Don Armel, candidate for Statesboro City Council in District 5, says he wants to help make Statesboro a place people are proud to live, an example to other communities.
Improving the economy, particularly to help those now living in poverty, and developing public transportation are two things he supports as means to achieve that.
“Truly I want to see this community improve and be a shining star, be an example of what smaller communities can be,” he said in an interview. “You know, we’ve got some unique opportunities here with all the education, and I think we can work to try to improve this community and improve the lives of the citizens here.”
Armel, Ph.D., taught graphic communications management at Georgia Southern University for 18 years before retiring in December 2014 as a full professor. Now 63, he has been a Statesboro resident for 21 years. Armel, Derek Duke and Konrad Godfrey are vying in the May 22 city special election, limited to District 5, to fill an unexpired term through December 2019.
Improvement can but does not always mean growth, Armel said.
“You know, poverty is a money issue,” he said. “We have to address it by improving the economics of the area.”
Government data shows that half of Statesboro’s citizens are living at or below the poverty level, he observed.
“So there is a great need for us to pay attention to that group,” Armel said. “It’s not a losing proposition to improve their lives and improve their opportunities. Improving them improves the community, so let’s make sure that all citizens can have an opportunity to grow, enjoy the community as best possible, lead healthy lives, find joy in their life.”
One thing he proposes as a community improvement is a bus system. The city’s special election coincides with the May 22 regular state and county election, and the Bulloch County ballot will include a referendum for a new 1 percent Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.
“The T-SPLOST is going to provide new jobs in constructing and repairing the transportation system here, but it’s also going to have earmarked funds for a bus system,” Armel said.
Statesboro and the other three towns in Bulloch County would receive shares of T-SPLOST revenue based roughly on population, with the county government getting the largest share. In the agreement, a relatively small part of Statesboro’s share would be allotted to public transportation.
“A bus system may help attract some of those businesses and industry,” Armel said. “It will definitely connect workers to workplaces. It can also benefit the various students here, high school and college level. High school students sometimes need to easily move to Georgia Southern or Ogeechee.”
The university already has a bus system, and Ogeechee Technical College and East Georgia State College also have one for students, he noted.
“This bus system could connect basically the rest of the town and even the industrial park,” Armel said. “It’s going to connect citizens to retail areas. It will connect citizens to some of the recreation areas. It could really be a growth opportunity.”
Armel also thinks that the city and county should expand legal alcoholic beverage sales. Currently, mixed drinks are served in local restaurants, but only beer and wine can be sold legally for off-premises consumption.
“It is time to capture the lost taxes that fund Candler County and Chatham County,” he wrote about this in an email.
Armel supports the city’s work to improve storm drainage and reduce standing water, would like to see a more successful curbside recycling program developed and wants to protect property values, he wrote.
“Students should be accepted as citizens of Statesboro while living here,” was another point he listed.
After City Council passed a resolution one year ago declaring Statesboro a “safe and inclusive welcoming city for all people,” Armel asked the mayor and council to halt their practice of starting meetings with a prayer by one of the elected officials.
“Is the invocation at the beginning of city councils inclusive of all your constituents?” he asked the officials in May. “If yes, then you don’t know your constituents. If no, why continue?”
He noted that these were Christian prayers but that Statesboro has residents of many religious and nonreligious backgrounds and suggested the invocations should at least be more inclusive. The council never took up the suggestion.
In the candidate interview, Armel was asked if this is still an important issue for him.
“Well, in the broader sense, I think that all citizens should feel like the City Council will hear their concerns and will create an environment of openness and accessibility for whatever is presented before them,” he said.
Many people of different backgrounds come to Statesboro, especially as university students, professors and medical professionals, he said.
“And the question is, are they being represented fairly when the prayer is starting every meeting,” Armel said. “We could have inspirational messages. I understand the culture here, but people need to take a broader view that Statesboro is not monolithic.”
Armel grew up near South Bend, Indiana. He became an Eagle Scout. He attained his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Indiana State University and his Ph.D. from Southern Illinois University.
He was an educator for 34 years, including five years as a high school teacher and then 29 at the college level. He and Cynthia Armel have been married 37 years and have one adult daughter. One of Don Armel’s post-retirement activities was a motorcycle ride across America in 2015 that raised over $5,800 donated to Statesboro Food Bank.
He has made “Move Forward to Improve” his campaign slogan.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.