STOCKBRIDGE — Henry County Board of Commissioners candidate James Mays said Wednesday that he supports the county’s recent purchase of Atlanta South Regional Airport.
That may come as a surprise to some voters, because he didn’t always feel that way. He said the deciding factor in his change of heart on the airport was when a chemical company chose Rockdale County, and not Henry County, as its home.
Mays, a Democrat seeking to represent District I on the Board of Commissioners, made the admission to about 45 business and government leaders during a forum at Eagle’s Landing Country Club in Stockbridge. It was sponsored by the Henry Council for Quality Growth.
Also featured were Republican Commission Chairman candidate Tommy Smith and his Democratic challenger Carlotta Harrell, Republican District II Commissioner Brian Preston and Democrat candidate Jackie Anderson-Woods.
Mays’ GOP opponent, businessman William J. “Bo” Moss, did not attend the forum.
Most of the candidates agreed about the airport’s potential for bringing more industries to the county.
Preston, an accountant whose district includes the airport, said it can be an economic engine for the county without adding more debt. Anderson-Woods, a business owner, said an expansion of the airport’s runway can attract business as well.
Tommy Smith, former mayor of Hampton, chimed in by comparing the airport to the top priority of his campaign, public safety.
“If we don’t fix that, the airport won’t matter,” Smith said.
He continued to emphasize his desire to help Henry’s public-safety realm by talking about the effect the economy has had on the staff at the Henry County Police Department.
“We are losing officers every week,” said Smith. “They haven’t had a raise in five years.”
His opponent, Harrell, has 20 years’ experience in law enforcement, some of which was spent working in Henry. She said bringing more industries to the area would help compensate public-safety workers better and keep them in the county.
“It’s all about prioritizing what’s important to each and every one of us,” said Harrell.
Improving transportation in Henry was another focus for the candidates, though some of them were at odds about how to do it.
Smith said one of his priorities is to expand secondary roads in the county through the county’s fourth Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax proposal, which is due for a vote next year.
“One hundred percent of SPLOST IV ought to be for roads, period,” said Smith.
Harrell said transportation is a regional issue and that county leaders must work with state and federal legislators while trying to secure more grants. SPLOST IV, she said, will not solve Henry’s transportation woes.
“We are going to need more funds than what it would generate,” said Harrell.
Anderson-Woods, a business owner, said she would would expand XPress bus service and would push for commuter rail in the county.
“I don’t want us to be left out again,” she said.
Mays, an attorney, said he was in favor of the July 31 T-SPLOST proposal, which metro Atlanta voters rejected in July. He said that because it didn’t pass, it will take nearly 30 years to make needed improvements on Bill Gardner Parkway in District I.
Candidates also addressed their plans for reviving the local economy and encouraging job growth. Smith and Harrell agreed that small businesses represent a key element in accomplishing that goal.
Mays, however, took a different route by saying, “I believe our future lies with attracting large businesses.”
Anderson-Woods attempted to draw a balance between the two concepts, saying that marketing Henry County properly can help county leaders attract large and small businesses to the area.
Preston, however, said the county has something else to worry about first.
“We’ve got to make sure our financial house is in order,” he said.