MayoralExtraClipsClips of candidates Bob Pirkle, Jim Thomas and Sampie Smith answering questions about alcohol sales, the old hospital, convenient meeting times and creating a convention center.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of two articles detailing the first Hinesville mayoral race forum. Read Wednesday’s edition of the Courier to find out what happened when candidates answered questions during the forum’s second half.
The 2007 municipal election season got started Friday night as the Liberty County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People hosted the first Hinesville mayoral forum.
The Brewton-Parker College auditorium was nearly filled to capacity with residents heard candidates Bob Pirkle, Jim Thomas and Sampie Smith as they debated over healthcare, stormwater, gangs and industry during the first half of the forum.
Fourth candidate Billy Kitchings was reportedly invited to the event, but opted not to attend.
With a steadily growing population and concerns about the availability of quality healthcare locally, each candidate’s plans for developing and providing sufficient health services was one of the top questions.
Pirkle said the key to improving healthcare would be bringing in more physicians.
“I think we’ve got to become a city in which doctors want to come,” Pirkle said. “You get a good community in which doctors want to come here, then that will occur.”
Part of that process, he added, includes making the city more “user friendly” by creating “a better tax base...so that doctors want to come to our community.”
Thomas, a member of the Liberty County Hospital Authority, said the board has recruited physicians and other healthcare workers to the city by selling the positives of the community, as well as looking to higher levels of government for help to expand services.
“We have a forum set up for our elected officials, state and national level, to see what we can bring into the city as far as medical care concerns,” he said. “We are a growing community...we’ve got to provide those medical facilities that are needed. The only thing is to talk to our elected leaders at the state and national level and see if we can get additional funds.”
Smith questioned the authority’s tenacity in recruiting employees.
“You’ve got to have an aggressive authority, an authority that makes sure (the hospital director) is on top of getting in good personnel,” he said, adding the board should also be more responsive to the wishes of the people.
The former county commissioner also questioned a new stormwater user fee implemented by the city as part of a federal Clean Water Act condition, requiring communities such as Hinesville to decrease the amount of pollutants in runoff.
Many residents have grumbled the user fee is another tax. And Smith agrees, saying he was not sure if Hinesville had grown to the size of other communities in Georgia that charge for stormwater.
“It’s intriguing to look at the list of the municipalities in this state that have this fee. You know where they are?” he asked the crowd. “They’re in the Atlanta doughnut.”
On the topic of increasing gang involvement among Hinesville’s young people, Pirkle unveiled a three-part plan for handling gangs, which includes imprisoning the top two tiers of gang leadership and providing alternatives for lower tier members.
According to the attorney, lower tier members typically range from 12 to 18 and can be saved from the gang lifestyle, if given other opportunities from local churches and individuals willing to get involved in recreational activities.
Pirkle also used the opportunity to tout his plan to get more local businesses involved in bidding for contracts, as well as assisting in community building and offsetting the city’s tax base.
Thomas said his plan for increasing local trade and industry is seeking more diverse business opportunities with help from the chamber of commerce and the development authority and advertising the joint-use, civil-military Wright Army Airfield.
Smith contended better businesses are not going to come to Hinesville until something is done about the city’s high taxes.
As the relatively calm first half came to a close all three candidates appeared ready for a second half that would include testy questions about water, transportation, policing and Hinesville’s dependence on Fort Stewart.