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District 5 council seat to be decided Tuesday
Armel or Duke to fill remainder of term through 2019
armel duke
Statesboro City Council District 5 candidates Don Armel, left, and Derek Duke responded to a question about the council’s recent discussion on decriminalizing possession of less than one ounce of marijuana. - photo by Special

Concluding Tuesday with voting at Pittman Park United Methodist Church, Statesboro Council District 5 voters will choose between Don Armel and Derek Duke as their new council member.

Early voting took place in this special city election runoff from June 1 through Friday, June 15, and the poll will be open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Tuesday. Some city District 5 residents vote at a different location for county elections, but Pittman Park is the only city precinct for this district. Nothing else is on the ballot.

It is a contest between two retirees who have lived in Statesboro for decades.

Originally it was a three-candidate race, and Duke had the lead in votes as of the May 22 first-round special election.

“I’ve pretty much, to those who would have me, met every citizen in District 5 at one time or another at their doorway,” Duke said earlier this week. “I’ve called on everybody several times. I believe that I’m in step with our citizens of District 5, including the Georgia Southern population, and that’s very important.”

After flying combat missions as an Air Force pilot during the Vietnam War, Duke went on to a 40-year career as an airline pilot. He remained in the Air Force Reserve, through other deployments, before retiring as a lieutenant colonel. Statesboro has been his hometown for 40 years.

Armel, Ph.D., taught for 34 years, including five years as a high school teacher and then 29 at the college level. He taught graphic communications management at Georgia Southern University for 18 years before retiring as a full professor. He has lived in Statesboro for 21 years.

“Like so many people here I chose to live in Statesboro, and as such I want to live in the best place possible,” Armel said this week. “Hoping that things do not change is just not realistic. Change happens and you can either manage it and choose the future or let change happen to you, and I think managing change is the wiser choice.”

 

Preserving community

Preserving the stable community life that first prompted him to choose Statesboro is central to the reasons Duke is running, he said in March.

In his first campaign flyer and interview, he identified a focus on crime prevention and fiscal responsibility to avoid property tax increases as campaign planks.

“I’m a big backer of our public service folks, law enforcement and public service, our church community, the fabric of our society and trying to just do what makes the community stronger that we have here to enjoy,” Duke said then.

He has served nearly eight years on Bulloch County’s planning and zoning board, appointed by the county commissioners. In March he said people were urging him “to promote the continuing closer relationship between the county and city in governmental affairs.”

Supporting retail growth and industrial recruitment, revitalizing central Statesboro in conjunction with the Blue Mile initiative, improving traffic flow, exploring the feasibility of public transportation and working closely with Georgia Southern are other issues Duke identified.

“I’ve stayed on that message, and my interaction with the citizens has reinforced that, that everyone really, in their heart of hearts, that’s what they want, and they want us to work well with our largest citizen, Georgia Southern University,” Duke said this week.

Both candidates invoke some ideas promoted by Mayor Jonathan McCollar, who took office in January after a 2017 campaign that focused on combatting poverty.

Duke said he thinks McCollar is “doing a terrific job,” and that he looks forward to working with the mayor “to address all of these socioeconomic issues that challenge every community in the United States and not just ours.”

 

Improving lives

Armel wants to help make Statesboro a place people are proud to live, an example to other communities, he says. Improving the economy, particularly to help people out of poverty, and developing public transportation are the means he advocates.

“Truly I want to see this community improve and be a shining star, be an example of what smaller communities can be,” Armel said in early April. “You know, we’ve got some unique opportunities here … and I think we can work to try to improve this community and improve the lives of the citizens.”

He advocates a bus system as a way to move people, especially those without reliable transportation of their own, to jobs and shopping. The countywide sales tax for transportation projects approved by voters in May earmarks $450,000 for Statesboro to spend on developing public transportation, and McCollar is a leading proponent.

As another strategy for economic growth, Armel proposes that Statesboro promote itself as a hometown for retirees.

“We have a low cost of living, we develop this mass transit, we have a quality of life that they’re interested in, particularly in the arts and entertainment, and all we need is housing specifically designed for seniors,” he said.

He also suggests that the city encourage the creation of clusters of businesses that appeal to young adults, such as music stores, internet cafes, juice bars and venues for game playing and the sale of arts and crafts.

“So all of these (ideas) do in some way also address the problem of poverty,” Armel said. “We’re talking about new businesses and better businesses, transportation issues in getting people to worksites.”

Armel’s May 2017 request that the mayor and council cease opening meetings with prayer was made in response to the council’s adoption of a “safe and inclusive welcoming city for all people” resolution. He accompanied the request with a suggestion that the invocations should at least be more inclusive of the many religious and nonreligious backgrounds of Statesboro’s people.

The issue has not been a part of his campaign.

“I’m focused on improving the lives of citizens here, and I think that’s what is the key to making this a welcoming, safe and inclusive community,” Armel said last week.

 

Unexpired term

The winner Tuesday will fill the unexpired term of former District 5 Councilman Travis Chance through 2019.

Chance, who resigned in March after more than 10 years as a council member, is now in a runoff with Bulloch County Commissioner Walter Gibson for Gibson’s seat on the county board. But that race won’t be decided until July 24, when it will appear on the Republican ballot along with some statewide runoffs.

 

Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.

 

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