WR candidates debate top issues

WARNER ROBINS — The issues took center stage with mayoral and Warner Robins City Council hopefuls at Tuesday night’s candidates forum at Macon State College’s Warner Robins campus.

When it came to traffic congestion, Linda Carnes, a candidate for City Council Post 1, suggested bicycle lanes to give other options besides using motor vehicles to get around the city. The idea was met with applause from the crowd of nearly 150 people inside Oak Hall.

Paul Shealy, running for council Post 3, said traffic was worse when he first started working at Robins Air Force Base in the ’80s.

“I was leaving my residence 30 to 45 minutes early to get to base,” Shealy said. “We’ve made a lot of progress in that area.”

The forum, sponsored by The Telegraph and the Warner Robins Area Chamber of Commerce, featured four of the five candidates for City Council Post 1, both candidates for Post 3 and the three mayoral candidates. The Rev. Jeffery Walker, a candidate for Post 1, was missing from the mix. Daron D. Lee, running unopposed for Post 5, sat in the audience.

When City Council candidates were asked to prioritize issues the city needed to face, the Georgia-Robins Aerospace Maintenance Partnership was brought up by Post 1 candidate Doug McDowell, who said the G-RAMP project had been in discussions since before his last term ended in 2007. Crime was another issue raised. Mike Daley, also running for Post 1, was hesitant to prioritize, saying the mayor and council should be able to “juggle many balls” when it comes to addressing the city’s immediate needs.

Dean Cowart, a former city councilman who is seeking election to Post 3, said increasing the hotel/motel tax would result in more people staying in nearby cities such as Byron while in the area on business in Warner Robins.

While the mayor’s salary currently is in limbo about how the raise from $50,000 to $100,000 was handled, all three candidates for the spot agreed the smaller salary was unjust for someone running a city the size of Warner Robins.

“The head of the city making less than most employees in (City Hall) is not common sense,” said mayoral candidate Clifford Holmes Jr., presently the councilman for Post 5.

“I’ve never looked at a paycheck, but I have to admit ... you should be compensated according to your work,” said mayoral candidate Chuck Shaheen, a pharmaceutical sales representative.

“We the citizens honor the position of the mayor,” said candidate Chuck Chalk, a program manager at RAFB. “Fifty thousand dollars is not honoring the position of mayor.”

They also agreed on an enhanced role for City Council members. Holmes said the council members served as liaisons to the city’s bigger departments while he was acting mayor for 70 days in 2008. Chalk said the council should not be limited to its role in the city charter. Shaheen said he’d already scouted out factions of the city that council members should oversee.

“They’re the vice presidents of the great big company we have in Warner Robins,” Shaheen said, “and we have an assignment for them.”

When asked about the possibility of raising taxes to generate more revenue in the city, Chalk and Shaheen seemed hesitant to discuss the possibility.

Holmes was firm in his stance.

“We’ve gotten used to 15 years of a drop in taxes,” he said. “I hate to say this, but ... we might have to bite the bullet on that.”

To contact writer Marlon A. Walker, call 256-9685.