Now that early voting for the Statesboro city council election is over, officials are gearing up for the final day of voting – Election Day on Tuesday.
According to Deputy Registrar Shontay Jones, 231 citizens voted between Oct. 18 and Oct. 28, including ballots cast in the office and turned-in absentee ballots. District 4 was the most active with 161 early votes, followed by District 1 with 48 and 22 votes in the other three districts.
Three offices are up for grabs Tuesday – the mayoral seat and the council seats in Districts 1 and 4. Mayor pro-tem and current District 4 council member Joe Brannen is running for mayor unopposed after DeWayne Grice decided not to run on the last day of qualifying.
Incumbent District 1 Councilman Tommy Blitch is seeking re-election in Statesboro’s northern district and will face challenges from political newcomers William Thomas and Benji Lewis. District 4 is guaranteed a new council member, as political novices Lottie Johnson, Fred Parrish and John Riggs seek to represent the southeastern district in Statesboro.
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday. People living in city Districts 1 and 2 will vote at the William James Educational Complex on Williams Road. Those living in Districts 3, 4 and 5 will vote at the Senior Citizen Building – the Honey Bowen Building – on the corner of Fair Road and Max Lockwood Drive.
Proper identification for voting or registering to vote consists of one of the following: a valid Georgia driver's license, any valid state or U.S. issued employee identification card with a photo of the elector, a valid U.S. passport, a valid voter identification card, a valid U.S. military identification card or a valid tribal identification card. A voter registration card is not sufficient identification to vote.
More information can be found at www.sos.state.ga.us.
Tommy Blitch is the incumbent for District 1 and is seeking his second full term. Though mentioning a number of times during the campaign that he has been the District 1 representative for eight years, Blitch won a special election in 2004 to fill a vacant council seat.
There is some concern among his constituents that Blitch’s age and declining health might be a detriment to his serving another term in office. Blitch said feels like age is not a problem and that he can serve just as well for the next four years as he has in the past.
Benji Lewis, a teacher at the Charter Conservatory for Liberal Arts and Technology, has lived in Statesboro his entire life. In addition to teaching, he operates his own disk jockey business, Jammin’ J Productions. At 32, Lewis is the youngest candidate and, despite his enthusiasm and willingness to listen to the people in his district, his complete lack of political experience is the biggest hindrance for District 1 voters.
Lewis made his strongest and most definitive statement during the candidate forum at the Averitt Center on Oct. 20. When asked about the termination of former city clerk Judy McCorkle and whether he supported the subsequent settlement by the city council, Lewis said money should never be taken from hard-working taxpayers to pay off disgruntled employees.
Bill Thomas, on the other hand, has been a nearly constant topic of intense debate on the Herald blogs since he announced his candidacy on the first day of qualifying. Thomas, a salesman and barbeque artist for Big Bad Wolf Inc., is a relative newcomer to both Statesboro and city politics – having moved to the area about five years ago and making his first stab at political office.
Thomas has been in numerous acrimonious divorce and divorce modification hearings over the past five years. Some of the court appearances are to compel Thomas to settle the child support in which, in the past, he was in arrears. Thomas said he got behind by well more than $10,000 because his income was not sufficient enough to cover the $1,750 monthly payment for his two high-school aged children.
While Thomas’ ex-wife has said he has harassed her multiple times, Thomas said he is simply the target of a vindictive ex and that he hopes the entire matter will be settled and put to rest during a Nov. 5 hearing in Cherokee County.
District 4 has been a bit quieter than District 1 by comparison. After Brannen announced his decision to run for mayor, three candidates stepped in to view for his vacated seat.
John Riggs, a self-employed real estate appraiser, was the first to announce his candidacy, doing so a good week before candidate qualifying began. He said friends approached him over a year ago about running for council and that he received so much encouragement over the past months that he decided to run.
Riggs said during the candidate forum that he did not support or see the need for the council to vote to move forward and put a Sunday alcohol sales referendum before the voters. He later said that if enough of his constituents were supportive of such a referendum, he could see himself voting to put the measure out there for the people to decide.
Riggs also believes it is the city manager’s responsibility to hire and fire employees and the city council should only hire and fire those city positions that are authorized by the city charter – the city manager, the city attorney and the city judge.
Lottie Johnson has lived in Statesboro all her life and has been a local business owner for the last 50 years. At one time, she owned the first mini-mart in Statesboro, which was located on Fair Road where Zaxby’s now sits. She said her husband was instrumental in getting beer and wine package sales legalized in the city limits.
When asked about consolidation, Johnson said she would like to do more research on consolidation but added that a number of people approached her and voiced their opposition to consolidation. Johnson said she could not vote in favor of consolidation if she felt her constituents were not in favor of the move.
Fred Parrish is a former Army Warrant Officer who owned an appliance store in Statesboro for 17 years. Parrish said just after he qualified that he had done so the spur of the moment. He later amended his statement to add that he had wanted to run for office for many years, but this is the first year his wife agreed to let him run.
Parrish took the hardest line against consolidation saying that it was imprudent for the city to spend the $20,000 when there are city employees making less than $10 per hour. He added that he would be more favorable to the study when the economic climate for the city is more favorable.
When asked about the former city clerk, Parrish said he didn’t understand all the interworkings of the McCorkle settlement. However, he said he supported the council’s decision to settle simply because it closed the matter and will allow the council to focus on the welfare of Statesboro citizens.