Shaheen reflects on time as mayor

wcrenshaw@macon.comJanuary 6, 2014 

WARNER ROBINS -- During the past four years, youths strolling down the streets with their pants sagging might have found themselves getting a ride from the mayor.

In an interview at his office in the waning days of his term, Mayor Chuck Shaheen counted the persistence of the droopy pants fad as one of his disappointments of his term. He said it’s among the most common complaints he gets from residents.

Whenever he spotted a young person wearing his undershorts for all to see, Shaheen said he would stop and ask where the youth was headed, then offer him a ride.

“I bet you I’ve picked up 100 kids and encouraged them to dress for success,” he said. “I tell them I love them, but I don’t want to see their butts.”

The only other disappointment he cited was the inability to resolve issues with the city’s long-term contract for garbage collection. But beyond that, Shaheen said much was accomplished since the beginning of his term, when the city was still reeling from the suicide of the previous longtime mayor, Donald Walker.

“The question is, ‘Are we better today than we were four years ago?’ ” he said. “It’s really a great success story in the fact that where we were and the dynamics of everything that was going on when we took office. We, and I say ‘we’ in bold letters, meaning the mayor, the council and city employees, have taken our city to another level.”

A common criticism during his term, especially early on, was his at times rocky relationship with council. Debates during meetings were not always the best example of civil discourse, to put it mildly.

Asked whether he shares the blame for that, Shaheen’s response came without hesitation.

“Oh, absolutely. My gosh, yes,” he said. “I think I’ve learned a lot and grown up a lot and developed as a person.”

On Monday, Shaheen will become a member of the council. He made the unusual decision to not run for re-election for mayor and instead ran successfully for the at-large Post 1 council seat held by Mike Daley. Randy Toms will be the city’s new mayor.

Looking back

Shaheen cited a long list of accomplishments during his term, starting with the completion of the city’s new $10 million law enforcement center, which had been in the works for about 10 years. The new police headquarters includes a forensics lab, and after it receives accreditation, officials believe the city will be the first in the state to have its own crime lab.

The city also bought property for a new recreation complex. In April, the city closed on the $850,000 purchase of 65 acres at Elberta Road and Houston Road, where it will build a sports complex, expected to be the centerpiece of the city’s recreation program.

The city donated land behind Huntington Middle School that was previously slated for a sports complex to the state for a military retraining and academic center.

Among other accomplishments Shaheen listed were a $28 million wastewater treatment plant expansion, growth of the city’s natural gas lines, improved relations with Robins Air Force Base and a pay scale study that led to adjustments in salaries for city employees.

Some things Shaheen cited are lesser known, including improvements in customer service at City Hall. As a result, he said, when people come to City Hall to pay bills, it takes less than three minutes.

“I didn’t want to see people standing in line,” he said.

When he ran for the mayor’s seat, Shaheen frequently mentioned the development of the proposed Georgia-Robins Aerospace Maintenance Partnership as a priority. The idea was to lure aerospace industry to property the city owns adjacent to the base.

In his first year in office, the city received a key finding that the G-RAMP development would have no significant environmental impact, but since then not much else has happened.

Shaheen said that’s because of significant cuts to military spending, which have hit the aerospace industry hard, and he believes G-RAMP could still be a viable project if the military expands again.

“We did what we could control, which is getting the land prepped and ready,” he said. “What we don’t have control over is what the military does.”

Personal relations

Whatever troubles Shaheen had dealing with council, he didn’t seem to have in dealing with the county. Competing interests can strain relations between cities and counties, but that isn’t the case in Houston County, commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker said. Stalnaker said he appreciated Shaheen’s cooperative spirit when it came to joint projects.

“His working relationship with the county and the other two cities was very good,” Stalnaker said. “If we had any differences of opinion, we handled it in a professional manner. It was never adversarial.”

Stalnaker said he particularly appreciated Shaheen’s involvement with the 2012 special purpose local option sales tax, including both the decision to call for the referendum and the negotiations on what projects to include. The vote easily passed.

“His first and foremost importance was the people of Warner Robins, as it should be,” Stalnaker said. “But he saw beyond Warner Robins and the bigger picture for the county.”

Council member Carolyn Robbins was elected midway through Shaheen’s term. She said relations with the mayor have improved in the time she has served.

“We had a few things we disagreed on, but it was nothing we couldn’t work out,” she said. “I think the last two years the temperament of the council has changed, and also the mayor’s temperament has changed.”

Councilman Mike Davis, who was also elected two years ago, declined to offer his thoughts on his experiences with Shaheen.

“I’m not going to look back,” he said. “I’m looking forward. We got some things accomplished, and we had some things we didn’t get accomplished, and I’m just looking forward to moving ahead.”

Mike Brashear, who left his council post to run for mayor, and Councilmen Paul Shealy, Mike Daley and Daron Lee did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Looking toward the future

When Shaheen announced he was running for council, he said he wanted to return to the private sector while still having some involvement with the city.

He previously was a pharmaceutical salesman and said he has accepted a similar job. He declined to give any specifics because he said details are still being worked out.

While he is on council, Shaheen said that among his priorities is to see the development of the city’s new recreation complex. He also would like to see the city look at changing the charter, including adding term limits, veto power for the mayor, and a full-time person to assist the mayor in running the city.

“I think we need to put it on the ballot, and let the people vote,” he said.

Shaheen said despite some challenges and disappointments, he has enjoyed his time in office.

“It’s been really exciting,” he said. “It’s been an honor to serve the citizens of Warner Robins that raised me.”

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.

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