Derek Duke, having represented District 5 on Statesboro City Council for little over a year, said he now feels he has become part of a team accomplishing great things for the city. Public safety is one issue he emphasizes.
Duke won a special election through a runoff in June 2018 to fulfill the term left unfinished by former Councilman Travis Chance, who resigned to move outside the city limits. Now Shari Barr is challenging Duke in the Nov. 5 election for the full term.
“Well … they set four-year terms for a reason,” Duke said. “I’ve really, as a first-time councilman, gotten trained, if you will. I’m very excited about some of the things I’ve been able to be part of the Statesboro team in doing, some of the things that independently I have been able to steer Statesboro in the direction of. I look forward to being able to really make a huge difference in Statesboro in the next four years. It’s very exciting times for the city.”
Now 74, Duke has made Statesboro his hometown for more than 40 years. His wife, Pat Harvey Duke, a retired teacher and lifelong Statesboro resident, have two grown sons and five grandchildren.
Duke went to Georgia Tech on an Air Force scholarship for his bachelor’s degree and was trained as a pilot. He then flew combat missions in the Vietnam War and attained a master’s degree in business from the University of Southern Illinois while on active duty.
In the last year of the war, he said, he directed an electronic warfare operation, with planes gathering combat intelligence.
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.
“Hence I’ve got a great support for law enforcement, public safety. I’m a huge supporter and believer in that,” he said.
“I believe we have a very safe community,” Duke said, adding that any act of violence is too many.
“I wish we were down to zero, but that’s virtually impossible,” he said.
He said the city has “very proactive” police and fire departments in things such as community outreach and social media.
Then Duke talked about an electronic surveillance system, involving digital cameras and capabilities such as license plate recognition, which he said has been installed in Statesboro. He said he has been “part of the team” working on this, along with Chief of Police Mike Broadhead.
“A lot of cities have video camera systems, but ours – now remember what I did in the Vietnam War – ours is top of the line, and I can assure anyone that does a major crime here in Statesboro, we will find them and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law,” Duke said. “We’re putting in a very extensive video surveillance system so that we will be able to catch up to crime and have photographic proof.”
There will be strict protocols for retaining and handling data, and the system will not be used for misdemeanor-type crimes but is meant to discourage major crimes, he said.
“We’ve got a tool that we’ve never had before to protect our precious student population at Georgia Southern, and as we expand the system, to protect the entire city of Statesboro,” Duke said.
“First of all, the city is committed to trying to have a transportation capability for citizens that need that,” Duke said. “We’ve spent a lot of taxpayers’ money on the study, and right now we’re spending more money on trying to get grant applications. If it’s too expensive, we cannot do it. We don’t know how expensive it’s going to be yet.
“We’ve got everything from very high to not high, but right now without big government grants we can’t get there with the current budget, we just can’t do it,” he continued. “I mean, we could be spending anywhere north of a thousand dollars a day to do this unless we’re very careful.”
So controlling costs and getting federal grants will be absolutely necessary, but the experience of communities that have bus systems, such as Hinesville, can be guides, he said.
Parks & recreation
The Statesboro-Bulloch Parks and Recreation Department is funded and operated by the Bulloch County government under a 10-year Service Delivery Strategy, or SDS, agreement with the city that also covers other services. Mayor Jonathan McCollar advocated the use of a legal team, a consulting firm and a state deadline extension for negotiations with the county on this year’s SDS renewal.
But Duke delivered a statement during a June council meeting that led to a 4-1 vote to reverse course and accept the county’s offered agreement, little changed in substance from the previous one. Duke and other council members said they heard assurances from county commissioners that they will be willing to negotiate on particular concerns, such as the parks.
“Spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on legal fees was something that I avoided,” Duke said this week. “I didn’t want to go that way, but I have received a verbal promise from the county commissioners to, when we’re ready, go address any inequalities with the SDS.”
He mentioned a murder that occurred at Luetta Moore Park in June and said of the camera surveillance system he had touted, “if we’d had that in that park, we would already have the perpetrators.”
“The parks are very important, and parks in the neighborhoods where the people would like to use them, and the facilities therein, are very important,” he said.
Duke then segued to the Creek on the Blue Mile project by referring to it as a promised state park. This is based on comments by state officials when former Gov. Nathan Deal brought word last year of the state’s funding commitments to the creek plan.
“Let’s talk about what the state has been so gracious to give us, a new state park on the southwest side of the city, with the current Blue Mile, Blue Creek…,” Duke said. “Funding is underway to make that happen. If we can, with a joint cooperative government-city effort, pull off a very sound and financially well-planned and delivered effort, it’s going to make Statesboro as unique as Splash in the Boro makes Statesboro.”