Challenger claims incumbent doesn’t represent all of Peach County

chwright@macon.comOctober 17, 2012 

  • Peach County Commission Post 5, at-large

    Melvin Walker
    Age: 65
    Party: Democrat
    Occupation: Fort Valley State University professor
    Political experience: Peach County Water and Sewer Authority chairman, 1997 to 2006; incumbent Peach County commissioner

    Michael Gilstrap
    Age: 65
    Party: Republican
    Occupation: Retired hospital administrator
    Political experience: Peach County Board of Education from 1990-99, chairman 1993-98

A former hospital manager has challenged incumbent Peach County Commission Chairman Melvin Walker for his Post 5 at-large seat.

Republican Michael Gilstrap, 65, will face Walker, also 65, Nov. 6.

Gilstrap said he would like to bring a more unified approach to the seat, while Walker, a Democrat, said he believes he has done just that.

Walker, a Fort Valley State University economics professor, was elected in 2008 and has served as commission chairman for the past year. The commissioners elect a new chairman each year.

“If you’re happy with what you saw for the last three years, vote for me,” Walker said of his pitch to voters.

Gilstrap, a retired chief operating officer for The Medical Center of Central Georgia, said he hasn’t liked what he’s seen.

“The only part of the county that has been represented is southwest Peach County,” Gilstrap said. “The incumbent should have run for the slot in southwest Peach.”

Gilstrap pointed to the southwest county sewer extension as an example of Walker’s leniency toward the area, claiming the funds from the special purpose local option sales tax were meant for a Byron wastewater plant.

“I’m not saying those people (in southwest Peach County) didn’t need sewer,” but the money was meant for Byron, Gilstrap said.

Walker said Byron decided on its own the plant wasn’t feasible, and the SPLOST money was reallocated for the city to connect to the Macon-Bibb County system.

Gilstrap also said Walker delayed the saving of the Peach Regional Medical Center, which recently struck a deal with The Medical Center of Central Georgia to build a new location at the Ga. 247 Connector and John E. Sullivan Road.

Walker refuted Gilstrap’s claim he dragged his feet on the hospital issue.

He said the commission did vote down two requests from the Hospital Authority asking the county to co-sign for lending, and he would do it again if the situation were the same.

The county would have been responsible for “$2.8 million if the project had failed, and all of the information that I received said it was going to,” Walker said. “I was not going to co-sign a note where the taxpayers were going to have to foot the bill.”

Walker said the commission has contributed money to the current arrangement because the collaboration with the Medical Center makes the hospital viable.

As evidence of Walker’s failure to represent the entire county, Gilstrap also pointed to the absence of an early voting location in Byron until recently and $40,000 a commissioner spent on two years worth of travel expenditures that Walker and other commissioners weren’t aware of until it was brought to their attention.

“That’s not good leadership,” Gilstrap said, adding the latter wouldn’t have happened under his watch.

Walker said the Byron early voting wasn’t approved until a viable funding proposal was added.

As for the commissioner who spent $40,000 on travel, Walker said that commissioner didn’t spend outside of the budgeted amount.

“If that didn’t happen, we would have no way of knowing,” Walker said. “It only comes back to us if we have to do a budget amendment.”

In his time as commissioner, Walker said he has accomplished goals to unify the many governmental bodies and boards around the county and its cities. They have intergovernmental meetings every quarter.

He also said he has been fiscally responsible and would continue to be if re-elected. The fiscal 2013 budget is balanced, he said, with no tax increases.

“With the economy being the way it is, the primary thing is fiscal responsibility,” Walker said.

Gilstrap said he lives in Byron but has strong connections to Fort Valley through church and having been the Peach County Board of Education chairman for five years in the 1990s.

“I’ve demonstrated I can represent the county,” he said, adding the county needs to also “think regionally” when it comes to industrial development needed to grow the tax base.

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.

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