With but a week remaining until Election Day, the four candidates competing for a seat on the Statesboro City Council shared a single stage Tuesday to state their cases for election.
Phil Boyum, Per Holtze, Maurice Jackson and Jonathan McCollar, who will oppose one another on ballots in a Special City Election next Tuesday, sat before a crowd assembled in the Averitt Center for the Arts to answer a series of questions from residents they plan to represent.
Tuesday’s event marked the only time in a short campaign cycle in which candidates addressed voters in the same venue — contenders have had little more than one month to campaign for the District 1 office, since former Councilman Tommy Blitch announced his resignation.
The forum featured a string of citizen-submitted questions, on topics that ranged from public safety to the Mainstreet Farmers’ Market, delivered by a moderator.
On the issues, candidates agreed with their counterparts in almost every instance.
Tunes of economic development, collaboration among city and county governments, and a better relationship with citizens rang out time and time again.
Each candidate included the points on their respective lists of top priorities.
“One of the biggest problems that City Council has right now is that they have a hard time telling folks what is going on in the city, and they are having a hard time getting input from citizens,” said Boyum, a radio host and marketing consultant.
“It is important that we are working together,” said Holtze, who owns a small business downtown. Also, “We need to move as rapidly as we can with economic development. We have the resource here that we need to create jobs.”
To a man, candidates expressed a desire to bolster the struggling South Main Street, by attracting new business downtown with incentives, and keep clean neighborhoods in District 1 — an issue they say tops the list of concerns for area residents.
“South Main Street development is a great idea. I have run several businesses over there,” said Maurice Jackson, a managing partner for a Pooler restaurant. “The city needs to continue enticing businesses to come into the area by lowering fees and bulldoze or renovate some old buildings.”
“We need to maintain and ensure property values in District 1,” said McCollar, who owns a small business in Statesboro. “When we have individuals in a community that are not taking care of their property the way that they should, then we need to put it on the table. We definitely want to address ordinances.”
Candidates also shared the sentiment that an improved relationship with Georgia Southern University is imperative for an improved Statesboro; and they expressed belief and support for downtown’s Mainstreet Farmers’ Market — though, all but Jackson expressed hesitation to provide a permanent location for the venue, as it does not operate year-round and, in theory, would use taxpayer dollars.
The hopefuls did express some conflicting views.
The men were split regarding the city’s 2010 decision to combine the police and fire departments into one public safety department — Boyum and Holtze believe the consolidation works, McCollar and Jackson said they would not have approved the vote.
Also, each candidate chose a different issue when asked to identify District 1’s most pressing need.
Boyum selected neighborhood integrity/cleanliness.
“I go with this answer because I hear it from the people I talk to in the district,” he said. “We have to clean the place up — as simple as it sounds, mow the grass and clean out the ditches. What do people want? They want their neighborhoods to stay clean and safe.
“As a councilman, I will make sure we put a plan in place to systematically clean the place up,” he said.
Holtze went another route.
“I’m going to go out on a limb here: sidewalks,” he said. “I would love to see more sidewalks. Can you imagine seeing your kids walking from Statesboro High back home? There is something about sidewalks that contributes to active, safe and connected communities.”
Jackson selected a topic mentioned several times in the forum by all candidates.
“Something that needs to be addressed is communication to citizens,” he said. “There are a lot of constituents in the First District that didn’t even know they are in District 1. We have to be more outgoing and make sure our community is taken care of.”
McCollar maintained earlier points about improving economic conditions.
“I say jobs,” he said. “When you travel through District 1, there are some areas that are extremely beautiful; but there are other areas where we have high concentrations of poverty. Individuals in these areas really want to work.”
Early voting to choose one of four candidates continues through Friday at the Bulloch County Courthouse and Honey Bowen Building.
On Election Day, polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Tuesday’s forum can be viewed in its entirety on the Statesboro Herald website beginning this evening.
Jeff Harrison may be reached at (912) 489-9454.