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Round 2: Candidates spar over gangs
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Water, transportation, policing and dependence on Fort Stewart were not the only issues discussed during the second half of Friday's forum. Check out this clip of the candidates talking about the hiring of minorities in the Hinesville police and fire departments.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second and final article detailing the first Hinesville mayoral forum of the 2007 campaign season. If you missed what happened in the first half of the forum, you can read Sunday’s story at

The calm first half of Friday’s Hinesville mayoral forum gave way to a more controversial second half as candidates Bob Pirkle, Jim Thomas and Sampie Smith tackled the issues of water, transportation, policing and the city’s reliance on Fort Stewart.
Water availability and use has been a lingering concern for residents in Liberty County’s smaller municipalities, but the distress recently hit Hinesville’s citizens as commercial and residential construction in the city have continued to climb. Residents worry the city’s water system cannot sufficiently accommodate all users.
Pirkle, noting the anxiety over water nationwide, said the issue is not something any city can resolve on its own without the help of higher levels of government.
“I think it cannot just be local. It’s got to be a state-controlled situation so that we can make sure all municipalities have water and so that we don’t lose, like out west where they’ve had to stop developing due to water problems,” he said. “It would have to be a cooperation of the different government agencies in different counties and we would have to all work together.”
Thomas agreed and added governments and consumers alike have to “find better methods of conserving water, conserving our natural resources.”
The two opponents disagreed, however, on certain stipulations involved in Hinesville’s transportation system, which is set to begin providing service to Fort Stewart, downtown Hinesville, Liberty Regional Medical Center and Flemington on Highway 84 in 2008.
This first phase of the system would be funded with the help of federal funds and is scheduled to be up and running before troops redeploy next year, Thomas said.
“We’ve been working on this issue for the past three, maybe four, years and we’ve gotten very good support from our federal agencies and from state and local agencies,” the Hinesville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization member said, adding other municipalities will be added as funding becomes available.
Although in favor of the transit system, Pirkle said he was leery of a possible tax increase to fund the project.
“I want to make sure that we don’t raise our tax dollars to do this. I think it can be self-sustained and with government money from the feds or some other government agencies that will help us with it,” the attorney said. “I am not for it increasing our millage to allow for this.”
Smith has concerns about the costs of the system as well, but supports the initiative.
“We will probably lose money, Edwards) says that we will,” he said. “But to take care of those folks who have gone before us, our senior citizens...I am in favor of having a transportation system to meet the needs not just of the soldiers to come down what was Memorial Drive, but to have a good city system.”
The topic that sparked the largest disagreement between the three candidates, however, centered on Pirkle’s three-part plan for handling Hinesville’s growing gang problem, which he introduced during the forum’s first half.
The plan includes imprisoning the top two tiers of gang leadership, while providing more alternative activities through churches and recreation programs for youth between the ages of 12 and 18, who are most susceptible to becoming lower tier gang members.
Smith contends locking members in jail is not the answer and Pirkle’s plan does not go at the heart of why most young people join gangs in the first place.
“It’s not going to be cured until we cure the problem of illegitimacy,” he said, claiming many youth involved in gangs have a parental void in their life. “It is not something that can be dealt with overnight, of course, you’ve got to get the mores of society to reflect what is valued and what used to be valued.”
Pirkle’s plan took another hit when panelist and Liberty County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People President Liston Singletary questioned the attorney’s belief that top-tier leadership had no redeemable value.
“Is there not any redemptive value in the top tier as well?” he asked, adding he was speaking for the least in the city. “Convince me and the audience how the jail setting is going to help remedy this situation.”
“I think the audience liked what I said. You have the wrong least,” Pirkle quickly retorted. “The least are the 12- to 18-year-olds that’s being recruited to go to your house and steal...The man that’s 24-years-old that is organizing this thing that’s coming down out of Chicago needs to go to jail.”
For Thomas, the gang situation is an area where “good, fair, impartial community policing” would be most useful. Under his community policing plan, there would be more emphasis on dialogue between citizens and law enforcement that he believes would lessen crime in neighborhoods throughout the city.
But while the candidates disputed how to handle the gang problem, they ended the night in agreement on the economic impact of Fort Stewart.
Since the 3rd Infantry Division began its recent cycle of deployments at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, there has been apprehension over the city and its business community’s dependency on soldiers and their families to survive.
The candidates concurred there have been some bumps in the road, but agreed the impact of the base, with or without soldiers deploying, cannot be replaced.
“Fort Stewart, as far as Liberty County is concerned, is a major economic engine for now and will be in the future,” Thomas said. “There is no way that we can replace that $1.4 won’t happen.”

NOTE: Although all candidates were reportedly invited to attend Friday’s forum hosted by the Liberty County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, candidate Billy Kitchings said he did not receive an invitation and did not attend. 

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