MILLEDGEVILLE — Georgia College held a forum for Milledgeville City Council and mayoral candidates Tuesday in the Magnolia Ballroom.
The Student Government Association, Young Democrats, College Republicans, Delta Sigma Theta, Pi Sigma Alpha, American Democracy Project and the Department of Government and Sociology organized the community event.
Candidates in contested District 3, District 5 and District 6, as well as both hopeful mayors, responded to district-specific student panel and audience questions.
District 5 challenger Pam Beer was absent Tuesday.
• Denese R. Shinholster (District 3 incumbent)
Shinholster said the city embraces its educational institutions.
“You assist our local citizens in keeping the city vibrant. We want the kind of jobs that encourage you to stay here and affordable housing communities that will entice you to stay even longer and raise a family,” she said.
The current councilwomen said five years from now the city will work more closely with Georgia College, Georgia Military College and Central Georgia Technical College.
“We are going to have to develop some type of partnership because as the colleges grow they are encircling the city. That brings about new services and issues we'd have to work on together. I see us working together to bring jobs, programs and opportunities so all of the students feel like they are a part of the community,” Shinholster said.
Improving or installing sidewalks for better general student and handicap accessibility is difficult and expensive, but Shinholster said the city would look into a current Columbia Street issue mentioned by a student.
“I've listened to the people, heard what they've talked about and do plan to address those issues both now and in the future,” the councilwoman said.
• Phillip Smith (District 3 challenger)
Smith told the crowd he sees a lack in government.
“Many will agree on a national, state and local level that people in the community don't feel as though they are represented. When I go out into my district and meet average people, they don't feel like their government works for them,” Smith said.
In response to a working relationship between the three colleges and the city, Smith suggests a micro loan program for upstart businesses paid for by funds no longer committed to the Central State Hospital Redevelopment Authority after its third year.
“I'd like to see aspiring people that want to be in business have the opportunity within a small group and have a few thousand to try and make a business work,” Smith said. “We have to look at new an innovative things to do.”
The challenger said the Shaw Building Communiversity is a great way to foster economic development as well.
Smith said using a free Smartphone app called 'SeeClickFix' would allow city residents to quickly report public work type problem areas.
“How we take in these requests for services is an important part of it,” he said.
If elected, Smith wants to make buildings and grounds more efficient for continued financial stability.
“I'd like to see a five percent decrease across the board in what we spend,” Smith said Tuesday.
• Richard “Boo” Mullins (District 5 incumbent)
The District 5 incumbent was born and raised in the community. Mullins has called the district home for 55 years.
“Everyone there knows me and the job I've done,” he said. “I'm going to try and continue to do the same thing.”
Responding to downtown development challenges, Mullins cited parking as a key issue.
“We've got to find some way to provide parking for our students and citizens downtown,” he said. “The college and the city have to work together to come up with a solution and bring funds to the table to save these problems.”
When asked about developing ways to help special needs and handicapped individuals in society, Mullins suggested programming funnels from federal and state levels.
“We don't have particular programming that I know of to assist programs coming from the state to handle situations like that,” Mullins said.
Finding jobs for young professionals fresh out of college is vital.
“I want to have a community where you could stay for the rest of your life,” Mullins said.
• Daniel McDonald (District 5 challenger)
McDonald sees visions of Milledgeville's greatness and is determined to turn it into a reality.
“I like to dream big and think that we need to, especially when we are coming out of the valley of where we are now. If we aren't on our tip toes reaching for something better, then maybe we are just not trying hard enough,” he said.
Chances for increased downtown development success exist with projects such as The Baldwin Lofts, according to McDonald.
“I think we might explore putting more residential [areas] downtown. Downtown areas thrive when people are there morning, afternoon and night,” he said. “There are many opportunities to make downtown more vibrant and address residential issues surrounding that area.”
McDonald wonders about the future of mental health.
“Many people aren't finding those open doors to the system. That's becoming a larger issue. It's important for all of us to start pushing this issue back up to the state and federal level because these are our brothers and sisters out there,” McDonald said.
The District 5 challenger said constituents echo the “we need jobs” mantra. Working with the Baldwin County Board of Education, students and families will show a trickle down effect.
“For me, I want to use my efforts to improve education in this community. I believe that leadership can impact any sphere it wants as long as it takes the time to put leadership in that direction,” McDonald said. “No one will start a business in our community if they don't believe in our schools.”
• Steve Chambers (District 6 incumbent)
The incumbent has worked in the dry cleaning business for 35 years and applies those principles to public service.
“I think that's what makes me effective in being able to serve this community, in being able to listen, engage the community and being able to lead,” Chambers said.
The incumbent said Milledgeville has taken steps toward environmentally-friendly concepts.
Chambers listed the Oconee River Greenway and a Bicycle Friendly Community push. Students and citizens choosing a bike to get downtown could erase parking problems.
“I think that's another way to cut down on the congestion that we have as far as cars are concerned,” he said. “Let's have people park a few blocks away and actually walk.”
Chambers said plans for a bike lane from the Greene Street entrance to the greenway and Central City Park are developing.
Also, the current councilman said illuminated pedestrian crosswalks could make traversing downtown safer.
• Andrew Strickland (District 6 challenger)
The District 6 challenger entered the race because he “thinks we can do better.”
“I think most of the people who sit on City Council have been there for many years, and what we lack is a plan,” Strickland said. “I think we need to more strongly embrace the college population here. I think we need to reform business regulations and code so that businesses can open without the burden of the blessing of government.”
Strickland said better practices could balance the budget without taking from the water and sewer fund, resulting in an extra $12 million in savings over four years.
“That's the kind of vision we need, and that's the plan I'm going to work on,” he said.
Strickland said his top objective is fixing infrastructure problems like poor road and sidewalk conditions.
• Mayor Richard Bentley (incumbent)
The current mayor said Milledgeville is well managed with a reserve for the first time.
“We do much better than some of our peer cities,” Bentley said. “We'll continue to make opportunities for young professionals but also take care of those existing industries we have.”
Bentley said the government unification is worth a look to alter any service duplication.
“Ultimately, the community is going to vote on this, and we'll work very hard to come up with a document we can place before the citizens, we can vote on and would be beneficial to the community,” the mayor said.
Five years down the road, Bentley sees a progressive and innovative community for others to emulate.
Bentley calls himself a public servant, not a politician.
“I serve the public because I care about this community. That's my only motivation in holding office,” the mayor said. “There is no better thing to do than serve others. I hope I'm able to continue to serve you.”
• Mayor John Grant Jr. (challenger)
Grant said his past council and mayoral experience show he knows how to get the job done.
“We are always working to better Milledgeville whether it's the businesses or whatever it takes. I offer my services. If you don't want them, you have another person to vote for,” Grant said.
The former mayor said government consolidation means nothing if the current city and county don't work together.
“The bickering by individuals that keep people from getting things done is what prompted me to get in this race,” the former city official said.
Grant said letting the local economic developers work freely would help the city's future.
In five years, Grant said getting vacant state property under local control could help bring more jobs.
Early voting continues through today at the Baldwin County Courthouse. Polls open on Election Day at 7 a.m.
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