published Sunday, November 6th, 2011

Dalton mayor race heats up

by Andy Johns
Election signs for Daltaon mayoral candidate Joel Goldberg and incumbent mayor David Pennington are seen next to city streets in Dalton.
Election signs for Daltaon mayoral candidate Joel Goldberg and incumbent mayor David Pennington are seen next to city streets in Dalton.
Photo by Tim Barber /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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Who do you support for Mayor of Dalton?

Voters in four Northwest Georgia cities will decide Tuesday who their mayors will be, and it wouldn’t be campaign season without promises of spending cuts and growth plans, and a little mudslinging.

In Dalton, a mayor’s race that began with little fanfare has heated up in recent weeks. Incumbent David Pennington touts his tax cuts and a reduced city budget, while political newcomer Joel Goldberg argues the tax cuts have hurt city services and Dalton’s ability to attract business.

“This is no time to be raising taxes,” said Pennington. “We are well-positioned to weather this storm and begin reinvesting in Dalton.”

Goldberg, a 41-year-old accountant and consultant with Medical Business Concepts, disagrees.

“Eliminating property taxes sounds really good, but at some point it will start affecting the level of services,” he said. “We are not going to attract a diversified industry just because we don’t have a property tax.”

Since Pennington has taken office, he and the City Council have cut property taxes by about 23 percent and shrunk the city budget 10 percent.

Both men have poured significant resources into the race for a part-time position that pays an annual salary of $7,200.

Pennington raised $20,000 and has spent about $15,000 so far in ads and campaign signs, similar to numbers he spent in his first election in 2007.

Goldberg has raised about $8,000 in donations, with all of that going toward signs, pins and ads.

Initially, Pennington appeared to be the favorite, but now even Pennington supporters say the race is close.

Signs for both candidates dot many yards in the city, and a recent debate at City Hall was standing room only.

Juan Lama, a Pennington supporter, said he no longer attempts to talk local politics with some of his friends, who support Goldberg.

“They want to spend money we don’t have,” Lama said about Goldberg supporters. “We are all making sacrifices at home right now; governments have to make those sacrifices, too.”

George and Mary Lee Farmer are firmly on the other side of the fence, with a large Goldberg sign in their yard. Their grown children also support Goldberg, they said.

Mary Lee Farmer said Goldberg is “young, energetic and looking ahead to the future.”

Tax cuts are hurting the city, 76-year-old George Farmer added.

“Someone is going to have to bite the bullet somewhere and pay more taxes,” he said. “I don’t think you can keep cutting taxes and have the level of services that the citizens of Dalton want.”

Goldberg also opposes a potential city and county merger, which is being studied by a charter commission. He accuses Pennington of changing his position on the merger in recent weeks.

Pennington was one of the leaders involved in initial talks about the merger and pushed to pass state legislation to form the charter commission.

He said last week he supports studying the merger but doesn’t know whether he will support it until the charter commission provides its report.

While Pennington’s tax and spending cuts — supported by the city council — have garnered supporters, others dislike the cuts and his leadership style.

He has been critical of the Dalton city school administration, questioning its use of money and decisions to build new schools. He cut positions in almost every city department, including fire and police.

Goldberg called his opponent “abrasive.”

“Our styles couldn’t be more different,” he said. “I’m a consensus type of guy; I’m going to look for common ground.”

Cuts in spending have hurt city services, Goldberg said, citing roads that are no longer adequately paved and a lack of code enforcement.

Pennington disagrees that the cuts have affected residents, but he readily admits he is not politically correct.

“I can be abrasive if people want to waste taxpayers’ dollars,” he said.

In Dalton, where the unemployment rate hovers well above state and national averages, Pennington opposes incentives to attract businesses. Cutting taxes will support struggling local businesses and attract new development, he said.

Goldberg said economic development is his primary goal, promising to “throw everything including the kitchen sink” at the problem.

“I will travel to Germany; I’ll travel to California. I’ll go anywhere I need to go,” he said.


Who do you support for Trenton mayor?

City finances also are a factor in the Trenton, Ga., election, where three men are competing to be mayor.

The recession, a major plant closure and cleanup costs from April’s tornadoes have left the city tight on funding for operating expenses.

Challengers Tommy Lowery and Anthony Emanuel say the city’s budget needs to be trimmed so reserves can be rebuilt.

“That might mean some tough decisions have to be made on what we spend on what,” Lowery said.

Emanuel said the budget needs to be reduced and departments must find ways to keep expenses down.

“It’s one thing to offer a balanced budget, which the state requires, but it’s another thing to stay within that budget,” he said.

But incumbent Barton Harris said he and other leaders have done well to keep things from getting worse without a major tax increase.

“The city of Trenton is running really lean right now,” he said. “The city’s doing all we can do keep taxes low and keep everybody under budget.”


In other areas, managing and promoting growth have taken center stage.

Fort Oglethorpe Mayor Lynn Long seeks to retain his seat against former Catoosa County Commissioner Ken Marks, and both candidates have made growth a priority.

Who do you support for Fort Oglethorpe Mayor?

Long said the city needs to “stay on the path” and leaders specifically need to focus on revitalizing the strip of LaFayette Road from Battlefield Parkway to the Chickamauga Battlefield.

Marks said his main focus as mayor would be growing the city through new development and annexation, particularly in the Dietz Road area and along Cloud Springs Road.

Neither man’s campaign finance reports were available on a state website, but signs and banners have blanketed the city for months.

Long, 67, a former Catoosa County Commission chairman, won a special election over a crowded, experienced field last year to replace the late Ronnie Cobb, who died of heart disease.

Marks, 60, a close friend of Cobb, said he considered running in the special election but needed time to be sure he was making the decision “with my head, not my heart.”


In Rossville, the government’s role in potential growth has become a divisive point between two mayoral candidates.

Who do you support for mayor of Rossville?

Former fire Chief Bill Eaves, 69, said he’s heard from plenty of voters who are upset with the Rossville Downtown Development Authority and the way it handled the acquisition and resale of Roy’s Grill, the iconic restaurant on U.S. Highway 27. Eaves said he had a business that stood on its own for 25 years without government help.

“I don’t think the city needs to be in the financing business,” Eaves said.

But Councilman Teddy Harris, 48, is one of the RDDA’s biggest supporters and said the authority’s involvement is crucial to getting downtown moving again.

“If we don’t invest in our downtown, it’s going to be what it is,” Harris said. “If you do nothing, you’re going to get nothing.”

about Andy Johns...

Andy began working at the Times Free Press in July 2008 as a general assignment reporter before focusing on Northwest Georgia and Georgia politics in May of 2009. Before coming to the Times Free Press, Andy worked for the Anniston Star, the Rome News Tribune and the Campus Carrier at Berry College, where he graduated with a communications degree in 2006. He is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Tennessee ...

about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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Wilder said...

In the Dalton mayoral race photos, the Spanish MoneyGram sign in the background, tells a very important story that neither candidate dares to mention - the tens of millions of dollars of carpet mill payroll that never gets spent in Dalton - doesn't go to support local businesses, and doesn't contribute a cent to local or state taxes. Yet, the population segment that sends their money out of the country, composes the heaviest burden on the taxpayers. Everyone is aware of it, but no one will talk about it. It is ridiculous not to. Having the town with the highest concentration of illegal aliens in Georgia is the major component in having the highest unemployment rate, also. Why do they ignore the most important issue that the town has faced since W.T. Sherman?

November 6, 2011 at 8:03 a.m.
callison said...

How do you know Dalton has the highest concentration of illegal immigrants?

State your source.

November 6, 2011 at 9:09 a.m.
Wilder said...

It isn't that difficult to find. There are several sources and most reference that the numbers are higher. The academics' estimates of the percentage of Hispanics that are illegal in Dalton is consistently 60 percent or higher. If you know of a town in Georgia with a higher percentage of Hispanics, cite it. It doesn't exist.

"The carpet industry in Dalton and Whitfield County underwent a similar transformation, and by the year 2000 Whitfield County's population had the highest percentage of Latinos in the state."

Relevant Statistics According to the 2007 U.S. Census: 􀂉 Whitfield County is 30.2 percent Hispanic, compared to 7.8 percent in Georgia 􀂉 Whitfield County has the largest per capita Hispanic population in Georgia 􀂉 More than 65 percent of the students in the Dalton Public Schools are Hispanic 􀂉 An influx of Latinos in Whitfield County to work in carpet manufacturing has challenged the community’s health care, education and housing

November 6, 2011 at 1:48 p.m.
blake4wheelin said...

Wilder, your sources just cite a high percentage of Latinos in Whitfield County. There are no references to illegals at either link you provided. You say that "academics" estimate the percentage of illegals at 60 or higher. Provide THOSE links and I might consider your argument valid. Otherwise, I think you just have an anti-immigant basis. Plenty of LEGAL immigrants send money home to Mexico, too, you know. It's called helping out the family.

November 6, 2011 at 2:23 p.m.
callison said...

To add to what blake4wheelin said, there are more Latinos in Atlanta than anywhere else in the state. True, the percentage may be higher in Whitfield County than in any other, but that doesn't mean there are more. It's no secret that there are more in Atlanta.

November 6, 2011 at 4:06 p.m.
lilcobrar said...

I own a business on Walnut Ave. and our property taxes are lower this year than they have been in many years. Our property taxes are usually around 7-8k dollars a year. Every little bit helps small businesses around town trust me. Cutting the pork out of city jobs is exactly what was needed. Getting the illegals out would also be nice.

November 6, 2011 at 5:03 p.m.
Wilder said...

@ 4wheeling/collision

4wheeling, This information isn't difficult to find. This took 2 seconds.

collision, There are more Mexicans in Mexico City than in Atlanta - what does that have to do with anything? I was talking about the demographics in Dalton, Georgia, not Atlanta, or Tokyo, Japan.

"Immigrants flocking to GOP districts" By Stephen Ohlemacher, Associated Press Writer October 21, 2006

North Georgia has attracted thousands of Latino immigrants -- legal and illegal -- to work in carpet mills in Dalton, in poultry plants in Gainesville and on farms that dot the landscape in between.

The district added 28,000 immigrants from 2000 to 2005, a 57 percent increase. But more than three-fourths of the immigrants are noncitizens...

November 6, 2011 at 6:39 p.m.
Wilder said...

@lilcrowbar Taxes are pretty low in Calcutta, India too, but I don't think I would want a business there...

November 6, 2011 at 6:42 p.m.
Wilder said...

@ 4 wheeler

How many cites do you need? Trust me, Dalton has the highest percentage of illegal alien residents in Georgia. It is the town that is the most altered - most negatively impacted by the non-enforcement of immigration laws. My original point is that it is an issue that should be openingly discussed by those running for political office in the town with that distinction.

The Pew center and UCLA's Hernández-León estimate that more than half the Hispanics who arrived in Dalton after 1995 were illegal.

"U.S. Border Town, 1,200 Miles From The Border" DALTON, Ga. (By Dale Russakoff, Washington Post) July 17, 2006

November 6, 2011 at 7:08 p.m.
onetinsoldier said...

The choices are all sad and repugnant.

November 6, 2011 at 10:28 p.m.
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