WARNER ROBINS -- Come the new year, Warner Robins will have a new mayor. But that doesn’t mean the city should have someone new to the responsibilities, said City Councilman Daron Lee.
“We already know what it is to go through a complete overhaul of leadership,” Lee said. “It’s a lot of confusion and a lot of misunderstanding. And I don’t think the city’s in the position to go through that again.”
During the last mayoral election cycle, 12-year incumbent Mayor Donald Walker committed suicide in the midst of a campaign against three challengers, including two political newbies. Newcomer Chuck Shaheen, a pharmaceutical salesman, was elected mayor along with three new councilmen, including Lee.
Now Shaheen is running for a council seat. Lee said this leadership change needs someone with experience running the city and representing it throughout the state.
Lee was born in Warner Robins, where his family has long lived. But it took Lee years to settle in his hometown. At age 9, he moved to Albany when his father relocated for work. He then attended Fort Valley State University for a year before moving to California for another year. He eventually made it back to Fort Valley State to earn his first degree.
He went to work for the Department of Juvenile Justice as an English educator while attending Troy University for a master’s degree in post-secondary education.
In 2009, Lee returned to Warner Robins and won the Post 5 council seat. A few months later, he became an adjunct professor at Middle Georgia Technical College, which has since merged with Central Georgia Technical College and taken on the latter’s name. Through funding changes and the merger, Lee’s position has become community liaison specialist at Central Georgia Tech, where he works with companies and organizations in its service region.
Lee is also a pastor. After preaching for 10 years with the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, he and others founded Agape Outreach Ministries in 2010. The congregation has grown to 200 members.
If elected, Lee said he’ll work with Central Georgia Tech on a leave, but his full-time job would become mayor. He’d remain a pastor, and all his board responsibilities would remain the same.
“I’m doing what the office of mayor really is required to do,” he said. “All the things that I’m doing, the other mayors are there.”
Lee said the mayor’s role is to represent the city, promote it and manage its budget and departments.
“You’re the coach,” he said. “You are there to manage the team and to motivate the team and to get the team to work together and to get the team to bring their expertise to the table.”
Department directors are paid to be experts in their fields, Lee said; however, council and mayor have not respected the expertise of every department director -- particularly Recreation Director James Dodson.
Lee said not trusting Dodson’s opinions has stalled the proposed sports complex, Walker’s Pond park and improving current parks. Dodson is a member of the Georgia Recreation and Park Association, serving as president from 2008 to 2009.
“I don’t think it’s fair to him when we go to another facility and talk to other directors and just ask them what needs to be done in Warner Robins, and we pay this man all this money,” Lee said.
Lee said listening to everyone’s opinions, from Dodson and other directors to residents, is essential to running a vibrant city. He said lack of communication among council and residents has left projects undone for years. Lack of communication with residents has caused confusion and stunted community involvement.
To open communication in city hall, Lee said he will begin his term with a series of meetings for council to assess the state of the city and hear the visions of each department director. He would continue those meetings on a regular basis, he said.
To open communication with residents, he will allow them to give input on agenda items and development plans before council votes.
“At times, we really know what’s best because we have the insight, but we need to say, ‘This is why we’re trying to move in this direction. And if you have any questions or concerns, let us know now before we go that way,’ ” he said.
Ongoing projects, such as the sports complex and visitors center, need to be completed, Lee said. Those on the 2012 special purpose local option sales tax list need to be prioritized and downsized according to the incoming revenue.
The sports complex would be at the top of his list, he said.
“We are missing millions of dollars due to that, as far as tourism,” Lee said, adding other projects could also bring the city money. “In order to market the city, we have to have things in place to market it.”
The city is also in need of a grant writer for all departments and projects, as well as a program manager who could oversee the many projects. Funds for a contracted program manager are in the fiscal 2014 budget, but there is no contract in place yet.
“You have to show, ‘This is how we benefit,’ ” Lee said. “If people can’t see where you’re going, then they’re hesitant to go with you.”
Public transit is also something Lee said he would push for as mayor. He said residents need to be convinced 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, adding he has talked to the Perry and Centerville mayors about collaborating on a system with the Macon Transit Authority.
Lee said he personally has a working relationship with others in the region, but as mayor he could make that a city relationship with the region.
Centerville Mayor John Harley gave his views of some of the mayoral candidates, including Lee. Harley is not campaigning for, nor supporting, any of the six candidates.
“Daron is really working very hard to try to get additional industry in our area,” Harley said. “When he talks, he is always talking about region.”
For public safety, Lee said the city has adequate officers but may need to work on diversity to “represent the community because people would feel more comfortable.”
In fact, the councilman said, the city needs to work on inclusion as a whole. Every economic status and race should be included in “International City” decisions.
Lee would be the first black elected mayor of Warner Robins if he won in November, but he said that’s not his reason for running.
“If I concentrate on being the first, then it’s about me,” he said. “It’s not about me. I’m running for the people.”
To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.