Three candidates running for Riceboro’s mayor seat. Incumbent Mayor Bill Austin faces two challengers, Joe Harris and former mayor Gregory Richardson.
Austin, 72, has three children and nine grandchildren. He graduated from Tuskegee Institute with a Bachelor of Science in commercial industries and a master’s degree in business management from Rollins College. He has worked at General Electric, Lockheed Martin and SNF Chemtall Holding Company in the quality-control department. He is retired and became mayor in 2008.
Austin is running for a third term to see the completion of some city projects. He wants to finish the process of getting more clean water for the city, and have more housing and businesses.
Austin discussed some of his achievements as mayor.
“We completed sewer with our city … created a website and is the process of updating the site with minutes from meetings. We also upgraded Fire Department equipment, which reduced the ISO (Insurance Service Office) rating from 9 to six that helped homeowners insurance,” he said.
According to his 2015 campaign brochure, Austin’s administration accomplishments include: starting a summer youth program that provides summer employment and career education to youth, the city being awarded a $150,000 grant to develop the Historic Baptismal Trail, expansion of the annual RiceFest, and a $50,000 grant to create a master plan for the city.
Austin views the Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax as a valuable resource.
He believes there were issues with the tax because some projects were not what residents wanted. He suggested that officials involve the residents in deciding what projects to fund with SPLOST.
Austin said he wants people to know that, “You can make a change through hard work and remain focused.”
Harris, 29, has lived in Riceboro for seven years and was raised in the city as a teenager for four years. He traveled to Riceboro to visit his grandmother every summer. Harris currently works at SNF Chemtall Holding Company in the customer-service department. He graduated from Florida A&M University, where he studied psychology and pre-law. Harris plans to graduate next summer with a Master of Business Administration with a concentration in management from Savannah State University. He has worked with the city of Riceboro for three years as a grants administrator.
Harris said he is running for mayor because he is willing to help people in the community achieve goals.
“After working seven years in this community, I realize there are greater endeavors and desires my community have, and I believe I am the guy for the job,” Harris said. “I believe I am the individual who can work, communicate with constituents, with the community, with the companies and civic organizations so we can collaborate together and get the job done.”
Harris believes that service to the community is pivotal and important. He has done after-school tutoring; created a young-male enrichment program; chaired many committees, including the one that organizes the annual Rice-Fest; and organized free programming for youth.
If elected, Harris wants to provide transparency and accountability within the city, explore opportunities for growth and to preserve Riceboro’s small-town feel and quality of life.
Harris thinks that SPLOST is a good program when used correctly. He said Riceboro will look at opportunities to obtain SPLOST funds to enhance the community.
Harris said, “I believe by working together that we can achieve much more. I hear the concerns of the citizens, of the companies, of what they would like to see in the city.”
Richardson, 55, is a former mayor of Riceboro. He is married and has five children and three grandchildren. He was born in Brooklyn, New York, and has been a Riceboro resident for 49 years. Richardson is a graduate from Bradwell Institute. He worked at Interstate Paper for 37½ years. In March 2014, Richardson was diagnosed with colon cancer. He said that by the grace of God, he is a cancer survivor.
Richardson was mayor of Riceboro for two terms, from 2000 to 2008. He decided to not seek re-election in 2008 to spend more time with his youngest children. His children are older now, and Richardson wants to run again. If elected, Richardson said he would encourage more businesses to come to Riceboro. During his administration, there was a concern about the city reaching its water withdrawal limit.
“We were getting pretty close to our limit. I don’t know if that is still close to the maximum limit. … Maybe the current administration has that under control; that, I don’t know. But I want to get a handle on the city reaching its maximum peak of water withdrawal and reduce that,” he said.
Some accomplishments Richardson listed during his time as mayor included: providing water service to all of Riceboro, as well as the unincorporated areas; establishing an after-school program for computer training; generating funds to build the gym at the Riceboro Youth Center; and updating Fire Department equipment.
Richardson supports SPLOST and believes that residents should stay engaged with their community.
“I am for all the citizens. I will be consistent and stay within all the guidelines of the law. I want the youth to know that we want to establish things and have stuff for them,” Richardson said. “We can’t just go spending grant money and things, just for it to go dormant. You have to be a part to help make it happen.”