On the cusp of one of the biggest growth explosions imaginable, the city of Grovetown is anxious to put its best foot forward in every way possible. Yet two of the three candidates to qualify for the special election to fill the council seat held by the late Dale Stoddard are familiar for all the wrong reasons.
First is Renee McDowell. She is the wife of former councilman Sonny McDowell, who resigned in April 2013 after being convicted by a federal jury of two counts of bribery.
Sonny McDowell, who owned Southern Detention Technologies and later Grayco Detention Equipment, was accused of offering a kickback to an Alabama Department of Safety employee. Though he could have faced 10 years in prison, McDowell was sentenced to 60 months and 500 hours community service.
His wife now runs Georgia Detention Services.
Second, we have David W. Payne, the 43-year-old son of Harlem’s David Payne, a retired truck driver at SRS who failed three times to win the Columbia County District 4 commission seat currently held by Bill Morris.
Grovetown is in District 4.
The senior Payne made a name for himself with his unpolished campaign style and his deep hatred for Scott Dean, the former mayor of Harlem, who beat Payne in the 2008 special election when the District 4 seat was vacated by Lee Anderson, who resigned to run for the state House.
Payne senior and Dean met again in the 2010 elections, where Dean admitted to exchanging inappropriate text messages — a whole lot of them — with a female county employee. Dean won that race by 171 votes. Because the story broke just before Election Day, many feel that Dean would have lost the race if it weren’t for early voting.
Plagued by the sexting scandal but ultimately tripped up when a grand jury indicted him on two counts of child molestation, for which he’s currently serving a 20-year sentence, Dean resigned in February 2011, initiating another special election and another loss by Payne, who earned just 11 percent in that five-way race.
A wife is not her husband and a son is not his father, but voters aren’t always eager to make those kinds of distinctions, so we’ll have to see just how much these two candidates are dogged by the memories of their relatives.
This may be one time where the outsider really does have a chance, in which case keep an eye on 20-year Army vet Eric Blair. He’s only been here since 2003.