More than 100 people attended the first candidate forum Tuesday for the Warner Robins city elections, and if anyone was hoping to see some fireworks, they walked away disappointed.
While priorities and ideas varied some, the candidates mostly agreed on key points. The forum was put on by the Robins Regional Chamber of Commerce at Central Georgia Technical College.
Post 3 Councilman Keith Lauritsen and his challenger, Terri Murray, were the first to take the stage. They were followed by three of the four candidates for the open Post 1 seat, which is a citywide post. Those candidates were Eric Langston, Daron Lee and Jim Taylor. The no-show was Jeffery Walker, who called in earlier and said he couldn’t make it due to an illness.
Langston may have best summed up the tone of the forum in his closing statement.
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“Ladies and gentleman, you have a choice, a tough choice to make,” he said. “I love and respect both of these candidates here. You won’t make a bad choice. I think we are all well suited for the office.”
A special operations manager at Robins Air Force Base, he said he is a lifelong resident of Warner Robins and understands the community.
Lee, who formerly served as the Post 5 council member before resigning to run for mayor in the last election, said he represents fairness.
“When I am at the table, you’re at the table, regardless of age, regardless of race, regardless of socio-economic status,” he said. “That’s what Post 1 is about, who is going to represent everyone?”
Taylor is a community activist who has worked to develop parks in the city, which he highlighted in his closing comment.
“I just ask you to allow me to use the talents, allow me to use the relationships and the experiences that I’ve developed over the years to serve our community and turn it from good to great,” he said.
They did not get asked about their stance on hiring a city administrator, but that question was posed to Lauritsen and Murray.
Lauritsen, who is principal of Byron Elementary School, said he supports hiring a city administrator, which he said would not require a change in the city charter. He said he might later support a city manager, which would require a change in the charter, but he wanted to start with an administrator.
“I believe that’s probably the quickest way to address the need,” he said. “I really think this is the way to run an efficient government.”
Murray said in the forum that she believed the first step should be to go to a city manager form of government, and then later consider having a city administrator. However, when asked about that after she stepped off the stage, she clarified that she meant to say she supported going to a city administrator first and then a city manager.
“It would be the most efficient and quickest way to get it accomplished,” said Murray, who is a minister.
One question asked of all of the candidates was what did they consider to be the most important issue not being adequately addressed. That one drew some varied answers.
Lee said he believed that to be the need to address blight. He said a key to that is improving cooperation between the city and the Warner Robins Housing Authority, which he said would lead to more “buy-in” from the private sector.
“It has to be a collaborative approach to address this matter,” he said.
Taylor cited the budget.
“We need to have a sustainable budget,” he said. “We need to have a budget that can work. We need to fund the expansion of public safety. We need to fund the expansion of public works. ... We need to find other avenues that can create revenue in the city so that we can fund some of these projects.”
Langston he wants to establish a strategic plan.
“That means ensuring that we have the resources in place to facilitate and accommodate any potential future workload coming to Robins Air Force Base,” he said.
Murray said helping youth is her biggest concern.
“They don’t have a goal, they don’t have direction,” she said. “They don’t have anyone to show them what to do. They are bored. So they have a tendency to get into trouble that they don’t need to get into.”
She said she would like to address that by improving recreation, and possibly creating satellite youth centers throughout the city.
Lauritsen said he agreed that recreation is important preventing crime.
“I do believe crime is our No. 1 problem that we are not addressing,” he said. “All we are doing is responding to the crime. We are not doing anything to prevent it.”
He said the size of the police force has not grown with the city.
The chamber is holding a forum for mayoral candidates at 6 p.m. Oct. 3 at the Central Georgia Technical College auditorium. The last day to register to vote is Oct. 10, early voting starts Oct. 16, and the election is Nov. 7.