As in immigrant, Pakistani-born Hafeez Chaudhry believes being on the Columbia County Board of Commissioners would make a powerful statement to the throngs of new residents expected to move to the county.
“I would say Columbia County has done a terrific job of assimilating newcomers, and I’m a perfect example of that,” he says. “I feel that if I’m elected, those people would feel comfortable and know that Columbia County cares for them as it has cared for me.”
Chaudhry and Doug Duncan are both vying for the opportunity to replace Ron Thigpen as the commissioner for District 1.
Chaudhry, who moved to Martinez 25 years ago after spending time in Kansas City and Greenville, retired from the Savannah River Site and then became active in commercial real estate ventures. Though he’s been involved in different local organizations for years, including Leadership Augusta and various roles within the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce, he says now is the right time for him to move into elected office.
“I’m retired and have some time, and I’d like to serve the citizens and give a little back to the people who have helped me prosper here,” he says.
Because most of District 1 has already been developed, enjoying several high-end subdivisions, Chaudhry says he wants to protect the district’s quality of life and do everything he can to avoid raising property taxes.
“To fund the infrastructure needed to absorb the growth going on in other parts of the county, I see a tremendous pressure coming up for the county to raise property taxes,” he says. “I expect the citizens of District 1 to pay their fair share of the property taxes, but they should not be expected to fund growth in Grovetown or Harlem. I would not agree to fund other people’s growth by levying disproportional property taxes within District 1.”
Doug Duncan, a vice president at MAU, makes his role clear.
“I’m one who believes that what we have is not broken,” he says. “I’m one that believes in staying the course.”
Endorsed by outgoing commissioner Ron Thigpen, who Duncan supported in previous campaigns, Duncan has roots in the area that go back before the Civil War.
“My great, great grandparents lived on Broad Street and then moved from Broad Street ‘out to the country,’ which was essentially on Walton Way across from the college,” he says. “So it’s been a slow progression west, I guess.”
A Westside graduate, he is chairman of the Development Authority for Columbia County. He’s also served as vice-chairman on the Governor’s Office of Workforce Development and vice-chair of the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs Committee.
“When Ron Thigpen decided to step down, it seemed like the right time for me,” he says. “My concern is just that we protect the quality of life that we’re building in Columbia County, and frankly it was my time to serve.”
He agrees with Chaudhry that managing growth is the key to keeping the county on top.
“There’s a lot of great opportunity,” he says. “We’ve just got to make sure that we handle it properly and protect the rights of property owners and maintain the quality of life.”
He says he thinks the commission has done a fairly good job so far of managing that growth, though certainly not everything has gone smoothly.
“I tell people that if they expect perfect they’ll be sadly disappointed, but overall I think the current commission has done a really good job of managing a lot of tough situations,” he says.
Though Chaudhry doesn’t level any specific criticism at the sitting commission, he is definitely positioning himself as an outsider.
“I would say to the voters that they should consider me their candidate if they do not want the status quo,” he says. “I’m the candidate if they would like to say to the new citizens that Columbia County cares for you. They should vote for me if they appreciate a new opinion and a new direction.”