University of North Georgia graduate and candidate for mayor of Dahlonega Rajpal Sagoo hosted a meet and greet for locals at Shenanigans Irish Pub on Tuesday, April 18, for a chance to discuss policies and plans in the event of his election. Local elections won’t be held until Nov. 7, but Sagoo is already meeting with Dahlonega citizens to outline his campaign goals and to take questions and address concerns from locals.
Sagoo began by outlining what he believes the office of mayor should entail.
“One of the first things you’ll always hear is ‘the mayor doesn’t have any real power’ and that’s simply because he cannot vote,” Sagoo said. “The only time he votes is if there’s a tie between the council members.”
Sagoo disputed this, saying “however, I feel a little differently. The mayor is there to lead the conversations and act as a mentor and adviser and leader to guide the conversations to the benefit of the constituencies.”
Many of the issues brought forth by attendees, such as economic development and historical preservation, lined up with Sagoo’s plans and vision for the city, which include maintaining the historical relevance of the Square, the central hub of Dahlonega’s local businesses.
“It is often misconstrued that economic development means tearing down the Square and that’s simply not the case,” Sagoo said. “You can maintain historical integrity within the Square while still having new businesses come. We’re necessarily talking about new infrastructure on the Square but we’re talking about new businesses taking over some of these antique stores or vacancies that we have.”
With a background in investment management, Sagoo believes he can utilize his knowledge and experience to further economic growth in Dahlonega.
“[That business experience] works to my advantage because I know what [small businesses] are looking for. I collaborate with them daily, I have those resources,” said Sagoo.
To attract these businesses, Sagoo and UNG are hosting a startup challenge later this year in North Georgia with cash prizes for hopeful entrepreneurs.
One of the barriers to development that Sagoo brought up was some the strict ordinances that can prohibit growth in and around the Square. Sagoo acknowledged some of the restrictions can’t be remedied, but offered a recent example of a proposed coffee shop to express how frustrating these ordinances can become to entrepreneurs.
“We weren’t able to have that [coffee shop] because of parking. In reality, there’s not really any parking on the Square,” Sagoo said. “We need to find ways to bring in new businesses that are wanting to set up here and when we come up with all these barriers, when we have high fees, it really does prohibit those businesses from ever being able to start.”
As one solution, Sagoo recommended, “designating certain areas for certain types of businesses … so that we do have planned growth and we do have opportunities we can market.”
When asked why the youth of Dahlonega should get excited about Sagoo’s candidacy, he noted Dahlonega’s lack of a younger population and his plans to work on this.
“One of the things I’m trying to do is usher in a new generation to get involved with Dahlonega,” Sagoo said. “There needs to be someone to pass the torch the older generation has kept lit. Right now we do not have a young generation. A lot of that is because students don’t want to stick around because there’s not enough high-paying jobs. There’s not any housing for them unless they want to live in student housing and not any entertainment to keep them here.”
To accommodate the youth and college population of Dahlonega, Sagoo said he plans “to bring in those new businesses to be able to provide those jobs and look at mixed-use development, which will provide affordable housing for those young families.”
Sagoo went on to acknowledge that the job market for Dahlonega citizens often requires young people to travel to other cities.
“Too often the youth drive to Gainesville, Forsyth, Alpharetta or Roswell for internships when with a little effort and a little work we can try to get those here in Dahlonega,” he said.
Sagoo also wants to develop more of a nightlife on the Square.
“[Youths] live here. They should be able to enjoy their time here and they’re having to spend money and gas money elsewhere,” he said.
As mayor, Sagoo plans to push to create a time during the weekends where Dahlonega’s nightlife could begin developing.
“Some of the things I would look at are closing off the Square on the weekends for foot traffic only, where vendors get set up booths,” Sagoo said. “Almost like a mini-fair every weekend. Here you’d have open-container, you’d have businesses staying up late … you have live bands playing.”
Sagoo hopes this would create “an environment where everyone can coexist, everyone can collaborate and everyone can enjoy their time together.”
Sagoo encouraged UNG students to register to vote, even though they may only be in town for a limited amount of time.
“If anything I’ve said so far has related to the students, whether it be internships or the lack of entertainment and lack of opportunities, then it’s your responsibility to act now,” he said. “This is your home for the next two, three, four years, however long you may be here, it’s time to get involved and time to make your voice heard so that you can make this experience enjoyable for the time you are here.”
According to the Lumpkin County Elections Office, students who are in Dahlonega the majority of the year do have to change their registration address to their dorm in Dahlonega, but don’t have to change their Georgia driver’s license address to vote.
For more information or to register to vote in Dahlonega elections, contact Lumpkin County Voter Registration at (706) 864-6279.