Houston & Peach

Warner Robins council candidates support city administrator

From left, Warner Robins City Council Post 1 candidates Eric Langston, Daron Lee, and Jim Taylor fielded questions at the Robins Regional Chamber of Commerce candidate forum on Sept. 26.
From left, Warner Robins City Council Post 1 candidates Eric Langston, Daron Lee, and Jim Taylor fielded questions at the Robins Regional Chamber of Commerce candidate forum on Sept. 26. bcabell@macon.com

Regardless of the outcome of the Nov. 7 election, the Warner Robins City Council appears likely to remain in support of having a city administrator.

The council approved a city administrator position in August, but delayed implementation until January when the new council would take office. Three of the four candidates for the vacant at-large Post 1 seat all told The Telegraph they strongly support having a city administrator.

The fourth candidate, Jeffery Walker, expressed some skepticism about having a city administrator, but said he would favor it if the majority of the people want one.

Post 3 Councilman Keith Lauritsen and his challenger Terri Murray have also both said they support a city administrator.

Daron Lee, Eric Langston, Jim Taylor and Walker are competing to fill the Post 1 seat vacated when Councilman Chuck Shaheen qualified to run for mayor.

LEE WANTS TO FIGHT BLIGHT

Lee, 47, served as Post 5 councilman for four years, then decided to run for mayor in 2013. He finished third in a field of six candidates.

Lee is community outreach coordinator for Central Georgia Technical College. He is also pastor of Agape Outreach Ministries in Warner Robins. He holds a master’s degree in post secondary education from Troy University. He has lived in Warner Robins for 17 years.

He said addressing blight, particularly in the area of Ga. 247 across from Robins Air Force Base, would one of his biggest priorities on council. He said that would help reduce crime and spur economic development.

“We’ve got to clean up this city,” he said. “We’ve got to do it on a more consistent basis.”

He also said improving the area directly across from the base and spurring economic development there would help the city be better positioned for a future Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

Although Lee, Langston and Taylor agree on having a city administrator, they had some varying opinions on what that would mean for the mayor’s job.

“I don’t care if we have a full-time or part-time mayor but I know we need a city administrator,” Lee said.

He said crime is a major concern and he believes the city has a problem with gangs. He said would like to work to improve parks and recreational opportunities to give young people more to do.

LANGSTON WANTS TO KEEP YOUNG PEOPLE IN TOWN

Langston, 34, is a lifelong resident of Warner Robins and is making his first try at public office. He works at Robins Air Force Base, where he manages a small fleet of special operations helicopters.

He was part of a group of union members who sought a better working relationship with base management and swept entrenched union leaders from office in an election. The national union later booted the new leaders from office on unspecified allegations and put the chapter in a trusteeship, which still stands.

Langston holds a master’s degree in public administration from Georgia College, and served six years in the Georgia Air National Guard.

He said one of his top priorities would be to find ways to encourage young people to live in the city. He said that could be done by getting housing for the colleges in the city and developing the downtown area with cultural and entertainment venues.

“I think we’ve got to work more diligently than ever to improve our infrastructure, to have a more urban environment to keep young folks here,” he said.

Langston said he would favor having a full-time mayor at the start of having an administrator, but may be open to making the mayor’s job part time later on.

“I wholeheartedly believe establishing a city administrator position is necessary to keep us competitive in the 21st Century,” he said. “It literally take politics out of policy.”

TAYLOR SUPPORTS FULL-TIME MAYOR

Jim Taylor, 62, is making his first try at elected office, although he has long been closely involved with local government.

He has served on the Warner Robins Planning & Zoning Commission, frequently attends government meetings, and is a leading advocate for improving parks in the city. He led an effort to get Wellston Park built, which opened in August with the city’s first dog park.

He is business development and marketing manager for Warner Robins Supply. He graduated from high school in Rochester, Pennsylvania and soon after moved to Warner Robins with his dad, who served in the Air Force.

Although Taylor agrees that a city administrator is needed, he expressed the clearest support for keeping the mayor’s job full-time.

“Yes, I think we do need a full time mayor, but I think some of those duties and responsibilities need to be parceled out to others so that it is more manageable,” he said.

He said improving the city’s financial situation would be his top priority.

He noted that the city recently approved a change in how it buys drugs in its insurance plan that is expected to save over $800,000. The city is also looking at changing how it bills vacant properties for storm water fees, which is expected to collect an undetermined but significant amount of money not currently being billed.

“What else aren’t we either getting the money for or that maybe we are spending too much on?” he said. “Let’s look at that first before we decide to look at raising taxes to get more money.”

WALKER SAYS HE WOULD DO WHAT THE PEOPLE WANT

Walker, 56, is a retired minister. He said he first ran for city office in 2005 and has run in every election since then for either at-large City Council or mayor. He said he holds a theology degree from Turner Theological Seminary.

He last ran in 2015 for the Post 2 at-large seat held by Carolyn Robbins. She defeated him 1,507 votes to 347.

He missed the Robins Regional Chamber of Commerce candidate forum Sept. 26. He said that was because he had a collapsed lung and was in the Houston Medical Center, but he said he is recovering and will be healthy enough to serve.

Asked his top priority, Walker said “I would love to see this great city live up to its potential.”

He expressed reservations about whether the city needs an administrator.

“What I’m concerned about is that no one is really explaining to the people that the city administrator is an appointed position and would not be accountable to the voter,” he said.

But on that issue and others, he said he would be willing to go with what the people want.

“If the majority of people in Warner Robins want a city administrator, I would vote to keep the peace in Warner Robins by having a city administrator,” he said. “I will be for what the people of Warner Robins are for but I would want them to be educated.”

A sample ballot is available on the city’s website, wrga.gov.

Wayne Crenshaw: 478-256-9725, @WayneCrenshaw1

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