Editor’s note: This is the third 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 Shaheen appeared on Oct. 8. Answers may have been edited for length and clarity.
Randy Toms, 57, is a lifelong Warner Robins resident. He is a 1979 graduate of Northside High School and holds an associate degrees from Georgia Military College. He served three years in the Air Force before accepting an early out. He was a Warner Robins firefighter for 27 years and was elected mayor in 2013 from a field of six candidates.
Q: Crime has been increasing in Warner Robins. Why do you think that is and what would you do to reverse it?
A: I don’t know the overall answer. I know you’ve got to take it a little at a time and try to implement things that make the difference.
I think for Warner Robins, the issue we got into as far as law enforcement goes, and therefore maybe one of the reasons for the elevation in crime, was the fact that we were losing so many police officers that had experience in law enforcement. I think we were doing that primarily because of the pay scale that we were working under. When you had police officers that had been here with the city for six, seven, eight, sometimes 10 years, that were making 25 cents more an hour than the people they were training to do the same job they were doing, motivation lacks. And then when they get an opportunity, especially the ones that were getting vested in 10 years, they were leaving and going somewhere else where they could make more money.
We’ve done two things recently that I think are going to address the rising crime rate. We adjusted the pay scale. It was costly. It was costly now and it’s going to be costly long term, and we’ve got to figure out ways to pay for that ongoing cost. But we did that and that was a big step in fixing the problem.
The second thing we did is we added five new police officer positions which we are trying to fill right now. So hopefully with those five and what he had already in place we can get to a point where we are close to being fully staffed.
Q: You have said that you favor giving the city clerk more authority to make the position similar to that of a city administrator. Could you elaborate on that and state what the advantage of that would be over the city administrator position that the council has approved.
A: My reason for mentioning the city clerk’s position is because nobody has offered a way to pay for a city administrator. They put the position in place but the question keeps coming up, how are you going to pay for it? In my plan the way you are going to pay for it is that you have a city clerk’s position that has a great deal of authority, and then you have an assistant city clerk.
Most, if not all, of the funding is there to do what I think we need to do. I think the mayor’s position in the city of Warner Robins, whether it be me or whether it be anybody else in the future, needs to be a full-time position. That position is vital if for no other reason than the health and wellness of Robins Air Force Base and the relationships that we have there. I am absolutely in favor of a full-time mayor’s position for the city of Warner Robins. I think we need that and we are a big enough city to sustain that. I think Robins Air Force Base and the leadership at Robins Air Force Base needs a full-time mayor that they can deal with on a daily basis, day in and day out, seven days a week. I think that’s vital.
But I think there is grit to the argument that a city administrator, at some capacity, could help out a great deal. That is to have someone there running a lot of the day-to-day operations so that the mayor can be about the business that the mayor should be about, and that is taking care of the businesses that are already here, taking care of Robins Air Force Base, and recruiting new business when possible.
I don’t think you are going to solve the problem if you are going to have the city administrator answer to seven people. I think all department directors and the city administrator should answer to the mayor, who ultimately on some level answers to the council, but not on the day-to-day operations.
Q: During your term, the budget has been balanced by taking money from the reserve fund. Would you continue that or would you favor a tax increase or some other revenue increase to balance the budget?
A: I would favor a tax increase on property owners as a last resort. This year is a little bit different because we had some monies taken from the reserve fund for other services. Even though we take money from the reserve fund on the front end to balance the budget, we do that on paper. At the end of the year, if you end up with more money in the reserve fund than you started with, did you really take it? The answer is no, you did it on paper to balance the budget. This is common practice, and when you end up with more in the reserve fund than you started with then you really didn’t use the reserve fund after all.
Up until this year, that’s what we’ve done. At some point, you have enough reserve funds, and you need to either stop taxing people so much or you need to give them more services. We decided as a mayor and council to give more services in the way of recreation, and so we took $2.5 million out of the reserve fund to put into recreation.
Q: Are you satisfied with the progress the city is making on downtown redevelopment?
A: I would say no because there’s nothing popping out of the ground right now. But at the same time, the bones of it, the skeleton if it, if you will, I think there’s a lot that has been done. There was a lot of effort and a lot of work and lot of communication and collaboration to put together the tax allocation district. I think in the long run, that’s a huge piece of the puzzle. Once we establish that, once we get the framework in place, that’s when you are going to see at least the potential for growth in the downtown area.
Q: How do you feel about the progress the city is making on improving recreation, and what else needs to be done?
A: I would love to see a recreation building built already. I would love to see the fields done. It’s been slow and it’s been contentious at times. You make a decision here and then several people change their minds and that causes a whole change in course of action. That’s caused a lot of delays. But I think we are right on the cusp of seeing a huge difference made in our recreation.
Q: Why should people vote for you?
A: I think people should vote for me because of service to my country, service to my state and service to this city, is all I’ve ever done. It’s all I’ve ever known. I can say without any reservation whatsoever, that though there have been mayors in the past that love the city of Warner Robins maybe as much as me, none have ever loved the city more. I love this city. I’ve been here all my life.