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Mayoral candidates address illegals
Sampie Smith
Sampie Smith
Having already discussed the issues of gangs, development and the stormwater-usage fee at previous debates, Hinesville’s four mayoral candidates entered the new areas of emergency preparedness, illegal immigration and the brighter side of working with local young people during last week’s political forum.
The recent occurrence of natural disasters and the ever-present threat of terrorism have transformed the roles of mayors across the country from that of waiting on state and federal assistance to being the first line of defense and support for residents.
And with Hinesville’s proximity to the coast and worries about evacuation procedures because of past problems, there has been concern among some residents the city may not be prepared for a major hurricane disaster.
Mayoral hopeful James “Jim” Thomas said he believes the city is ready for such an event, but regular testing is the key to maintaining preparation.
“If I were elected mayor, I would run (drills) in accordance to the Georgia Emergency Management Agency and I think they run (drills) once a year,” he said. “And I think sometimes, the city itself needs further preparedness tests.”
Opponent Sampie Smith agreed Hinesville is prepared for emergencies, but said he was not sold on the need for more drills.
“We will follow the rules set by GEMA and if it’s necessary, we will have more drills,” Smith said, “but I’m not convinced that we need to have them more often.”
But candidate Billy Kitchings’ disagreed with both Thomas and Smith, noting the unpredictability of most natural disasters.
“I would hope that we are prepared, but looking around the country, I’m not sure we can prepare for something like that,” he said.
Kitchings also differed with his competitors on the issue of how to handle illegal immigrants in the area.
With immigration reform legislation currently stalled in Congress, a few cities throughout the nation have used their authority to create city ordinances targeting illegal immigrants, a move three mayoral candidates said is not required for Hinesville.
“It’s not for us to say here in the city of Hinesville about immigration,” Smith said. “That’s a question that’s handled by the national government and by the state government.”
Thomas concurred immigration matters are the job of federal and state government, while candidate Robert “Bob” Pirkle said the melting pot of America “welcomes all good people no matter who or where they come from.”
But Kitchings argued “illegal is illegal” and where the federal government fails, local entities can pick up the slack.
“The federal level is where it has to be enforced, but the local level can do a lot of good by helping the federal,” Kitchings said.
On the issue of whether illegal immigrants were the cause of the current strain on local healthcare and other social services, Thomas said that was not the case.
“In our healthcare system, once a person presents themselves at a hospital, we must treat them. It doesn’t matter who they are or where they come from, whether legal or illegal, we must treat them,” the hospital authority board member said. “But I don’t think that illegal immigrants are a problem with our healthcare system. Our healthcare system is weak because we haven’t supported it for such a long time.”
Illegal immigrants’ visits to Liberty Regional Medical Center may not be the cause of the hospital’s dwindling resources, but those visits would be the right time to turn illegals over to authorities, according to Kitchings.
“We cannot turn them away from the hospital, but we can treat them and try to take them back home,” he said. “The federal government won’t do it. We’ll have to do it.”
The one issue all four candidates agreed on was the need to support other alternatives for Hinesville youth, including an arts program and a city-sponsored internship initiative.
“I think we need for our children to be involved in the arts ... some kids are not athletically inclined,” Thomas said about adding an option other than sports-related recreational activities. “It’s a community’s responsibility to provide venues so those children can participate.”
Based on his experience working with interns in his law firm, Pirkle said allowing young people to have hands-on experience in the workforce is a win-win for all involved.
“Not only is it good for the kids,” he said, “it’s good for everybody else to have young people with them to get fresh ideas.”
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