“The thing is, I didn’t want to do this,” West explained Friday during an interview in downtown Canton. “I guess you could say I had it in my heart that somebody needed to do it, and nobody else would step up to the plate. I’m doing it for the people.”
The 53-year-old, with a mane past his shoulders and flowing facial hair, added: “That’s the reason I didn’t cut my beard, I am not conforming into a politician.”
West, who owns and operates a steel and metal fabrication company in Cumming, is set to take office in January to replace Johnston, a 14-year veteran of the Board of Commissioners, who lost his bid for re-election by 223 votes.
West has firm roots in Cherokee County and the area he’ll represent on the board, District 1. He is a lifelong resident of Cherokee County and his family history goes back generations in the area. He lives in the district with his wife, Diane, and has two children, two step-children and seven grandchildren.
West said one of his passions is his work on the board of directors for the Bald Ridge Lodge, a nonprofit center for at-risk boys in Cumming.
Though West is candid his venture into government isn’t what he’s always had in mind, he does have plans for when he takes office.
Ball Ground Recycling
Asked what he wanted to get to work on, the incoming commissioner, who faces no opposition in the November general election, mentioned the county’s issues with Ball Ground Recycling and his hopes of bringing more parks to District 1.
West said he wasn’t yet sure how to correct the Ball Ground Recycling situation, which has cost taxpayers $100,000 a month as the county tries to sell off the closed-down plant.
“There’s a lot of information out there about the deal I’m not privy to right now,” he said. “I was told they bought that property up there without any kind of appraisal. I don’t know what the property’s worth.”
West said he hadn’t yet had a chance to read the entire 7,000-plus page forensic audit on the subject that was recently released to the public, but he feels it may shed light on if anyone in the county was negligent in the situation. Cherokee County ended up responsible for the payments on the plant after the county guaranteed $18.1 million in bond debt to move it. and the operator, Jimmy Bobo, later went out of business.
If there truly was negligence along the way, West said more changes need to come in who Cherokee County employs.
“I’ve read bits and pieces of the audit, and from what I can tell of what it’s saying, there was definitely mismanagement of the whole deal,” West said. “If we do find negligence on anybody’s part in the county, they need to be replaced.”
The newcomer feels the Ball Ground Recycling situation was part of what helped him win election, because Johnston was on the Board of Commissioners when the county agreed to enter the deal with Bobo.
“That weighed heavy on the voters,” he said. “I think that’s one of the things that propelled me to the top, that people are tired of seeing the government waste money.”
Still, West said it was nothing personal with Johnston.
“I want to thank Harry for his service,” he said. “First and foremost, he’s a lifelong resident here, too. It’s nothing personal. Harry and I had a good conversation on Election Day, believe it or not, up there at the Clayton Fire Station. We stood up there and talked for an hour. We’re going to work together.”
Other key issues
Like the Ball Ground Recycling controversy, recreation in District 1 was another regular point for West during his campaign, and it is now one of the first things he plans to address.
In comparison to other areas of Cherokee County, West said District 1 has been left waiting to see the amount of parks grow with the population.
“Parks are a big issue up there,” he said, adding the issue needed to be addressed with the countywide parks bond initiative. “Woodmont subdivision has moved in. Basically they’ve taken over little Macedonia ball field. People feel like they’ve been left out.”
There is a massive new park, which officials have dubbed “East Park,” planned for the Macedonia area, but West said, “that should’ve been done years ago. I’d like to look at the parks bond and see what we can do to speed up the process.”
West also wants to address business in Cherokee.
“I’d like to work on drawing more business in the county,” he said. “It’s upwards over 70 percent of the people in Cherokee County drive out of the county every day to go to work. I’d like to work with (the Cherokee Office of Economic Development) to expand our business growth in the county.”
West said he’d like the county to focus on small business.
“Those people are the ones that are going to stick with you,” he said. “They live here, they go to church here and they’re going to stay here.”
Other, larger companies, who might be drawn in by temporary tax credits, might not have the lasting impact, he said.
“Once the tax incentives are gone, they get up and move away,” West said.
During the campaign, West often aired concerns about the county’s land use plan and its designation of areas of light growth.
On Friday morning, he said he wasn’t against the land use plan, but it needs to be reconsidered to make sure it is still relevant to the community since it was approved.
“As far as growth goes, I’m for smart, sensible, responsible growth,” he said, adding the county needs to make sure proposed developments are truly right for the areas for which they’re planned.