Residents from across Hinesville packed into the Brewton-Parker College auditorium for the city-wide political forum hosted by the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday night.
Eleven of the 16 candidates vying for the mayoral and five council seats showed up for the event to discuss their individual platforms and answer questions submitted by residents in attendance and members of the Chamber of Commerce.
The following is a breakdown of each district and the mayoral debates from the forum.
With his challenger Robert Robbins not in attendance, first district incumbent councilman Charles Frasier had the floor to himself as he outlined his platform for continued “smart growth and development,” that includes more parks and recreational activities for the city’s youth.
Working with the Downtown Development Authority to create a suitable and sustainable downtown core for Hinesville is also at the top of his list of things to do to move the city forward economically, he said.
“As the downtown part of the city goes,” Frasier said, “so goes the city.”
On the issue of the controversial stormwater usage fee, the incumbent said he is aware of the displeasure among some residents, but the charge is necessary to fund city projects and lower taxes.
“We have basically $14 million worth of projects already scheduled that without these funds, we simply won’t be able to do,” Frasier said. “The other thing is that you will see a rollback in your ad valorem taxes because of the new stormwater fund.”
He concluded by reminding the audience of his years of service as a member of the city council and his purpose as a community leader.
“One of the things I’ve always wanted to do was provide service ... I’m here to provide service,” Frasier said.
James R. (Bobby) Ryon, the only candidate running for his district’s seat, did attend the forum. Due to his lack of a competitor, however, he did not participate in answering questions during the forum.
In the race for Hinesville’s third district, two of the three candidates-incumbent David Anderson Sr. and challenger Bonita Smith-focused on the need to provide better opportunities for the youth of Hinesville.
Anderson said he supports creating more recreational areas for teenagers, while Smith said the key is stunting the growing gang activity.
“I know where there are gangs, there are drugs. And where there are drugs and gangs there’s crime,” Smith, a certified gang instructor and Youth Challenge Academy employee, said. “I would like to see gangs eliminated and we can do that. It’s possible.”
But noting his completed coursework and councilmember training through the University of Georgia and Smith’s status as a newcomer to politics, Anderson said his opponent lacks the know-how to get the job done.
“There is nothing better than experience, experience, experience, experience,” he said.
Smith, however, countered that her background as a counselor, minister and motivational speaker made her more than qualified to listen to and be a voice for her constituents.
“If you elect me, I work for you. If I work for you, I’m available,” she said. “If I’m available to you, you can depend on me.”
Third candidate Yong H. Lee did not attend the forum.
Incumbent councilman Jack Shuman, like Frasier, was the only candidate from his district to attend the forum and used his time to discuss Hinesville’s wastewater treatment plant.
“We are presently in the process of building a wastewater plant at no cost to the citizens of Hinesville. This will not raise taxes. This is being done through other means,” he said, adding the city is being proactive on the issue.
Also, Shuman said he supports the long-term process of redeveloping the downtown area because “it’s something that needs to be done to make the city more pleasant.”
The councilman added he was dedicated to instituting district-wide meetings after not having them in past, if re-elected.
“I’m your voice in our government, but I need the input from everybody,” he said, “to make sure our government works the way it should.”
District four challengers Keith Jenkins and Eric A. Thomas did not attend the forum.
The question of whether Hinesville should allow Sunday alcohol sales was saved for the candidates in the city’s last district and incumbent Kenneth Shaw and opponent Angela Wilson had vastly different opinions.
“If you say no, the people who sell alcohol have a problem. If you say yes, the people who are trying to get people to stop drinking so much will have a problem,” Wilson said. “But I think collectively as a city council, there are Blue Laws in place already and if it not affecting anyone’s ability to earn a living, why change it?”
“I have been approached by a lot of people saying that we need more restaurants. In order for restaurants and business to come here, you have to sell alcohol,” Shaw rebutted. “So, I don’t see a problem with alcohol on Sunday.”
But on the topic of stimulating the city’s economy, the challenger said not those currently in office are not doing enough to bring in business.
“I think that our elected officials need to be ambassadors for the city of Hinesville. When they’re out at conferences, there are all kinds of businessmen there looking for places to relocate,” Wilson said. “I think we have to go out there and solicit that and we can do that as elected officials and let people know that Hinesville is a growing population.”
Shaw agreed that more businesses and better paying jobs were needed in the city, but did not provide details on how he would work to make this possible.
District five third candidate Peter L. Jones did not participate in the forum.
“Now, we’re getting to the main event,” moderator Derek Sills said as the four mayoral candidates approach their seats at center stage for what many audience members called the most heated debate of the night.
The political jabs between the mayoral hopefuls, however, began when candidate Sampie Smith provided forum goers with copies of the campaign disclosure forms of his opponents, Robert “Bob” Pirkle and James “Jim” Thomas.
Things picked up when the candidates were asked how they would go about lowering property taxes.
“I’m not sure that we’re getting all the revenue that we can when people have owed more than $98,000 since February and they can host a fundraiser for one of the candidates for mayor,” Sampie said, without identifying exactly which challenger he was talking about. “Maybe if we could get those folks to pay the money they owe in a timely fashion, we wouldn’t have to have such a high millage rate.”
Fourth candidate, Billy Kitchings, agreed those owing the city money should be held responsible and said there needs to be more accountability in such cases.
“You have to make the city workers, the city council and the mayor do their job,” he said. “If taxes aren’t collected on time, people have to...pay up.”
The issue of gangs was again a topic of discussion during the mayoral portion of the forum, when candidates were asked what type of gang rehabilitation program they would support or create.
Pirkle reiterated his three-part plan that includes imprisoning the top two tiers of gang leadership, while providing alternative activities for youth between the ages of 12 and 18, who are most susceptible to becoming lower tier gang members.
“If they got something else to do that’s productive and good, they’ll do it,” he said. “I would have the churches involved and it’s going to be an intramural-type program with athletics and interests in that area.”
Downtown redevelopment was another issue introduced again during the mayoral debate and while three of the competitors questioned the process of revitalizing downtown, Thomas said it should be a priority for the city.
“If Hinesville is going to grow we need a viable, vibrant downtown...to me that’s the beauty of the city. We don’t want to lose that historic part of Hinesville,” he said. “We can build all new, but we need to retain that downtown development.”
Click here to see a video from the forum. A video featuring the mayoral candidates will be posted soon.