Final debate held for Warner Robins mayoral candidates

chwright@macon.comNovember 21, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- The two mayoral candidates left in the race fielded questions for the final time at a Thursday evening debate, taking the total number of debates to an even 10.

The Robins Regional Chamber of Commerce held a debate between Joe Musselwhite, a retired public works director, and Randy Toms, a retired firefighter, at Central Georgia Technical College. The questions were more pointed than previous forums and provided the runoff candidates an opportunity to respond to each other.

Musselwhite and Toms were the top two vote-getters in the November general election, which included six mayoral candidates. The runoff is Dec. 3, and early voting begins Friday.

“I hope that I’ve been able to get my message out that I am the candidate with the most experience to operate this city,” Musselwhite said after the debate, adding his primary goal is to complete long-stagnant projects.

Toms said he, too, hoped residents received his message, one that says he is a team leader who can end bickering in City Council to clear the way for progress.

“People certainly had the opportunity to hear what I’m saying,” Toms said.

Though the candidates could respond to each other in Thursday’s debate, they mostly used that time to expand on something they had said or provide clarity on a point.

Still, moderator Sonya Jenkins, vice chairwoman of government affairs for the chamber, warned the candidates her team was ready with the sound of a referee whistle in case things got out of hand.

In response to a question about how to finally redevelop Commercial Circle after so many years, a flickering of tension could be seen in Musselwhite’s final rebuttal. The question began with Musselwhite.

He said plans for Commercial Circle have been ready, and his priority would be “to pull the trigger” and have crews working on the project his first day in office.

Toms said excitement needs to be developed around the plans for the area, and private parties are interested in helping with the project.

“Most of that area is owned by private individuals,” Musselwhite said in his final 30-second rebuttal, adding none want to help redevelop the area. That is part of the reason redevelopment has been slow, he said.

On a question about how to bring more small businesses to Warner Robins to create jobs, Musselwhite said he would push for tax abatements to give as incentives, and Toms said he would aim to encourage businesses to start where others already exist.

“That creates traffic flow,” Toms explained, adding he recently spoke to a local barber about the idea. “It gives people a place to be, and while there, maybe they’ll need a haircut.”

The two candidates fed on their backgrounds for several answers. Toms gave the most detailed response to a question about needing more police officers, and Musselwhite indicated in a couple responses that utilities are vital to the city’s growth potential.

The candidates both gave some of the strongest closing statements to date, concisely laying out their platforms and calling for voters to cast ballots in their favor.

“I’ve worked with every department in the city,” Musselwhite said. “I know how it functions. I know its structure.”

Toms closed by calling attention to his slogan, “Together we can do better.”

“We need to start getting serious about what’s going on and start doing what’s best for the citizens of Warner Robins,” Toms said.

The candidates made all these claims in front of 50 attendees, most of whom were either involved in city politics or avid supporters for one of the candidates.

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

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