WARNER ROBINS -- Joe Musselwhite promises that if he’s elected mayor, no one will have to wonder what is happening behind closed doors at City Hall.
“I will have no secrets,” said Musselwhite, who retired as the city’s director of public works to run for mayor. “It’s the people’s business, and we need to treat it as such. The mayor needs to be available and concerned.”
Musselwhite worked 21 years for the city -- 19 as public works director. He is a lifelong resident of Warner Robins and a 1972 graduate of Warner Robins High School.
He has taken numerous classes at the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government, where he earned state and national certification in public works management. He is a licensed building rehabilitation inspector, and he said he has certified training in all aspects of city management.
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He said his specialized training and experience are more important than the college degrees most of his opponents hold.
“A college education is good, but there’s nothing better than hands-on experience,” he said. “The experience I have in city management far outweighs a college degree. They do not teach you in college how to be a city manager or mayor.”
Beefing up police force
Musselwhite said there are about a dozen vacant positions on the police force, and one thing he would do as mayor is make sure those get filled.
“Those are budgeted positions that haven’t been put in place,” he said. “We need them on the streets, and I will see that they are hired and put out to serve the people.”
He said he supports plans to build a new fire station on Ga. 96. The city announced recently that property had been donated for a new fire station, and construction should begin later this year.
“The fire department is fully staffed and operates well,” he said. “The biggest need there is growing to the south where we can better serve the residents in that area.”
Asked whether consolidating the city and county fire departments could lead to better service, Musselwhite said he thought “cooperation” is a better word.
“I don’t think we should draw a line where we help people,” he said. “We need to do whatever we can to make both our city and county better.”
Questions public transit costs
Musselwhite said he has “mixed emotions” about whether the city should support a public transit system.
“The biggest thing in public transportation is that you have to pay for it, and the last study that I had looked at, it was like a $1.1 million expense to the taxpayers of the city annually,” he said. “My idea is we would partner with an organization like the Community Action Agency ... using some of the resources that are already being paid for before we go and buy a transit system.”
Musselwhite said he supports the strong mayor form of government the city has in place.
“The mayor is the city manager,” he said. “Our city is chartered that the mayor runs the day-to-day operations of the city, and the only people higher than the mayor are the people themselves.”
City council took away the mayor’s power to give individual employees a raise of up to 10 percent. Musselwhite said he did not have an issue with that.
“I have no problem letting the council and the people know if I think someone is worthy of a raise,” he said.
He said he believes all of the department heads in the city are doing a good job, and he does not see a need to make any changes in top personnel if he is elected.
Cleaning up blight
Musselwhite said one focus he would have as mayor is to step up code enforcement and beautification efforts.
“We are going to clean up Warner Robins,” he said. “We are going to get rid of junk cars and abandoned houses.”
He said cleaning up the city is important to help protect Robins Air Force Base, and it’s also important for safety reasons. “Cleaning up the blight in Warner Robins is important for the community as a whole,” he said. “It’s vital to the future of the city. If we don’t put a stop to it, it’s going to continue to get bigger, and that’s not how you prosper.”
He said many property owners want to clean up their property but don’t have the means to do it. The city can get grants to help with that, he said, and he would pursue that funding.
Musselwhite said the city also needs to diversify its economy, and he supports forming a regional coalition to promote economic growth.
He said he did not foresee any need to raise taxes if he is elected.
“I’m willing to commit to running this city in such a way that, unless something happens that’s totally out of my and council’s control, under my administration taxes will not be increased.”
Musselwhite said replacing the city’s old water and sewer pipes is important.
“That’s an ongoing effort, and it’s much needed,” he said.
Bay Gall Creek discussed
While he was public works director, the state fined the city $50,000 for doing maintenance work on Bay Gall Creek without a permit.
Musselwhite said the issue was that the city considered where the work was done as a drainage ditch, and had been working on it under that premise for years.
“The state came in and said it was a waterway, which it is not,” he said. “It is a drainage ditch.”
He said it remains an ongoing issue that needs addressing.
“After I’m elected, I will continue to work to reverse that decision because there are a lot of very good homeowners who live along that ditch and their property stands to flood without maintenance to that ditch.”
Centerville Mayor John Harley, who isn’t campaigning for any candidate in the race, said he worked with Musselwhite on various projects and respects the job he did for Warner Robins.
“One of the biggest capabilities Joe has is that he will get the right people around him who are knowledgeable,” Harley said.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.