West pulls upset: First-time candidate defeats four-term incumbent in District 1 commission race
by Joshua Sharpe
May 21, 2014 04:00 AM | 6098 views | 28 28 comments | 26 26 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Steve West addresses the crowd at a Meet the candidate forum at Cagle’s Dairy in April. West defeated incumbent Harry Johnston in the race for Post 1 on the Board of Commissioners.<br>Kelly J. Huff
Steve West addresses the crowd at a Meet the candidate forum at Cagle’s Dairy in April. West defeated incumbent Harry Johnston in the race for Post 1 on the Board of Commissioners.
Kelly J. Huff
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Cherokee Commission Chair Buzz Ahrens waits at Riverstone Corner Bistro on election night. Ahrens defeated his challenger to retain his position Tuesday.<br>Staff/C.B. Schmelter
Cherokee Commission Chair Buzz Ahrens waits at Riverstone Corner Bistro on election night. Ahrens defeated his challenger to retain his position Tuesday.
Staff/C.B. Schmelter
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CANTON — Four-term incumbent Commissioner Harry Johnston lost his District 1 seat to challenger Steve West, a first-time candidate, while Cherokee Board of Commissioners Chairman Buzz Ahrens easily won re-election in the primary, unofficial results showed Tuesday night.

The race to replace retiring Commission Jason Nelms will head to a runoff July 22.

West took the District 1 seat with 3,417 votes and 52 percent of the vote, while Johnston pulled in 3,194 votes, or 48 percent of those who voted.

West, who is 53 and owns a steel and metal fabrication company, said his victory was one for the people of the county who have been looking for a solution to the Ball Ground Recycling situation.

“The citizens have been looking for a legal solution to the Bobo boondoggle,” West said, referencing the county’s woes with its costly, failed venture with the now-defunct recycling operation. “They won a superior victory and a political solution. I look forward to serving the people of Cherokee County and District 1.”

After 14 years on the commission, Johnston said of course he was disappointed.

“But it’s been a good run,” said Johnston, a 61-year-old accounting manager at Southern Company. “I really want to thank all the people who supported me. I’m sorry I let them down.”

Johnston said he wishes West well in office.

“I do believe he was not the primary instigator in the negative attacks that were used against me,” the longtime commissioner added, referencing phone calls and advertisements against his candidacy.

Ahrens beat out former Holly Springs City Councilwoman Jackie Archer, with 12,373 votes, or 58 percent of the 21,397 ballots cast in the race, according to the unofficial results. Ahrens, whose victory means an unprecedented third term in office, said he was anxious to get back to work for Cherokee County.

“I’m delighted that the voters in Cherokee chose the proven leadership and results we have shown them over the last eight years,” said Ahrens, 70, a retired executive from Rubbermaid. “I’m looking forward to four more to ensure this county is the best it can be.”

Archer received 9,024 votes, or 42 percent of those cast.

Archer, a 49-year-old realtor and member of the Cherokee Development Authority, couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

In the race for the District 4 seat, Woodstock residents Larry Singleton and Kenneth Scott Gordon were the top candidates and will now compete in the runoff, after they overcame Joe Robert.

The candidates were seeking the Republican nomination for their seats in the November election. But with no candidates running from outside the GOP, the winner of the run-off will be set to sail into office.

In the race to replace Nelms, who didn’t seek a second term, Singleton, a former Cherokee commissioner, came out on top with 1,678 votes, or 41 percent, with Gordon coming in second with 1,409 votes, or 34 percent. Robert trailed the field with 1,013 ballots cast in his favor and 25 percent.

Singleton, a 55-year-old who heads a real estate appraisal business, said he was ready for the runoff.

“We’re excited that we got 41 percent of the vote,” said Singleton, who was on the commission for one term, ending in 2003. “We were hoping to win it all, because for the last 10 days, we knocked on the doors of 2,500 homes. We’re going to keep working hard.”

Gordon, 47, a Woodstock Planning Commission member, said he looked forward to the race to the finish in the runoff, which he said he had expected as a possibility from the beginning.

“I am blessed and humbled by the support of the voters that have placed me in the position to move forward in the process,” the architect said after the results were in Tuesday. “I want to thank my wife, children, family and friends for encouraging me to run and for standing with me every step of the way.”

Robert said he was thankful for the support he received, even though it wasn’t enough.

“The voters have spoken,” said Robert, 52, an automotive repair shop owner. “I had some issues, got into the race late. I’m not ashamed of it. It is what it is. I’m proud of what I did. I wish the results would’ve been different.”

Robert said he’ll now throw his support behind Singleton, and “I’ll do anything I can to help him.”

In total, 25,680 of Cherokee’s 125,178 voters turned out to the polls Tuesday, which was a turnout of about 21 percent. The turnout was about what Cherokee elections supervisor Janet Munda predicted last week.

Comments
(28)
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Slow Growther
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May 23, 2014
Harry Johnston never make any secret of the fact that he supported slow growth. He ran on the issue a number of times. He kept his campaign promise. If Steve West had told the voters of District 1 that he intends to increase growth in the area would he have been elected? He fooled the voters and they will see it soon enough. Unfortunately it will be too late.
Chill Cherokee
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May 23, 2014
Johnston has never been accused of not keeping his slow growth promise. The concept that many keep overlooking, however, is that Johnston was supposed to be representing everyone in his district, but he failed if this extraordinarily. It was a waste of time to try to talk to him about compromise, because he knew how you was going to vote before you ever sat in the chair. That is not representation folks, that is dictatorial and closed minded. His narrow minded focus and unwillingness to compromise was a slap in the face to many in his post. The ballot box allows is to address those ills--and we did.

It is the no growth contingent who keep espousing that Commissioner-elect West will have the ability – and the desire – to destroy the land-use map. This is making some pretty broad, extreme assumptions.
Ray of Sunshine
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May 23, 2014
Harry Johnston was the only commissioner who would support us when we were opposing the sports shooting range in our backyards in Ball Ground. He fought for us and in the end we won. That one vote would have changed everything for those of us who would have to live next door to a multi-acre gun range.

You can say what you want about Harry Johnston but he went up against powerful forces for us.

I am sorry to see him go and want to thank him for his service. My community will never forget him.
Unanswered
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May 22, 2014
The question that remains unanswered is who funded Carolyn Cosby and her campaign to get West elected. What does this individual want now that he has a puppet. District 1 voters are someone's useful idiots.
Chill Cherokee
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May 22, 2014
It is amazing to see these comments about District 1 citizens being "foolish" and "useful idiots" by people who likely have no interaction or knowledge of the good, honest, hardworking, tax paying, voting citizens of District 1. I can assume you, being one of the aforementioned "useful idiots" that I voted for Mr. West because I was tired of being referred to as a "minority" by Johnston--so were many others in District 1. I was tired of an elected official who listened more to people outside of District 1 than he did to the folks in it--so, too, were many of my fellow voters in District 1. I was appalled at Johnston's complicity in the Bobo/Ball Ground Recycling deal, and his complete inability to simply apologize for a multi-million dollar three-decade long screw up. Why does voting against those things make me--and anyone like me--an "idiot." I submit that it does not. These are logical reasons for wanting a change in representation. Let's think before we throw such pejoratives around.
Karl Marx
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May 23, 2014
Chill Cherokee; Let them rant so it is known what they really are. They have proved they were unwilling to work with others. With them like Nancy Pelosi it’s their way or the highway. The only thing they care about is their “Property Values” not the good of the county or their own neighbors. I have watched them destroy local jobs while trying to impose “HOA” rule on everyone in Cherokee. So let them whine so everyone knows what they are about. It’s sad they sound just like a bunch of Democrats….
BoBo Mess
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May 22, 2014
I am waiting for West to let us all know his solution to the Ball Ground Recycling situation. He says he will take care of this and it will be interesting what he plans to do.

Don't keep us in suspense Steve, the election is over, tell us your plan. What is the legal solution you claim you can provide.
Got Your Wish
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May 21, 2014
All the Steve West supporters will soon get their wish because the PUD will add about 1800 homes to their community.

Now they can live with the impact of growth. Be careful what you wish for...
Chill Cherokee
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May 22, 2014
Some seem to think that one change on the Commission will create a rubber-stamp for putting high-rises in Ball Ground or the next Phillips Arena in Free Home or an international airport in Macedonia. Come on folks! You sound like "Chicken Little." The sky is not falling. Think about how outrageous extreme your position is. We simply voted for a commissioner for our district who will listen to us and be more moderate than Johnston was ever willing to entertain. The vote is our prerogative.
gallowglass
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May 21, 2014
too bad we did not get Buzzy, but there will be more changes as the other cronies come up for re election; I hope they get the same fate as Johnson.
I Love Cherokee
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May 21, 2014
Commissioner Johnston has served the citizens of Cherokee faithfully, honestly, and well for the past 14 years. I thank him for his service. Those who bash him here, and those who led the nasty and dishonest campaign against him, should be ashamed of themselves.

I hope and pray that Mr. West can rise up and serve the citizens as well. And I am so looking forward to him saving the taxpayers from the BGR mess and lowering our taxes.
Free Homer
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May 21, 2014
Commissioner Johnston never really compromised on anything reasonable for growth in East Cherokee. The Land use plan was meant to create an elitist utopia for the rich. No plan or room for "normal folks". I'm proud of North Cherokee for taking a stand and reclaiming our community from the hands of a few who moved here for the free "view".
Debra Haynes
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May 21, 2014
The individuals who served on the committee to review and revise the 2030 Land Use Plan and Map represented the districts and communities where they lived. It was a diverse group of residents from different walks of life. Some were long-timers and some not. And, since it was not a single-minded group, there were disagreements and compromises made. These citizen-led meetings were facilitated by Jeff Watkins, head of planning and zoning. The commissioners took their seats in the audience, not at the table.
Karl Marx
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May 22, 2014
That committee was a joke. The no growthers way outnumbered the moderates and long time residents. In fact some on this committee when out of their way to insult the long time residents by calling them “Left over people with cows” That is what kind of a joke the land use plan is. The Commissioners were the ones who appointed the “committee members” and they were the reason moderates and long time residents had NO VOICE in the process.
Chill Cherokee
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May 22, 2014
If anyone thinks that Johnston and his merry band of No-Growthers were not in control of that Land Use Plan, especially when it came to Post 1, then you are simply color blind. Johnston ran through some many green crayons on that map that surely Crayola had a shortage. His appointments to the committee of long time residents were window dressing. His cronies were right there, handing him more green crayons at every turn. I remind everyone that it was the Commissioners, ultimately, that had to approve that plan. The Commissioners may have been in the audience at the meetings, but they had their hands on every detail of that monstrosity. Let's give up the delusions of fair-mindedness on it. The result was nothing of the kind.
Lie Stopper
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May 23, 2014
The LUP committee had almost 50 members and met for two years. There were representatives from all areas including mayors and business community representatives. It was put together by Mike Byrd and was not slow growth.

There was a small committee put together to polish the document and that committee was evenly matched between pro-growth and slow-growth. There was one swing vote and he voted with the pro-growth group from Post 1 to close down the process. They voted to accept the map the original committee prepared and move it to a vote by the BOC.

If you wanted to change your area of the map you could have encouraged your representatives to continue the process. No one was shut out.
Chill Cherokee
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May 23, 2014
Being "shut out" is a matter of opinion. Those committees ended up being mere lip service to seeking in put. The decisions were made before the first meeting was ever held. Believing otherwise is naive. Johnston, Hubbard, and their supporters controlled the end game.
Lie Stopper
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May 21, 2014
The earlier writer doesn't know what they are talking about or they are lying. The Chairman is paid the same as the post commissioners. They all make about $35,000 to $40,000 per year.

Bad Move Voters
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May 21, 2014
Chill Cherokee shows what will be in store for Cherokee now. More runaway high density growth resulting in higher taxes and a congested lifestyle. We will look just like Cobb County. Welcome to a rerun of the Hollis Lathem days.

Post 1 voters will feel like fools soon enough.

Chill Cherokee
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May 21, 2014
"Bad Move Voters", this is the beauty of the political system: getting to directly elect our commissioners from our own district. I don't want to come into your district/post and dictate what you do with your property. That's your business, and you are free, of course, to elect whomever you want that can garner the most votes. It is clear that we have to have land use plans, etc., but when you get completely shut out with no chance to argue, that's disenfranchisement of the highest order. Johnston would listen to you, but he would stare you in the face and tell you that he had to dance with the ones who brought him--i.e., the no-growth faction from around the county--not just form Post 1. At least he was honest about being in their pocket--I'll give him that. Too bad, however, that he refuses to take any responsibility for the Bobo/Ball Ground Recycling debacle. His responses are pure politics and arrogance.

There is nothing for Post 1 voters to feel foolish about what happened at the polls yesterday. We had an elected representative who has largely and arrogantly ignored us for over a decade. He impressed his will--and that of his vocal cronies--upon us. That is not representative government, sir. There is no middle ground for Johnston. So, he had to go.
Karl Marx
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May 21, 2014
You No Growthers are too funny. Your the main cause of runaway growth because of the way policy's you demand cause land tax to be higher on AG property owners. You have nobody to blame but yourself.
1whonoze
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May 21, 2014
Atta boy Steve! Way to run a good campaign. The voters listened. Now get to work and make us east- siders proud!
NoDuck
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May 21, 2014
Can we start a fund to get him a haircut and a shave?..I really don't want this image for Cherokee County. Do yourself a favor..clean up!
Chill cherokee
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May 21, 2014
Finally, Mr. Johnston's arrogance towards the eastern portion of our county met its match. His unfailing treatment of our property as his and others "natural beauty" to be enjoyed and held as they saw fit will receive a bit of balance. The residents of the district spoke clearly, without the outside influence of Johnston's no-growth cronies from other districts in the county. He should not rest easy either thinking that the Bobo/Ball Ground Recycling is a closed matter.
bug fuzz
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May 21, 2014
The next move for Chairman Ahrens will be to increase his salary considerably. Going from the $60,000s to the $90,000s aint a bad days work.
Knowledgable citizen
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May 21, 2014
The current salary of the chairman is about $38,000 per year. You must be getting your numbers from CHTC. Also, when the salary is increased it does not become effective until the next election for that office.
nuclearjim
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May 21, 2014
Thanks to Mr. Johnson for his service and best wishes in the future.
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