Editor's note: This article has been revised to reflect the following correction, which will appear in Sunday's print edition. Genese Lane was one of the moderators at the Liberty County Joint Political Forum on Monday evening. Two front-page articles Wednesday gave her name incorrectly. The Coastal Courier regrets the error.
City council and mayoral candidates for Riceboro and Walthourville elections were scarce at Monday evening’s Liberty County Joint Political Forum.
Walthourville City Council candidate Sarah Hayes, Riceboro City Council candidate Louise Brown, Riceboro mayoral candidates Joe Harris and Gregory Richardson, and Walthourville Mayor Daisy Pray were the only candidates outside of Hinesville present during the event at the Liberty County Performing Arts Center.
Moderator Genese Lane read messages from candidates who declined the invitation to participate in the forum.
Riceboro Mayor Bill Austin wrote, “I and most of the council will not be attending the forum. We have elected to speak to our constituents on a more-personal level in the coming weeks.”
Harris said that the biggest issue that’s not getting enough attention in Riceboro is a lack of businesses, but more importantly, residents impacting the city’s decision-making.
“We really need to invest in our citizens. Look how many citizens are here from Riceboro. I’m very happy to that they came out tonight, even though our council did not come,” he said. “We want to make an impact and represent our city well. So wherever we go, we need to represent them well. So if they came here tonight, they would want us to be here.”
Hayes, who is seeking re-election to Walthourville City Council’s Post 3 seat, was that city’s only council candidate present. She said that when she heard about the forum, she was excited to tell people about herself. Hayes has been a resident of Walthourville since
1991 when she was stationed at Fort Stewart. She fell in love with the city and built a home in Walthourville for when she retired.
Hayes said she had no intention of going into politics but saw a need for people to come together in the community. She felt that there wasn’t enough involvement by residents and started to attend City Council meetings.
Hayes is in her first term as a council member and said that she has helped improve the city’s fire department, which she oversees. The city has gone through two fire chiefs, and she said the current one is educated and driven by excellence. The fire department has done a “360,” she said. When people weren’t getting along in the fire department, Hayes and others put on a dinner to bring everyone together. Since then, she said, relations have been better among fire-department members.
She also mentioned teaching computer classes to seniors in the community.
“I look forward to sticking with it,” Hayes said. “I see a lot of growth and a lot of growth potential.”
Pray said she is happy to be Walthourville’s mayor and plans to keep the city moving at all times. Pray was asked if she supports the Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax.
“Yes, I do, but I have unanswered questions about it,” she said. “I can’t say I support it 100 percent. Right now, it’s 95 percent. My concern is with the money being divided among all the cities equally.”
Pray said the biggest concern facing Walthourville is transportation along dirt roads and the need for more businesses in the city. When asked what distinguishes her from her challenger, Carrie Anderson, Pray said it was her availability to city residents. Pray said she has an open-door policy and is willing to hear any citizen’s concern.
Riceboro City Council candidate Louise Brown, who described herself as a lifelong resident of the city, said that she had developed a love and a passion for law enforcement — which she considers a part of politics — through working with various law-enforcement departments.
“About 15 years ago, I’ve had the desire to be a part of the City Council of my community, and so I believe at this time, God has prepared me for what I need to stand up, speak up and be a new voice for my community,” Brown said. “To go out and add to what has already been established and add something new to Riceboro that may not exist at this time.”
Riceboro mayoral candidate Harris said he would foster a sense of belonging in the community.
“We need to be united as citizens of Liberty,” he said. “We are all one. So we work together for the common goal. We should promote our vibrant cultures. Although we are one, we are all different and we need to capitalize on our differences by visiting different cities. Then we should work together to coordinate service for Liberty projects. Then, assure ability and compliance of county elected officials.”
Richardson said he would do his “level best” to be a part of the things for the future.
“When we have businesses want to locate in our county, we would direct them to the towns, to the cities that does not have one of ‘those,’” he said. “I would like for us to unite as a county and say Riceboro does not have one of those, or Walthourville — likewise a grocery store. Just direct those businesses to the city that does not have one of those.”
Both candidates agreed that the most-pressing issue in Riceboro is having more businesses. Harris said he would collaborate with the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce and other cities to get a store in Riceboro. Richardson said it’s vital for employees who work in Riceboro to spend their money in the city instead of in other counties.