without going to the voters earlier this year. Under that bill, the utility would still have to have approval from its board and from the City Council to borrow money for electrical. The utility does not need voter approval to borrow money for natural gas, water and sewer.

Dalton Utilities CEO Tom Bundros has said the utility will try to get the bill passed next year.

Former mayor David Pennington, who is challenging Mayor Dennis Mock, said the utility first needs to explain why the measure is needed to voters.

"They need to have at least two public meetings where they make the case to the citizens of Dalton why this is necessary," Pennington said. "Have respect for the citizens and explain why you want to take that right away from them."

Former Dalton State College athletic director Derek Waugh said he is also apprehensive about the proposal but said he wanted to get more information. Waugh is running unopposed for the Ward 1 seat currently held by Denise Wood, who did not seek reelection.

Mock was the only candidate at the forum to endorse the bill.

"I think it levels the playing field with other utilities that don't have that requirement," he said, noting the Dalton Utilities makes money off of its electrical assets.

About 60 people attended the event. They also heard from incumbent Dalton Board of Education member Pablo Perez and from attorney Sam Sanders, who is challenging Perez in November.

"We have to realize the importance of diversity," said Perez.

He noted that about 70% of the students in Dalton Public Schools are Hispanic but the majority of teachers are non-Hispanic white. He said the school board has been working to increase the diversity of the school system's workforce and will continue to do so.

Sanders also said that increasing diversity should be a priority for the school system. He said he would also like to see the school system try to recruit more male teachers to increase diversity.

The audience also heard from four candidates for the Varnell City Council: Seat 3 incumbent David Owens and challenger Sandy Pangle and Seat 5 incumbent Bob Roche and challenger Richard Lowe.

Owens noted that he has spent 22 of the last 24 years on the City Council. When he was first elected in 1995, the city had fewer than 400 residents. It has about 2,000 now. The city budget was $40,00 to $50,000. It is now around $1 million.

Pangle said he would like to see the city host more festivals and street dances.

Roche said he would like to see the city build a regulation-size soccer field and pickleball courts. According to the USA Pickleball Association, pickleball is a paddle sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton and pingpong.

Lowe noted that he is a fourth-generation resident of Varnell. Lowe and the other Varnell candidates said that the city needs to work to fill in the unincorporated islands within its city limits.

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