The March 19 special election for the District 5 council seat draws steadily nearer, and last week, candidates interested in running declared their candidacy with the city. Early voting for the election begins next Monday, Feb. 25 at 8 a.m.
The qualifying period is a two and a half day period where candidates must meet with the Hinesville City Clerk to pay dues, sign paperwork, and officially declare their candidacy, according to City Manager Ken Howard.
Potential candidates visited City Hall between 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Feb. 13 and 14, and 8:30 a.m.-noon, Feb. 15.
The official list of candidates who qualified for the election include: Michelle D. Harris; Betty M. Phelps; Karl A. Riles; James R. Ryon, Jr.; Andrew L. Smith, Sr.; and Hannah Williams-Donegan.
Whoever wins the District 5 council seat will hold the position for about eight months, before the general election in November 2019. At that point, all council seats will be up for election, and all candidates will be required to campaign again.
“A term is four years [for councilmembers], and a mayor can only serve two terms, or eight years,” Hinesville City Clerk Sarah Lumpkin said. “A mayor must miss a term, and then the candidate is eligible to run again for another term or terms.”
Candidate Andrew L. Smith, Sr., has lived in Hinesville for 21 years and graduated from high school in Ludowici, Ga. He pursued trade school, and has been a painter and carpenter ever since, he said. After work at military installations and the private sector across Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, Smith evolved into a general contractor. As a self-employed business owner for 35 years, Smith also serves as the Chairman of the Deacon Board at his church and he serves on the Board of Directors for Kirk Healing Center, he said. Smith supports the Manna House and the Re-Entry Program through the KHC. Smith’s first priority, however, is being the head of his home, he continued.
“Utilize the three L’s: look, listen and learn, and then you can apply,” Smith said. “I have a pretty good feel for what it takes to deal with the public sector, private sector, and governmental aspects.”
If elected to the position, Smith plans to work collectively to work and help to move Hinesville forward as it continues to develop, he said.
“Through transparency, accountability, and equal government for everyone, and the experiences I have had, have brought me to a place and a point to take on this position,” Smith said.
Smith plans to run in the general election this fall if he is elected to the District 5 seat.
Another candidate, Michelle Harris, has been a resident of District 5 for 30 years. Harris is the founder and president of Classy Ladies Social Club, which she established 11 years ago, she said. The club works to purchase blankets and tents to distribute to the homeless. Harris also feeds the homeless in Hinesville every other Tuesday, she said.
Harris is currently employed by the Board of Education, and works at Button Gwinnett Elementary School. Her past jobs include: Honeywell Logisitics on Fort Stewart and an officer for the Bryan County Sheriff’s Department.
“I can tell you that I’m a citizen that has always been involved in the community,” Harris said. “I’m concerned about the kids and their wellbeing and education, the homeless and veterans, and the health and wellness programs available. I’ve always wanted to be a part of things of that nature—just want to be part of helping the workforce and development.”
Harris believes the change most needed in Hinesville is job and workforce development, she said. There needs to be more industrial and commercial development, and those serving need to do more for the homeless and veterans of the community, Harris continued.
“I let people know when I’m doing something,” Harris added. “I put it out there and let them know everything. I want everyone to know. I’m a community activist. I’m in it to win it.”
Betty Phelps is retired and disabled, but that hasn’t stopped her from being an activist for those who can’t speak for themselves. Since 1999, Phelps has volunteered at the animal shelter, at the rape crisis center, and tends to donate money around the holidays to help those in need, she said. She and her husband have rescued a combination of over 20 cats and dogs, finding them good homes, or taking them in herself.
“I know there is more than just myself in this town alone that is a true animal lover,” she added. “There are those people that will stop and help an animal. There are so many that care.”
This is the first time Phelps has stepped up to this kind of responsibility and leadership position before, she said.
“It’s time for a change in this town,” Phelps said. “I would try within my means and power to help make changes and work with the other community and council members to reach mutual agreements that would benefit the people of this town.”
Karl A. Riles was raised and educated in Liberty County Schools, and graduated from Bradwell Institute. He’s spent nearly 44 years in the Hinesville area, he said. He attended the University of Georgia and Armstrong Atlantic University.
Currently, Riles operates an income tax preparation and filing business, but he also served as sales manager for a former car dealership, he said. Riles volunteers and participates in his community, but has never had any governmental leadership roles before.
“I believe in accountability for all board members,” Riles said. “I believe that we need to make sure that the board is more fiscally responsible, more careful with our tax dollars, and that we need to support common sense policy making and common sense policy enforcement.”
Riles believes that his experiences in the community make him a perfect candidate to lead and direct the City of Hinesville going forward, he said. If elected, Riles plans to run for re-election in the fall.
At the time of publication, the Courier could not reach candidates Ryon or Donegan for comment.