WARNER ROBINS -- The man who narrowly lost the last mayoral election is back for another try.
Chuck Chalk, a logistics manager at Robins Air Force Base, is among six candidates competing to become the next mayor. In 2009, Chalk lost by less than 200 votes in a run-off with Chuck Shaheen, who this time around is running for City Council.
Chalk served 20 years in the Air Force, including eight years as an enlisted man in which he achieved the rank of staff sergeant. He was then commissioned as an officer and retired as a major.
“I have 26 years of progressive leadership experience both as active-duty Air Force and now as a civil servant on Robins Air Force Base,” he said. “I have experienced several organizations on Robins Air Force Base which helps me represent the base well as mayor.”
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Originally from Cordele, he was in the military when he requested a transfer to Robins to be near his family. He spent the last six years of his Air Force career at Robins, first in Air Force Reserve Command and later as chief of intelligence in a Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System flying squadron. He logged more than 800 combat flying hours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Chalk said one of his priorities would be to improve communication between the mayor, council, city staff and the residents. He said it’s important residents understand why the city is taking certain actions.
“The need for that communication is increasing more and more,” he said. “We are definitely in a fiscally constrained environment. The dollars aren’t easy to come by like they were 10 or 15 years ago when you had a good economy, but you still have to do things, so you have to convince Joe and Sally taxpayer that we need to pay for things.”
Adequate police force a concern
One of the things he believes the city needs to pay for is more police officers. Although he said it’s not a hard rule, the general thinking is that a city needs about 1.5 police officers for every 1,000 residents. Warner Robins, he said, has .85 officers for every thousand residents.
“We need to add 10, 20 or possibly as many as 30 officers to the force,” he said. “The police department is doing a great job of closing out cases. They work well with the DA’s office, and we get a sense of closure which helps a lot, but I think we can do better with having more patrols, and adding officers is going to be a part of that.”
He didn’t offer a specific plan on how to pay for it, other than to say he would look closely at the budget to see if cuts can be made elsewhere.
But regardless, he said, it needs to be done because police presence is one of the best ways to prevent crime.
“Can we afford not to have a significant police presence in the community?” he said.
Improving police presence, as well as code enforcement, isn’t just about public safety, he said. Many businesses won’t locate in certain areas of the city, he said, because of a perception that those are high-crime areas. A greater police presence and cleaning up blighted properties would help change that, he said.
“I’ve been in cities all over the world, in some dangerous neighborhoods,” he said. “I would walk down any street in Warner Robins at 2 o’clock in the morning and not have any worries.”
Over the past year, the city has discussed the possibility of starting a public transit system and also conducted a feasibility study. Chalk said the need is clearly there from the number of people who can be seen walking along the streets, but he questioned whether the city should pay for it.
He also said he would not favor accepting a federal grant to subsidize public transit because he said those grants “come with strings.”
“The need is increasing, but are we to the point where we can justify the cost?” he said.
He favors working with existing van pools and other smaller transit operations before turning to a full-blown public transit system.
Among his biggest priorities, Chalk said, is working to put Robins in the best position in the event of a Base Realignment and Closure Commission. Just as in trying to lure a new industry, he said, quality of life in the community is vital to persuading the Department of Defense to keep Robins intact.
“We need to shore up and do the very best we can to make the city a great place for the Department of Defense to do business,” he said.
Working regionally with other governments is also important to protect the base, he said.
Although it might seem to go without saying, considering that the mayor’s job is full time, Chalk said he is often asked whether he would quit his job at the base if he is elected mayor. For the record, he said he would.
The role of the mayor has been the subject of discussion, specifically whether the city should have a city administrator or even change to a city manager form of government in which the mayor would essentially have ceremonial duties. Currently Warner Robins has a strong mayor form of government, in which the mayor acts as the city manager.
With a master’s degree in public administration, Chalk said he is qualified to act as city manager.
As the city grows, he said, the city may need to consider having a city administrator or a chief of staff to assist the mayor but not a city manager.
“I don’t like the role of city manager because that says to me we are going to give complete administrative power to this person, and that would have a whole new set of problems,” he said.
Chalk said he does not plan to make any significant changes in spending priorities in his first year, but by his second year he expects to make adjustments toward some of his priorities such as adding police officers.
If Shaheen wins the council post and Chalk wins the mayor’s seat, Chalk said he didn’t foresee there would be any strain in their relationship as a result of the past election.
“I personally like Mayor Shaheen,” Chalk said. “We were very cordial to each other before, and we are very cordial now.”
He said he didn’t think there was any big secret to promoting harmony between the mayor and council members.
“I don’t know that you can put yourself on a path to harmony,” he said. “I think you just have to go in and work harmoniously. I think good communication is how relationships survive and excel.”
Charles Bond, a Warner Robins attorney who closely follows local politics, said he has known Chalk for about four years and chats with him on Facebook about issues.
“I have a positive impression of Chuck,” said Bond, who lives in the county and said he is not actively supporting any candidate. “He has a lot of education. Whether those are qualities that lean toward being the best candidate for mayor, I don’t see anything about that either pro or con.”
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.