The Union Recorder

October 4, 2013

City candidates attend Patriots forum

Kyle Collins
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — The Milledgeville Area Patriots held a “Candidate Forum” for the upcoming Nov. 5 city elections at Victory Baptist Church Thursday night.

All city candidates present spoke about their plans and visions for Milledgeville. 

• District 2 Ross Sheppard (Challenger):

Sheppard highlighted three major campaign points including shaking our dependence on a state based economy, making city ordinances and regulations more business friendly and utilizing thousands of college students living within the city.

“I think City Hall should be the biggest resource for someone that wants to start a business and invest in the community,” Sheppard said. “Currently with anything I've tried to do, I've found it to be a pretty large obstacle.”

Sheppard is a big proponent of historic preservation and keeping young people engaged.

“I've always been a part of this community and want to remain a part of it. In order to do that I think things need to change or I and everyone else my age is going to be forced to go off somewhere,” Sheppard said. 

• District 2 Jeanette Walden (Incumbent):

The 16-year Council veteran highlighted a long Milledgeville history in District 2. 

“I will and I have served with commitment, honesty and hard work for my constituents and my community,” she said. 

Walden got involved with city employee risk management and pension committees throughout her tenure. 

The District 2 incumbent said the city operated in good financial condition with a steady millage rate.

“We've even been able to give employee raises,” Walden said.

She serves as an ex-officio member of the Central State Hospital Local Redevelopment Authority board funded in full by the city.

Walden said the Milledgeville-Baldwin County Communiversity at the Shaw Building and Central State redevelopment give the city a chance to grow an industrial base for the future of the entire community.

• District 3 Phillip Smith (Challenger):

Smith's main concerns lie in animal control and public works and maintenance.

“Animal control provided by a service delivery agreement under the county is inadequate in many respects. A coordinated effort between the city and the county to move forward with this is within best interest. My advice to Council is to take the lead on this issue and insure that our residents have reasonable access to not only cat and dog services but others as well,” Smith said.

Smith said a SeeClickFix app is a free service for residents to report to public works. Citizens can take a GPS tagged photo then sent to the city.

“They feel like there are drainage issues and potholes that when they contact government they don't believe government works for them,” he said.

The District 3 challenger said community gardens could boost blighted areas.

“I look forward to working with each of the candidates whether they are elected or not,” Smith said.

• District 4 Walter Reynolds (Unopposed):

Reynolds highlighted community service through the Oconee River Greenway Authority and the Young Professionals of Milledgeville.

The Keep Milledgeville-Baldwin County Beautiful program has a new board through the Young Professionals working on beautification projects and litter control.

“Once of the best ways to invite industry interest is to put our best foot forward and put on our best face,” Reynolds said.

The District 4 unopposed candidate wants to make Milledgeville “truly camera ready.”

“I'm fully committed to creating a website directory of all community properties available and of interest to the film community with all the pertinent information they need to feel welcomed and invited to do business here,” he said.

Reynolds praised the Shaw Buildings future as a business incubator and communiversity providing a springboard to CSH campus.

• District 5 Pam Beer (Challenger):

“If citizens are really going to have a voice and get the services they need, we must make sure our elected officials and employees don't pander to any special interest,” Beer said. “In order to pay for the services our citizens need we have to make sure we do everything we can do to not only attract new businesses and industries but also support our existing business.”

Beer said small business keeps the community going. 

She described actions by city and county elected officials and upper level personal over the last few years as “dysfunctional.”

“Whether we continue as separate city and county governments or whether the people vote to consolidate, our elected officials need to put the citizens first, dump all their old baggage and work together for the people,” Beer said.

The District 5 hopeful is willing to take “unpopular stances” for what she believes in.

• District 6 Andrew Strickland (Challenger):

The challenger works as a paramedic in Newton County. 

“This is an extension of my public service,” Strickland said.

He described reforming a supply chain budget through his medical duty.

Strickland said the budget went from $20,000 over to $20,000 under budget in one year.

“I've heard a lot about we don't have money. I've also heard some say we do,” Strickland said. “It's a big mystery how much the city has.”

Instead of using the city sewer and water fund as a budget balancer, he suggested better use of dollars allowing those water funds to do business reform and residence business plans.

Strickland said businesses are burdened by city regulations.

“Government is unable to bend in the wind on regulatory reform. There really has been no corrective action taken. This is something I'm passionate about,” he said.

• District 6 Steve Chambers (Incumbent):

Chambers boasts 13 years of Council experience dating back to 1988.

He was on the first advisory board for Milledgeville Main Street among other interests.

Chambers wants the community to keep up the enthusiasm and hard work.

“One thing I'd like to see that's a take off from what we have started as far as the City Council and County Commissioners in our joint meetings is to focus on not only these two entities but the Board of Education. Get these groups together and get the community involved,” Chambers said. “Stay the course. There is so much to be done. We have a comprehensive plan it just needs dusting off.”

• Mayor Richard Bentley (Incumbent):

The Council-Manager form of government has been the norm of Bentley's two-term tenure.

The current Milledgeville Mayor said the city is fiscally stable compared to counterparts.

“Our budget is balanced. We have a reserve for the first time in our history, and we did all of this without raising taxes,” Bentley said. 

The industry and state facility closures, happening in an 18-month period, sucked thousands of jobs away.

“We lost the quicker than we could put them back, but we do no wallow in self pity,” he said Thursday.

Central State Hospital redevelopment efforts could turn the tide taking vacant buildings and putting them back on the tax rolls, according to Bentley.

“What we need to be is creative, innovative and progressive,” the mayor said. “Help me finish the drill.” 

• Mayor Johnny Grant (Challenger):

John W. Grant Jr., of J.C. Grant Company Jewelers., is a former City Councilman and mayor.

Grant said jobs is the main issue. The economic development team is the “best in my lifetime,” according to Grant. 

“Back off and let them do their job,” Grant said. “Don't try to micromanage them like (city) have so many times in the past.”

Grant worked with four different mayors and wanted to give politics a chance one more time to help the citizens of Milledgeville.

“We are fortunate to have good colleges here. The only thing lacking is jobs,” Grant said. 

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