Joe Musselwhite talks about why he should be mayor
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of question-and-answer interviews with the three candidates for mayor of Warner Robins: Joe Musselwhite, Chuck Shaheen and Randy Toms, the incumbent. The interview with Shaheen will run Oct. 8, and the interview with Toms will appear Oct. 15. Answers may have been edited for length and clarity.
Joe Musselwhite, 64, worked 21 years for the city, including 19 as public works director. He is a lifelong resident of Warner Robins and a 1972 graduate of Warner Robins High School. He ran for mayor in 2013 and made the runoff out of a field of six candidates, but he lost to Toms.
Q: Crime has been increasing in Warner Robins. Why do you think that is and what would you do to reverse it?
A: In the election of 2013, the lack of police officers, shortage of police officers, was a big topic. All of us pledged to reverse that. That has not been done in the last four years. What I will do to reverse it is I will hire more officers. We have job vacancies in the city in other departments that haven’t been filled. We will start by transferring that money and those funds to the police department for the purpose of more officers. We also need more detectives. I was told we’ve got like 4,000 open cases and eight detectives. That’s too many for one person to try to work to do an efficient job. They are doing a good job. They just don’t have enough people.
I have said for several years now, as recently as a year and half ago in a letter to the editor to your paper, that crime is a problem. Public safety is the No. 1 issue. I still believe that today. I will take it very seriously and do all I can to make sure the police department has the resources and personnel they need to protect our people.
Q. Do you believe the city needs a city administrator and, if so, how would you envision that person’s authority and how would it impact the mayor’s job?
A: I’m not sure what the city needs. I’m not sure that’s my decision. I think the people of the community should vote on any change in their government. I do realize that the last eight years we have not had adequate leadership in Warner Robins and we’ve suffered because of it as a community. As far as me personally, I am a city administrator. I have the job skills and the training and the knowledge to be a city administrator. The mayor’s job is more than just the day-to-day operations of the city. There are other people that can help that. We’ve hired consultants from all over north Georgia to help us in a lot of areas. I see no changes. I’m not sure an administrator is the answer.
I’m not sure an administrator could come in here the way they are proposing for this to be and answer to six council people and a mayor. It’s hard for a person to have seven bosses and be efficient. I do realize something needs to happen in our city as far as systematic change and better leadership in government. That’s one of the biggest reasons I made the decision to run for mayor at this time.
Q: Some members of City Council believe a tax increase is needed to meet rising expenses. Do you agree and if not, how would you balance the city’s budget long term.
A: I think City Council is right on target that they need more money. I’m not sure that a tax increase is the answer. I think we can reel in our spending habits and things we are spending money on. They spent $21.2 million in the last four years out of enterprise funds and our city’s emergency fund, which is general fund unobligated money. I wish that they had thought about the outcome of spending this money before they spent it. Now that they’ve spent the money, yeah, we have a financial problem. I think as a team here we can pull together, tighten our belts and overcome this without a tax increase. I was at the precouncil meeting when the chief financial officer told them that if they didn’t do something to generate funds quickly, they couldn’t balance the budget next year.
Q: Are you satisfied with the progress the city is making with downtown redevelopment?
A: No, I’m not satisfied. I see no changes. We are paying a consultant from north Georgia $11,000 a month. What have we got today that we didn’t have four years ago? Nothing has changed on Commercial Circle. I’ve been in meetings and involved with Commercial Circle since I was a young boy in Warner Robins. That was the place to go when I was a child. Everything was on Commercial Circle. There was a business that moved out of there over a year ago that the windows are still painted, blacked out. One building down there is boarded up. There is rubbish everywhere. There is asbestos on the ground between two vacant buildings where a building was demolished. All we’ve done for a long, long time is talk about Commercial Circle. Nothing is going to change on Commercial Circle until somebody does something.
Q: How do you feel about the progress the city is making on improving recreation and what else needs to be done.
A: Here again we have failed miserably. They have money in the bank, 2012 SPLOST money, for improvements in recreation. As recently as this week, they had a special meeting. They are proposing a $23 million plan with $20 million. Fifteen million dollars of that SPLOST money that we will have in the future doesn’t even start being collected until Sept. 1, 2018. So what we really need to focus on is the money we have available today, which is somewhere between 5 1/2 and $6 million. Down at Perkins field they play football, youth football. That’s the same field I played on when I was 10 years old. We have the land, we have the money in the bank. Let’s make some improvements on our recreation. It’s time to quit hiring consultants, quit talking and move some dirt somewhere.
Q: What is the status of your lawsuit against the city, and will you continue to pursue it if you are elected? (Note: Musselwhite is suing the city over an anonymous letter a resident read at a council meeting that alleged racial discrimination when he was director of public works.)
A: The status of the lawsuit is that as recently as two weeks ago, the city’s attorney reached out to my attorney and asked how can we settle this. I told him it’s real simple. All I want is a public apology. They discussed it in closed session at the last council meeting, and I think because of politics they are not willing to apologize at this time, so I will not drop it. I will protect my family name. I am not guilty of what they have accused me of anonymously.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to talk about?
A: I’d like to talk about the fact that several years ago, Warner Robins was rated the No. 1 city in Georgia to live, work and raise a family. I was part of the city government at that time, and we were all very proud of that. A couple of weeks ago it came out that Warner Robins is now No. 82 on a list of a hundred best places in Georgia to live, work and raise a family. We need to turn things around here ... and take care of the people.