In the race for Fort Valley mayor, four-term City Councilwoman Barbara Williams is attempting to unseat four-term incumbent Mayor John Stumbo.
Both are well-known and active in the community, have run small businesses and served in political office the past 16 years.
The Telegraph spoke with both candidates, who made a case for why they should be mayor.
Stumbo, 73, said he wants to continue serving as mayor to see some projects completed such as $12 million worth of road improvements.
“I love my people and as long as they will have me, I will continue to serve,” he said. “I don’t believe in retirement.”
Among his top accomplishments are balanced budgets, clean audits and a modest 8.4 percent increase in the millage rate in the past 14 years, Stumbo said. Also, the city has annexed eight miles along U.S. 41 between Peach and Houston county properties in preparation of future development, he said.
He noted he was partly responsible for oversight of the conversion of the vacant 300,000-square-foot textile plant into a fabrication plant for Blue Bird bus manufacturing company.
Stumbo also touted the cleanup and transformation of the old Woolfolk Chemical Works site that is now the Fort Valley Festival Park used to host the city’s outdoor events. The $32 million cleanup of contamination from the manufacture of pesticides was paid for through the Environmental Protection Agency’s federal Superfund.
He also noted downtown renovations he said were mostly paid for with private donations and said he additionally was instrumental in raising money to land a Boys and Girls Club for Fort Valley.
Looking ahead, Stumbo said he would like to continue the renovation of the city’s storm sewer system with revenue from a penny sales tax. He’d also like to continue to foster the relationship between the city and Fort Valley State University. He noted the recent completion of a $1.5 million road project to the campus to create a more attractive access route.
Stumbo said he would like to maintain a strong partnership with the 21st Century Partnership, a nonprofit group that supports Robins Air Force Base. He also wants to protect employee health insurance and pension plans that he said are used as incentives to draw employees who could make more money working for larger cities.
When asked about whether his 2011 drunken driving arrest would negatively impact his campaign, Stumbo said, “I guess the only way to answer that is to ask the voters.”
Stumbo said he understands there are consequences for bad decisions, that everyone makes mistakes and that he hasn’t drank alcohol since the incident. He pleaded guilty and completed 40 hours of community service by ringing bells and counting money for the Salvation Army.
The annual salary of the Fort Valley mayor is $12,000, but Stumbo said he gives it back after paying income taxes, with the money placed into a city account for special projects such as flowers or lighting.
“My job is to manage money, help manage personnel and do economic development,” Stumbo said.
Stumbo has invested about $3,000 of his own money in his re-election campaign, having spent most of the money on banners, signs, buttons and other campaign material.
Williams, 63, said she would like to work toward providing more local jobs by asking contractors with whom the city does business to hire local workers instead of bringing in outside laborers.
She said she also would like to encourage business development by lowering electric, gas, water and sewer rates. She said she’d work to accomplish that by serving on the utility commission. The mayor automatically has a seat on that commission.
Williams said the city also needs sit-down restaurants that aren’t fast-food restaurants. She noted the city has a sit-down Mexican and Chinese restaurant. Williams said she has talked to other Middle Georgia community leaders about their efforts to lure new restaurants to their cities.
“We’ve really got to think regionally to see how they accomplished these things,” Williams said. “We can’t live in a vacuum.”
If elected, Williams said she would like to develop a mayor’s roundtable of community leaders to include representatives of education, religion and farming. The roundtable would meet every two or three months, and council members would be asked to appoint one to two members, she said.
“I think that’s one of the things missing. The people don’t have enough input on what happens in their city,” she said.
She also plans to continue to promote the Downtown Development Authority and would like to see the establishment of a YMCA affiliate in Fort Valley. While the national association isn’t opening any new YMCAs, an extension office of an existing YMCA in Atlanta, Tifton or Columbus would be something Williams said she would pursue if elected to the mayor’s office.
“We have a Boys and Girls Club here that services children,” she said. “We don’t have anything that can service the young adults as well as the seniors in the community.”
She said she has championed the naming of streets after residents who have served the community. She also served on a personnel committee when the city’s personnel manual was revamped.
“The basic thing is working cohesively with the council,” Williams said. “My leadership style is to involve everyone from the ground level up.”
She’d also like to work with FVSU students as well as the public and private sector to develop internships for students. She noted the city’s current public safety director, Lawrence Spurgeon, started working in the Fort Valley Police Department as an intern.
Williams said she has spent about $2,100 in contributions, which included about $1,600 of her own money, on signs, cards and brochures.
To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.