Chuck Shaheen talks about why he should be elected mayor
Editor’s note: This is the second 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 Musselwhite appeared Oct. 1, and the interview with Toms will appear Oct. 15. Answers may have been edited for length and clarity.
Chuck Shaheen, 56, served as Warner Robins mayor from 2010 to 2014. He left the job to return to his career in pharmaceutical sales, and he ran successfully for the at-large Post 1 City Council seat. He is now seeking to return to the mayor’s post. He has lived in Warner Robins since 1964 and holds a bachelor’s of business administration degree from Georgia Southern University.
Q: Crime has been increasing in Warner Robins. Why do you think that is, what would you do to reverse it?
A: There’s got to be a plan to reverse crime. I would like to see a couple of things. No. 1, I’d like to see us have a public safety commission. You’ve got a lot of retired police officers. You’ve got people that have convenience stores in town, retired military that are interested in our community. They want to be a part of our community. I would love for them to work with our police chief and our department to be a spokesperson for the citizens to give suggestions on how we can reduce crime. They have it in Macon. Mayor (Robert) Reichert was telling me that’s one of the things that has helped reduce the crime in Macon. Crime in our city has gone to another direction.
I would really like to see auxiliary policemen. I would like to take some of the stress and workload off our policemen. If you have thousands and thousands of accidents a year, you have a POST-certified police officer on duty working those accidents. Could we get someone that is on call and all they do is they work up accidents?
Our goal is to keep the policemen on the street and keep the stress off them doing a lot of paperwork. They could do what they do best and that’s patrol.
Q: You have made clear that you believe the city should have a city administrator. Why do you believe that is the best course, and do you believe the mayor’s position should be part time?
A: It’s not what I believe. It’s the research that I have entailed over the last eight years to understand that we are the only city without a city administrator.
I have sat down with representatives and leaders in our community and I asked them, ‘What can our city do to really be more progressive?’ It always comes back to hiring a businessperson to run your day-to-day operations. ... If you look at the Georgia Municipal Association, all of the cities in the state, except for really Macon and Atlanta, have city administrators.
Whether we have a full- or part-time mayor, it’s not up to me. It’s up to the council. Four votes determines what your pay is and what your title is.
I’m not a part-time councilman. I’m full time on council. You only make $5,000, but we are full time.
My point is, what is the most progressive form of government for the 21st century? They asked Wayne Gretzky, how did you become greatest hockey player ever? And he said ‘Because I skated to where the puck was going.’ I want our city to move where we are going, and we need to move into the 21st century.
I am a 100 percent firm believer that a city administrator is a best, efficient way. What I think we need to do is just be more progressive and be more efficient in our form of government. I want the most efficient form of government that coincides with other military bases.
Q: During budget discussions, you said you were opposed to a tax increase. What would you do to balance the city’s budget long term without a tax increase?
A: My dad had a high school degree, but he ran many businesses. His philosophy was don’t spend more than you make. When you are projecting to bring in 36, 37 million and you are spending 43, 44 million, we’ve got to go back to grass roots every day. What do we spend in our purchasing? That’s where you want to make sure you are spending everything and cut and reduce and look at where you are spending your money.
If you have a stable economy, you will have a stable tax base. We have businesses right now that spend millions of dollars a year on our utilities. If we can bring in other industries, sell more water, sewer and natural gas, then you have increased your enterprise funds.
That’s what I’m excited about is how can we grow our city’s enterprise fund and reduce our taxes. Everybody is talking about raising taxes.
Q: Are you satisfied with the progress the city is making toward downtown redevelopment?
A: No, absolutely not. The (Redevelopment Agency) has assigned things for the mayor to do, and they are not getting done. For example, talking to certain businesses downtown that we’ve got to acquire to be able to renovate. You can ask the RDA board. How’s the progress? RDA board, they are phenomenal. They built that law enforcement center in nine months on budget. We’ve assigned a project for lofts downtown, but we keep hitting a wall.
You’ve got to build on what we are doing, and I think we are at a standstill. We want to work on building lofts downtown and creating traffic.
Q: How do you feel about the progress the city is making on improving recreation, and what else needs to be done?
A: We are behind. In the ‘01 SPLOST and the 2006 SPLOST, do you know how much money we put into recreation? Zero. We put no dollars into recreation. I grew up in our recreation department here, so I wanted to give back to recreation.
If I’ve done anything as mayor, I changed the mindset of where SPLOST dollars need to be sent. Now, we’ve put $15 million in the SPLOST for recreation. The only thing is, it really doesn’t start until October 2018.
When I was the mayor, we bought Walker’s Pond. We put a cent from motel/hotel tax into recreation. We also bought land to develop ... recreation on the north side of town. These are exciting things. We now have a comprehensive recreation plan that we started five years ago. We still haven’t finished it, but I’d like to see us in 2018 actually turning some dirt and getting some projects done.
Q: Why should people vote for you?
A: I think being a mayor, I’ve had four years’ experience leading a city. I’ve had department head meetings. Department head meetings are the best opportunity to understand how to move your city forward. These department heads are excellent in their area. This is how you learn. I had four years at the top being a leader, not just a figurehead. I actually had department head meetings. I actually ran day-to-day operations for the city of Warner Robins. But now being on the council side, I get it. Because you cannot do anything without four votes. My fab five on my cellphone will be council.
Why should they vote for me? Because I understand about synergy, cohesiveness, collaboration, communication. I understand the part of getting the right people in the room to get things accomplished.
Q: Is there anything else you want to talk about?
A: It’s not about the salary, it’s about the system. It’s not about the person, it’s about the people. It’s not about a book, it’s about a budget. It’s about serving and having servant leadership. You can lose battles, I understand that now. But you cannot lose the war. If you lose the battle, you fight another day. If you lose the war, you can’t.