Warner Robins mayoral candidates agree on some issues, not others

Telegraph staffOctober 12, 2013 

Telegraph reporter Christina M. Wright chatted live with the Warner Robins mayoral candidates, including Mike Brashear, Chuck Chalk, Eva Folse, Daron Lee, Joe Musselwhite and Randy Toms.

MACON TELEGRAPH

WARNER ROBINS -- Come January, Warner Robins will again have a new mayor.

After the suicide of a sitting mayor four years ago, Mayor Chuck Shaheen was elected to lead the city. But he decided to not seek for another term, and instead is running for the Council Post 1 at-large seat.

Six candidates -- former Councilman Mike Brashear, Robins Air Fore Base employee Chuck Chalk, retired insurance agent Eva Folse, former public works director Joe Musselwhite, Councilman Daron Lee and retired firefighter Randy Toms -- have stepped up to carry the torch.

Here’s where they stand on the issues:

Role of mayor

The role of the mayor has become a hot topic in Warner Robins, with Shaheen proclaiming it part of the reason he is not seeking re-election. Shaheen has claimed councils over the years have stripped the mayor of the ability to make any decisions without a majority vote, even on daily operations tasks such as promotions and raises.

Toms said, as a city employee, he witnessed promotions that had gone through the proper internal process but languished as they awaited council approval. He said the mayor should have the ability to make employment decisions but would inform council of all of them.

“I don’t want a dictatorship,” Toms said. “I would feel weird about doing something without talking to the six council members who were elected just like I was elected.”

Most of the candidates indicated they didn’t think a form of government change was necessary to address Shaheen’s concerns.

Lee said he would operate “as a coach” of department directors, manage the budget and promote the city regionally.

Brashear said he would empower his department directors to make decisions without needing approval for every small task.

Musselwhite said he would have preferred that the council not have taken away the mayor’s ability to give raises, but he said he did not have a particular problem getting approval for raises from the council.

Chalk said he believes as the city grows it may need to look at getting a city administrator or a chief of staff to assist the mayor, but he believes the mayor should be the city manager.

Folse said she does not believe the public supports a city manager form of government and said the mayor should not “just be a figurehead.”

Public transit

Public transportation has been talked about for years and more in the past year, after the Macon Transit Authority offered to run a system for Warner Robins.

Only Lee said the city should accept the offer from MTA. Though a challenging sell to taxpayers, Lee said residents need to understand the system is an investment that the Department of Defense and corporations would welcome as alternative transportation for employees.

“It’s not just for those who are unemployed or who need transportation to get to the doctor and that kind of thing; that’s only a portion of it,” Lee said.

Brashear and Toms said they worry about a bus system because it’s known to be a money loser. They said they would explore the paratransit option, with vans transporting residents on a call-by-call basis, before going with a bus system.

Musselwhite and Chalk also support working with existing transportation services rather than funding a full-blown bus system. Folse said she believes the city is too spread out for a transit system to be economically feasible.

Public safety

Most of the candidates supported hiring more officers to reduce crime by beefing up police presence.

Brashear said he wants to implement an incentive program to help draw and keep new officers. He said whatever package is offered would also require the officers to stay for a certain number of years or have to pay the city back.

Toms said he knows public safety better than any of the other candidates or former mayors, and it’s time the leader of the city has that affinity.

Public safety departments have what they need in place, Lee said. The police department needs more officers, but has the vacancies to fill. And the fire department needs another station, but it’s underway. Diversity is needed, though, Lee said.

Musselwhite said he wants to fill the vacant police officer positions, and Chalk said he would add as many as 30 new officers.

Folse said too many youth end up in municipal court on shoplifting charges, and she said she wants to help young people get more involved in positive activities.

Recreation

A sports complex, for which a second location was selected this year, is high on all of the candidates’ priorities lists when it comes to recreation. But they also had additional ideas.

Musselwhite said he believes the new complex can be used to set up large tournaments that will bring visitors into the city to boost the economy. He also supports adding playgrounds to the west side of town and improving old parks.

Brashear said it’s time to bring parks to the west side, where most new development has happened over the past decade. And to prevent the same situation years from now, he proposes changes to planning and zoning regulations to require green space as part of any new development.

Folse said she wants to get more young people involved in recreation to keep them out of trouble.

Lee and Brashear said projects such as a discussed Corder Road project and Walker’s Pond need to be completed.

Lee and Toms said James Dodson, Recreation Department director, should be allowed to decide the direction of the parks system.

Toms added that sports opportunities and facilities need to go beyond the Little League baseball focus.

Transparency

All of the candidates agreed their government needs to be transparent.

Brashear wants to create a digital dashboard on the city’s website that includes the budget, calendars for all elected officials and department directors, agendas and current projects. It would be updated daily, even showing outcomes of votes and most current spending.

“That way, any citizen -- or councilman -- that wants to know what’s going on in the city on any given day will be able to gain access to that information,” Bra­shear said.

Musselwhite said “there will be no secrets” if he is elected.

Folse said if the city isn’t fully open with citizens, harmful misconceptions can develop.

Chalk said improving communication between the mayor, council and the public would be one of his top priorities.

Lee said he would improve communication to residents and allow public comments before votes are taken. Currently, public comments are at the very end of regular meetings, and infrequently allowed at pre-council meetings.

Toms said he can’t help but be transparent because he’s honest to a fault. He said he would even tell residents he doesn’t know the answer to a question if that were the case, and work to find one.

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725. To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.

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