CONYERS -- For longtime Rockdale County resident Tom Harrison, the time is finally right to run for elected office.
Harrison, a Republican, will oppose Democratic incumbent Oz Nesbitt for the Post 1 seat on the Rockdale County Board of Commissioners in November's General Election.
"I've always had political aspirations," said Harrison, principal of Tom Harrison & Associates. "I grew up in a political family ... My entire life, in some form or fashion, has centered on politics. But the jobs I had kept me out of the county. I really just didn't have the time to put into community work, but I always wanted to.
"As my career changed, I was able to redirect my loyalties to the local community and got involved in Rotary and United Way, and that's what led me to make the decision to run."
Harrison said he wants to bring his considerable water and sewerage background, as well as an attitude of cooperation, back to a commission he characterized as "irresponsible" and "dysfunctional."
"On my campaign, I've talked to a lot of people," he said. "And a lot of their concerns mirror my concerns. They're worried about the budget and getting it under control to something more fiscally responsible. A lot of people have made comments about the irresponsibility of the current commissioners (Chairman) Mr. (Richard) Oden and Mr. Nesbitt. Spending money for things that upset county employees like photographs and a travel budget that's phenomenal compared to four years ago. The money has been spent in wrong directions."
He added that if elected, he'd redirect attention to the Rockdale County Sheriff's Office.
"Everybody's concerned about public safety," Harrison said. "I watched the way the current commissioners -- Mr. Oden and Mr. Nesbitt -- communicated with the sheriff and I never felt it was in public safety's best interest. I've always felt that 911 should be in the control of the sheriff's department. And with the proper set-up it could be done a bit more efficiently."
A Decatur native (his father was Clark Harrison, chairman of the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners in the 1960s and 1970s) who moved to Rockdale County 30 years ago, Harrison served on the Conyers-Rockdale Planning Commission from 2008-2011, including one year as chairman, he's been a member of the Rockdale Coalition of Homeowners and Civic Associations for the past seven years, and he's in his second term on the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District's Ocmulgee Basin Advisory Council.
And it is in the area of water and sewerage that Harrison believes he can make an impact on the commission, particularly in the economic development arena.
"One of the biggest things I will bring to the commission is my 37 years of experience in the water, sewer and irrigation industry," he said. If we're going to create good economic development, we've got to get our infrastructure under control ... We've got the water available to us. We've got to find a way to increase sewerage capacities. It's going to take a very sound approach to find the money to do it.
"We're not going to grow our tax digest unless we bring in some more industry, and we're not going to bring in more industry unless we develop our infrastructure. I feel my 37 years of experience will bring something to the table that will help us go in the right direction."
Harrison also expressed disappointment in the chilly relationship between the commission and the leadership of the city of Conyers, and says he'd like to forge a new era of cooperation.
"Another thing I think is important is rekindling that solid relationship we used to have with the city of Conyers," he said. "We should consider things like a quarterly roundtable conversation between the mayor and council and the chairman and commissioners, just to do nothing more than see where everybody is on various things going on in the community and working together to find common solutions.
"It sounds like political rhetoric, but in the last four years, the relationship the commissioners had with the city over the last 12 years has diminished. The communication has not been there and we've got to get that communication back. We're the second-smallest county in Georgia and we have one city. We have no choice but to communicate with each other and develop common plans."
If elected, Harrison said he's well aware there's not a lot he can do on his own, but he's hopeful of seeing significant changes on the board and in the community.
"I'm still only one voice on a three-person commission, but I can always bring ideas," he said. "If we get a cohesive commission that has conservative ideas and is on the same agenda, the three of us can come up with a plan to make things better. Right now, it's dysfunctional in my opinion ... It all comes down to figuring out a way to communicate and collaborate. There's no magic button and I don't have a magic button."