WARNER ROBINS — Voters will decide the future of the city’s leadership as three City Council members face challengers.
Post 2 City Councilwoman Carolyn Robbins, 72, is challenged by Jeffrey Walker Sr., in his fifth bid for a seat on the council.
Walker has not attended any public forums this election season, and attempts to reach him by phone were unsuccessful.
A member of Walker’s family said Friday he was in the hospital.
Robbins, a retired city clerk, was elected to the citywide post in 2011.
“I’d like to have another four years (on the council) so that we can complete some of the things that we started,” Robbins said. “I want to see some things done.”
Echoing the same message stressed by all three incumbent council members, Robbins said re-electing her would help with stability and continuity of ongoing projects and goals.
“I think it’s important that we don’t have to start over,” Robbins said. “I think a lot of times you get some new person into council that’s not necessarily for exactly what you’re for. I think that’s stopped us from a lot of progress.”
In the Post 4 race, City Councilman Tim Thomas, 52, is being challenged by 43-year-old Betsy Loiacono, who ran unsuccessfully against Houston County school board member Marianne Melnick in 2010.
Loiacono is a victim’s advocate in the Macon Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office, and Thomas manages rental properties. The two candidates have butted heads on several issues in recent political forums ranging from the foreign investment program the council is considering as a way to pay for a conference center and hotel, to the tax allocation district for downtown.
Thomas said he’s accomplished most everything he said he would when he took office two years ago.
“I said we need stability and leadership, which I think we’re there,” Thomas said. “The other thing I said I wanted to do was find an area for a park in Post 4. ... We live in the most expensive area in the city and to buy land would be just ungodly. ... A few months ago we had a developer came up and said, ‘Hey, I want to donate this land to you.’”
Thomas said the city is in the process of accepting land for a 17-acre passive park near Houston Lake and Feagin Mill roads.
But Loiacono said Thomas “has not delivered” on his promise of a park, and the public only recently learned of the plans.
“We don’t know the real location or details. We’ve not seen a vote. There’s no purchase. There’s no deed,” Loiacono said. “We’ve not heard anything from anyone else about it. ... Pure rhetoric. That park’s never going to happen.”
Thomas, however, said “it’s been talked about since 2012.” He said the council voted unanimously a month or two ago to give Mayor Randy Toms the authority to seal the deal.
Though a park in Post 4 is the top priority for Loiacono, she said she first considered running for City Council last summer when Thomas voted to increase public utility rates.
“Then there was talk of other increases, and I grew a little more concerned,” she said. “I will fight hard to keep taxes low and public utilities low.”
Thomas said he’s like to know where she’d come up with the money to make up the difference without raising taxes or dipping into reserves.
Loiacono, who studied business in college, said she would make sure “if we’re going to increase expenditures that we’re bringing in more revenue, (because) we can’t lay that burden on the doorsteps of our taxpayers.”
Thomas said he’s a better councilman now than when he was first elected, something he attributes to “just having time in that office and learning my role, knowing where money is.”
Loiacono promises to “always be a voice in the best interest of our hard-working families, veterans and business owners.”
If elected, Loiacono said, the biggest challenge for her would be transitioning and getting to know everyone.
“I’m not an insider so I’m not privy to a lot of information that is shared and talked about,” Loiacono said. “I think all I need is about 30 days, and I’ll be up to speed.”
Post 6 City Councilman Mike Davis, 62, is challenged in his second term by 57-year-old Carmen Antonio.
Davis, a high school sports broadcaster and retired city firefighter, was elected in 2011. Antonio, a California native who works in Macon at Frames & Art Unlimited, moved to Warner Robins from Nevada about five years ago.
Davis said continuity is key to seeing some long-awaited projects come to fruition, such as turning Walker’s Pond into a city park.
“We’ve been able to work through a lot of stuff that was going on, and we’ve got a really good team down here,” Davis said, adding that Elberta Road has been repaved, Corder Road was completed and sidewalks are being installed by Carl Vinson Parkway.
“I’m pleased with where we’re at,” Davis said. “I think the No. 1 priority these next four years is growth. We’ve got to bring in industry. ... The only way we’re going to maintain the 9.9 millage rate is to grow.”
Another priority of Davis’ is to complete the projects on the special purpose local option sales tax list, such as building a sports complex, as money becomes available.
Antonio, who created a 200-member Neighborhood Watch group a couple of years ago in response to her victimized neighbor, said she decided to run because she’s unhappy with Davis’ representation.
Antonio, who lives on Oakview Square, said she attended a council meeting in May to find out the status of Walker’s Pond, which was delayed for months due to environmental issues.
“I go up to my representative. I didn’t say anything and he said, ‘You’re that Oakview woman,’” Antonio said. “I think that’s what fired me up to represent the community in which I live.”
Davis denied Antonio’s accusations and said name-calling is not in his character.
In addition to sidewalks, bike lanes and parks, Antonio said she wants a downtown or “an urban area where young people can gather. That’s what our city needs.”
The city is in the process of attracting a developer to build a hotel and conference center in hopes of creating a downtown-like ambiance.
“I think the hardest thing, as a councilman, is ... it takes time to get things done,” Davis said. “You can’t just wave a magic wand.”
Antonio said she would welcome the challenges that come with representing Post 6.
“I know that you have to go through a lot of avenues to get things done,” she said. “But gosh, plant the seed so tomorrow we have things, because this town has never done that.”
To contact writer Laura Corley, call 744-4334 or follow her on Twitter @Lauraecor.
Early voting for the Nov. 3 municipal elections starts Tuesday in Warner Robins, Perry and Centerville. For more information, voters in Centerville or Warner Robins can contact their city. Voters in Perry can contact the Houston County Board of Elections.
Name: Carolyn Robbins (incumbent)
Occupation: retired city clerk
Political experience: elected in 2011; 29 years of employment with the city
Top issue: Public safety
Name: Jeffrey Walker
Political experience: four previous bids for City Council
Top issue: Unknown
Name: Tim Thomas (incumbent)
Occupation: manages rental properties
Political experience: elected in 2013
Top issue: Passive parks
Name: Betsy Loiacono
Occupation: victim’s advocate
Political experience: Ran unsuccessfully against Houston County Board of Education member Marianne Melnick in 2010.
Top issue: Parks
Name: Mike Davis (incumbent)
Occupation: retired city fireman
Political experience: elected in 2011
Top issue: Growth
Name: Carmen Antonio
Occupation: works at Frames & Art Unlimited
Political experience: none
Top issue: Parks