Among the items on the Nov. 3 ballot will be two seats on the Floyd County Commission. For Post 2, Incumbent Wright Bagby (R) faces Democratic challenger Charles “Coach” Smith. For Post 3, incumbent Allison Watters (R) faces Democratic challenger Shonna Bailey. Hometown Headlines offers interviews with all four candidates. The interviews and profiles were complied and written by Natalie Simms. Next week, we will feature candidates running for State Senate District 52 and State House District 12.
Floyd County Commission, Post 2
Wright Bagby, age 74, is a native of Floyd County and a retired business owner. He was first elected to Floyd County Commission in 2016 and serves as Vice Chair. He is a graduate of Darlington School and Auburn University. He is a former Mayor and Rome City Commissioner and has served on the Rome/Floyd Planning Commission, the Rome/Floyd Parks and Recreation Authority and Boys & Girls Club of Northwest Georgia. He was founding president of Rome Seven Hills Rotary Club and member of Rome-Floyd Community Foundation. He is a recipient of the Heart of the Community award and Community Service Award from the Northwest Georgia Scouts. He and his wife, Pat, have been married 54 years with two grown children and five grandchildren, all of whom reside in Floyd County. They are active members at First Baptist Church of Rome.
Charles “Coach” Smith, age 57, has lived in Rome for most of his life. He graduated from East Rome High School and played on the back-to-back state championship football teams. He currently serves as a Behavioral Specialist for Rome City Schools and is CEO of Building Positive Families, a non-profit organization that trains parents on methods and techniques to become better parents/examples for their children, as well as teaching life skills to local teens. He attended the University of Georgia where he played on the 1980 National Championship football team. He earned his is bachelor of Arts in Social Science Education a master of Arts in Early Childhood Education from Ashford University. He has served as head football coach for Rome Middle School. He was inducted into the Georgia Middle School Athletic Association Hall of Fame in 2017 and was inducted into Rome Floyd County Sports Hall of Fame in 2019. He has also been awarded the Heart of the Community Award. He and his wife, Regina, have six children and three grandchildren.
QUESTION: (two parts) In 2018, the County Commission voted to change the way Floyd County recruits new industry. The new process has been in place for more than a year. Part 1: Was it the right move for Floyd County? Why or why not?
Bagby: “From my perspective the new model is working great. We have great communication with the citizen-lead board of the Rome/Floyd Development Authority and they are working hard with new Director Missy Kendrick and staff. The prospects they are currently working with are as high if not higher than they have ever been.”
Smith: “I think the jury is still out on whether Floyd County got this one exactly right or not. One thing is very clear to me; what we were doing was definitely not working and the U.S. Department of Labor data proves my point. Over the past 12 years, more than 4,500 Floyd Countians no longer have a job! That number does not include a single job lost in the 2020 due to the COVID pandemic. All of this while Bartow and Gordon counties continue to announce new industry and new jobs almost weekly. What our community has been doing is clearly not working. We need change immediately.”
Part 2: What new industry has been recruited in the past 18 months or what is on the way?
Bagby: “The expansion of new and existing industry is exciting during these difficult times. The real estate committee of the Development Authority is actively evaluating properties for purchase consideration.” (Bagby included some existing industry, which was not the question; please see below*).
Smith: “Unless you are a member of the Industrial Development Authority, it’s impossible to know who they have been recruiting or what new industry might be coming to Floyd County. Our city and county cannot grow because we refuse to offer competitive incentives for new business. We drag behind Bartow and Gordon counties in this area. We need to recruit the best as well as offer the best because we are losing our youth to the surrounding counties because of better job opportunities. My no. 1 priority will be to create new jobs for Floyd County with fresh ideas in order to stop the downward spiral.”
QUESTION: In six months, Floyd County has seen nearly 40 coronavirus deaths and more than 2,600 positive test results. The county, as a whole, at first adopted strategic closings but never mandated masks/face coverings. In your opinion, have the steps taken by county government been just right, too much or too little and why?
Bagby: “Since this is the first time any of us have experienced a pandemic like COVID, we have tried to rely on our medical community for advice. We are blessed to live in a community with the medical resources we have. We are also blessed that our own Dr. Gary Voccio was appointed head of our Public Health organization for Northwest Georgia. Our original actions were strong but when the state adopted its own regulations, we could not override them. I think we have done the best we could to balance keeping our economy going and protecting the public.”
Smith: “I like to rely on the facts when it comes to public fact. I listen to science and what the medical professionals are advising. The facts indicate that what Floyd County has done so far has not been sufficient. Currently, we have one of the highest positivity rates in the entire state at 10.3 %. Also, we have seen a pretty dramatic jump in COVID deaths in September. Rome and Floyd County have the best medical professionals in Northwest Georgia. The CEOs of Redmond, Floyd, and Harbin Clinic said “’we should all wear masks in order to completely stop the spread.’ Our county officials should have taken that advice.”
Update: Since the above question was asked, Floyd County’s death rate has risen to 46 and positive tests have surpassed Bartow County with 3,308 through Oct. 3.
QUESTION: As the pandemic continues, as a sitting county commissioner in 2021, what changes would you set in place — if any.
Bagby: “I think we should continue to rely on the advice from our medical community in all of our decisions. Also, I hope that all citizens will follow our citizen-driven campaign on masking and follow the county’s protocols on dealing with exposures and quarantines.”
Smith: “Protecting the health and safety of our citizens is very important to me. So I pledge to put politics aside and listen to the CDC guidelines and the advice of our local health officials. I know wearing a mask can be uncomfortable and a hassle. I don’t like wearing them but I do it to protect myself, my family, the kids I coach and my community. Masks have been proven to slow the spread of this deadly virus and I support a mask mandate until such time as the CDC says we can return to normal.”
Floyd County Commission, Post 3
Shonna Bailey, age 48, owns Shonna Bailey Real Estate Consulting and has been a local Realtor for over 15 years. She is a member of the National Association of Realtors as well as the Greater Rome Board of Realtors. In addition, Bailey also works as a clinical social worker. She has a bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Dalton State College and master’s degree from Campbellsville (Ky.) University. She has served on the Parent Advisory/Information/Education committee of Floyd County Health Department; mentor support specialist for Rejuvenate Hope (a DFCS grant-funded program); the Grievance Committee for Local 804 at Inland Paperboard & Packaging; secretary for Local 9-518 for United Steel Workers at Temple Inland Rome Sawmill; and worked with various civic and social clubs on fundraisers for local children. Bailey has three grown children and five grandchildren.
Allison Watters, age 57, is the co-owner of Do Good, a retail shop on Broad Street. She was first elected to the Floyd County Commission in 2016. She grew up in Middle Tennessee and graduated from Kennesaw State University before moving to Rome in 1994 to serve as director of human resources at Redmond Regional Medical Center. She is co-chair of Rome for the Rescues, a fundraising organization for animal welfare projects, and co-chair for North Georgia Animal Partnership. A past chair of the Heart of the Community Board of Directors, she was named one of the Heart of the Community Award recipients in 2016. Watters is an active member of Rome First United Methodist Church, where she facilitated an ecumenical women’s Bible study for many years. She is also a graduate of Leadership Georgia and a graduate and former coordinator of the Rome-Floyd Chamber’s Leadership Rome program, in which she met her husband, Ed. They have two teenage daughters, Grace and Ivy.
QUESTION: In 2018, the County Commission voted to change the way Floyd County recruits new industry. The new process has been in place for more than a year. Part 1: Was it the right move for Floyd County? Why or why not? Part 2: What new industry has been recruited in the past 18 months or what is on the way?
Bailey: “The county needs to be realistic when courting new industry. There is not an abundance of heavy industry out there to be lured to Floyd County. Heavy manufacturing is not likely to come here because of lack of easy access to the interstate. We need to be looking to bring businesses that have the resources we need. We should be focusing on encouraging small business development.”
Watters: “The decision to change the economic development model for Rome and Floyd County was thoughtfully and carefully considered. Both boards of commissioners agreed that the change would be a positive move for our community. We still agree that the new model is positive for Rome and Floyd County. Missy Kendrick has done an excellent job leading our economic development efforts thus far. She is an excellent communicator and has streamlined and improved the recruitment process.
Part 2: What new industry has been recruited in the past 18 months or what is on the way?
Bailey: The Floyd County Commission missed a golden opportunity just last week when they rejected the TAD request for the Berry hotel project. This project would have created many jobs and produced tax revenue far more than the investment the county was asked to make. Besides the hotel itself, other businesses would have cropped up around the hotel. Luckily, the city of Rome decided to go at it alone and the project can move forward. The county will reap the benefits despite its inaction. The county should also focus on quality of life improvements that will help bring businesses here and keep people from leaving after college to start businesses elsewhere. Floyd County has so much to offer and we need to promote that.”
Watters: “Successful recruitment efforts include both new and existing industries .. Currently there are more than 50 active projects.” (Watters included some existing industry, which was not the question; please see below*).
QUESTION: In six months, Floyd County has seen nearly 40 coronavirus deaths and more than 2,600 positive test results. The county, as a whole, at first adopted strategic closings but never mandated masks/face coverings. In your opinion, have the steps taken by county government been just right, too much or too little and why? As the pandemic continues, as a sitting county commissioner in 2021, what changes would you set in place — if any.
Bailey: “The COVID crisis has affected many lives here in Floyd County. The victims of the virus have suffered greatly. Floyd County is blessed to have a strong medical infrastructure which has been good for the patients but this has also meant that many of our Floyd County residents working in our fantastic facilities have been potentially exposed while putting themselves and their families at additional risk. The County Commission could have done more. While the City of Rome mandated wearing masks, the county did not. All the evidence shows that masks help prevent the disease. By taking a luke-warm approach to prevention, the county stretched out the pandemic. We have tremendous medical resources here in Floyd County. We should be listening to their advice. We should also be taking care of the needs of those marginalized citizens of Floyd County. There are many people who are at higher risk, like the elderly, the disabled and others, who need assistance fulfilling their daily needs. We must be more attentive to them. Everyone wants the economy to get back to normal but that cannot happen until the virus is controlled.”
Watters: “The pandemic is something none of us could have predicted, and fortunately AND unfortunately, most of us are not experienced with pandemic policy making. The effect this virus has had on human life, healthcare workers, first responders, businesses and our education systems is staggering. I am proud of the way Floyd County took early action in March by passing a shelter-in-place ordinance, even before the state did. We were very fortunate that Dr. Gary Voccio was named health director for Georgia Department of Public Health Northwest District in February prior to the pandemic. Our Board of Commissioners has relied heavily on his expert direction. We have continued to model what we’ve asked our citizens to do, wash our hands, wear a mask and watch our distance. Our public service announcement video that featured local leaders masking up was very well received by our community and reinforced the message we’ve continually shared. We plan to continue to seek direction from Dr. Voccio as we hopefully move toward a vaccination and immunity. Protecting the lives and livelihoods of our citizens will remain our priority.”
The existing industry projects; the Ball project is considered a blend.
- Ball Packaging: $217.8 million; 145 new jobs.
- Ball Container: $64 million; 42 new jobs.
- Kerry Inc.: $125 million; 120 new jobs.
- Marglen: $17 million; 20 new jobs.
- Southeastern Mills; Center for Superior Logistics expansion by 90,000 square feet.