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Candidates spar at forum

Hopefuls discussed personal, city issues

Candidates spar at forum

Candidates spar at forum

City Council candidates debate the is...


      From consolidation to alcohol to Judy McCorkle, candidates for Statesboro City Council in Districts 1 and 4 discussed issues during a forum Tuesday night at the Averitt Center.
       Seated at the table were retired banker and District 1 incumbent Tommy Blitch, along with District 1 challengers William Thomas, a salesman with Big Bad Wolf Inc., and Benji Lewis, a teacher at the Charter Conservatory for Arts and Technology. The candidates for the District 4 seat, which was vacated by current District 4 councilman and the sole mayoral candidate Joe Brannen, were retired Army warrant officer Fred Parrish, local business owner Lottie Johnson and real estate appraiser John Riggs.
      After a two-minute introduction by each candidate, moderator Doug Lambert asked all the candidates their positions on consolidation.
      Parrish said he was uncertain about consolidation, especially when the money for the study could be used to bolster the pay of city employees at the low end of the pay scale.
       "I have my doubts," Parrish said. "I think that's the wrong time in our present economy to expend $40,000 when we could be doing other things."
       Riggs said times are tough with the economy, with the city just recently ending the furlough program, but he didn't know if the current budget would support the necessary expenditure.
       "I'm for the consolidation study, if we have the money in the coffers to pay for it," Riggs said. "I would love to hear what the study has to say."
       Blitch said he was on the fence about funding a study at this time, but added that the city would need it in the long run.
      "I feel we should, in the long run, do a consultant study," Blitch said. "That's the only way we'll know if we need (consolidation)."
While saying he supported consolidation because it could help the city and county better work together and understand each other,     Thomas made the first aggressive comment of the night.
       "I'm all for all the city councilman spending more time studying," Thomas said. "I think we could stamp out ignorance at city hall if we could do that."
       Lewis said he was neither for nor against the study, but wanted to study the issue further so he could better discuss the matter with the citizens in his district.
       "That way when I go out and discuss it with my constituents that I'm giving them hardcore facts," Lewis said. "Therefore they can return to me how they feel about it in a way that I can pursue it when it get on the agenda at council."
       Johnson initially passed on the question of consolidation, but addressed it after she answered a later question.
       "I had a little meeting with a bunch of people at the ball game and asked them about consolidation," Johnson said. "And you know what their answer was? 'No, no, no, no.' That's the answer I give on that."
       Another question asked of all candidates was their opinion on the settlement of the lawsuit with former city clerk Judy McCorkle.
       Blitch, the only candidate in the forum to vote on the issue, said the council was told McCorkle had a good suit by the city's legal representation and were recommended that the council settle the matter.
       "If you look at it from the beginning, I don't think - and some of us didn't think - she was really fired," Blitch said. "Later on, our mayor was out of town and he told (City Manager Shane Haynes) not to fire her before he got back, but (Haynes) did."
       Riggs said he was glad the current council took care of the issue and that it's over, but added there are still some ambiguities in the city's charter and the roles of the city manager, mayor and council need to be more clearly defined.
       "There seem to be some ambiguities in the city charter," Riggs said. "I believe it needs to be clarified who the city manager can and cannot fire and who the city council can and cannot fire."
       Parrish said he does not completely understand everything that transpired with McCorkle's firing and settlement, but said he was enlightened by Blitch's explanation.
       "I probably think the best way to settle it was to pay the lady off and get her out of our hair," Parrish said. "You're going to be so taken up with that, you can't concentrate on other things that are important to the welfare of the citizens of Statesboro, Ga."
       Johnson said she still doesn't understand what happened or how an 18-year employee could be terminated by someone new coming into the city, but she added that nothing like that would happen on her watch.
       "I think we'll yet find out what it's all about. And I can hardly wait to find out," Johnson said. "If I'm there, I hope nothing like that happens again."
       Lewis arguably took the firmest stance on the matter and said that if he'd have been on council, his vote would have been "no."
       "I will not take $365,000 away from hard-working tax-payers money to pay off disgruntled employees," Lewis said. "There's a justice system out there for a reason."
       As a council member, Thomas said he would make sure the city's hiring and firing practices were consistent with the norm and that with clean, open, efficient, transparent government, a situation like McCorkle's wouldn't have happened.
       "I feel like any time a business pays off an employee, especially $365,000, it would be apparent to me that that business must have done something wrong," Thomas said. "(I) would work to make sure our personnel policies and procedures were reviewed thoroughly."
      Two questions posed elicited similar responses from all the candidates.
       When asked if they had attended any of the public forums for the Georgia Southern University president search, only Thomas said he had attended any of them (he went to two of them), but they all said the town and gown relationship was very important to the city both economically and culturally.
      Also, each candidate said they would support the idea of allowing a complementary wine service permit, which would give business owners the opportunity to serve wine at business opening, art exhibits and other special events.
       To see the candidates complete answers, visit www.statesboroherald.com after 4 p.m. Wednesday for a replay of the entire forum.

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