From elections to policing, FoCo officials answer citizens' questions at town hall

Justine Lookenott

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Five elected Forsyth County officials answer questions at the Community Conversations event on May 12(Image by Justine Lookenott)

(Forsyth County, GA) Five elected Forsyth County officials sat down to answer questions from their constituents on May 12 at the West Forsyth High School Auditorium.

The “Community Conversations” event included the following list of local leaders:

  • Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Freeman
  • State Senator Greg Dolezal (27th District)
  • State Representative Sheri Gilligan (24th District)
  • Forsyth County Commissioner Molly Cooper (District 1)
  • Chairman of the Board of Education Wes McCall (District 1)

Former State Representative Mike Dudgeon (25th District) was the moderator for the town hall. Constituents were able to submit their questions electronically.

The questions covered a broad range of topics including mental health, growing diversity, taxes, traffic, parents’ choice in education and future challenges for the County.

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Constituents were able to submit their questions electronically by scanning the QR codes(Image by Forsyth County Government)

How do we know our votes will be secure in this upcoming election?

With the General Primary and Nonpartisan General Election on May 24, one of the first questions asked concerned election integrity.

Gilligan and Dolezal both mentioned the challenges Georgia faced with the 2020 election, with Gilligan saying one of the biggest reasons for the challenges was how people who did not ask for a ballot were receiving a ballot anyway, even if they no longer lived at that address.

The County is currently investigating challenges to more than 13,000 voters filed by a private citizen.

However, Gilligan said she is very encouraged this year due to the County seeing less people voting by mail and instead seeing a record number of people voting in-person, even outpacing the 2018 primary election.

The pair also mentioned S.B. 202 or “The Election Integrity Act of 2021” that was passed by the State General Assembly that year.

“So what we did in that bill was multifaceted,” Gilligan said. “We took the dropboxes that had never been authorized, we took them off the street corners and into the voting, polling locations. They're only available during the hours the polling location is open. For example, if we had a dropbox at Midway [Park] it would only be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. because that was when Midway was open this week.”

S.B. 202 also made it so that voters using absentee ballots had to put their identification information on the outside of the envelopes instead of simply signing them, which was what was previously required.

The bill also requires local officials to post the total number of ballots cast on election day. This rule came after several counties were still receiving and counting votes after election day in 2020.

“Frankly, there's no excuse for us not to have results on election nights,” Dolezal said. “Florida is twice the size of our state and they… had their results in on election night.”

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Mental health, growing diversity, taxes, traffic and parents’ choice in education were all included in the submitted questions(Image by Justine Lookenott)

How are deputies prepared to deal with the growing diversity in Forsyth County?

Among the questions Dudgeon read for Freeman, one was a concern over the County’s growing diversity and its policing.

Freeman responded by saying the Sheriff’s Office had 11 different nationalities and nine languages spoken among its employees. He said that two years ago, law enforcement everywhere was being villainized - in some cases deservedly so - but that was not something they saw in Forsyth County.

“The reason I think we don't have that is because we recognize the change in diversity,” Freeman said. “We recognize the growth factors in Forsyth County and so we’re doing the lifting beforehand, before something bad happens.”

He said the department has been very intentional with creating relationships with the Southeast Asian population, the fastest growing population in the County.

“Diversification” (and the effects of it) is a word Freeman said makes some people scared, but that the growing rate of diversity in the County has been “fantastic.”

“The growth rate in the Indian community has been nothing but exceptional,” Freeman said. “The ‘add factor’ that the Indian community has added to Forsyth County has been nothing but exceptional, so it's our job as the Sheriff’s Office to continue to embrace that, to continue to get ahead of that to make sure that we're creating those relationships.”

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The West Forsyth High School Auditorium(Image by Justine Lookenott)

What are the future challenges facing Forsyth County?

The final question Dudgeon read for the panel concerned the future challenges the County may be presented with.

Passing the microphone to all the speakers, the overall answer from all of them concerned handling the exploding growth of the County, from crime to infrastructure to the schools.

Gilligan pointed out that other counties in the state have struggled to adapt their policies and communities to their growing population.

“We have the great opportunity here to show the rest of the state how you can grow and not lose sight of who you are,” Gilligan said.

If you have a news tip in Forsyth County, contact Justine Lookenott at justine.lookenott@newsbreak.com.

To learn more about Community Conversation events, read "Have a question for Forsyth County leaders? Ask them at the May 12 town hall"

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I cover local news in Forsyth County, GA. My debut into the writing world began at the age of 10 when I won an essay contest in Around Acworth Magazine in which I wrote about spending the summer with my pet goat, Eclair. Since graduating from Kennesaw State University, I have been published in several newspapers and magazines in the Atlanta area including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Atlanta School Guide, What Now Atlanta, Newcomer Magazine, the Marietta Daily Journal and the Cherokee Tribune.

Forsyth County, GA
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