Ernest Larry Lawton has been busy campaigning to become mayor of Statesboro and is promoting a broader agenda than just the two issues he talked about at the start of his campaign.
Lawton, 70, a business owner, truck driver and minister who has lived in Statesboro for 25 years now, grew up in Register but lived in other states before returning to Bulloch County. He is running for mayor as a challenger to incumbent Jonathan McCollar, first elected in 2017. Early voting is now underway in the city election that will conclude with Election Day voting Tuesday, Nov. 2.
In an interview just after he qualified as a candidate in August, Lawton identified public safety and business expansion as his main categories of concern for the city. Those still rank high among his priorities, but when interviewed this week he expanded the list to seven general goals and also provided a written statement about his vision for Statesboro.
“The person that leads Statesboro for the next four years must love the people more than he loves himself,” Lawton said in that statement. “This love that he has will bond him to the people and cause the people of Statesboro to bond to him. When this happens the leader of the city and the citizens of Statesboro become one, and they all speak the same goals.”
“When this happens,” he said, “nothing can stop them from reaching their potential.”
That statement was a “How will this be done?” summary under a list of seven statements labeled “Unlimited Possibilities.”
“Statesboro is a city with unlimited possibilities,” that list begins. “1. Statesboro has the potential of creating a love relationship between public safety and its citizens 2. Statesboro has the potential of being, not only known as a city that loves sports, but also known for the academic excellence of the students that attend its schools. …”
Youth and safety
Those statements correspond to his first two goal areas, public safety and youth development. He also provided an outline of the seven goal areas with ideas for each. The other five areas are senior citizen care, business expansion, veteran support, aid to the homeless and home ownership.
In the area of public safety, Lawton hopes to create better cooperation between the Statesboro Police Department and the community and to encourage more minorities to seek careers as police officers. He also wants to make the pay scale for Statesboro police competitive with surrounding cities, he said.
For youth development, he would make education a priority over sports, he said. To do so, he would like to set up tutorial and learning centers in certain areas of the city.
“Since there’s COVID now, people have been going to virtual. … But a lot of parents are not able to stay home with their children, so we’ve been working on getting volunteers to kind of man these stations to help watch the children,” Lawton said on the phone.
He also wants to establish “youth motivation workshops,” aimed at keeping young people out of gangs.
For senior citizen care, he proposes a senior care phone network and senior visitation programs to help “create an atmosphere of respect and love for senior citizens.”
Toward the business expansion goal, Lawton said he wants the city government to find ways to motivate new businesses to locate in Statesboro and encourage banks to finance businesses for people in the community who have “an A-1 business plan.”
He also wants to encourage businesses to give people who have a criminal record a second chance by hiring them. On this, Lawton is trying to set an example with his own business, Hallelujah Transportation, a trucking company that moves shipping containers in and out of warehouses around the Port of Savannah.
“I’m trying to get a plan where I can hire people that come out of the jail, but I’m trying to get in touch with the Parole Board so that this can be incorporated into their parole requirements,” he said. “They work with me for a year, and after the year they’ll have saved enough money so that they can either get their own truck or they can continue to work with me, but during this time, we’re going to train them on how to manage money, how to buy a house and how to budget.”
One-third of the program participants’ pay would be withheld for them to receive on completion of the program, Lawton said.
For “veteran support,” he wants to expand efforts to help provide information to military veterans to get any help they need and provide transportation to their medical appointments.
Aid for homeless
Lawton’s ideas for aid to the homeless include providing temporary shelter, food and clothing, medical care, and looking for ways to “help the homeless to stop being homeless” and provide jobs for those who want to work.
Lawton is aware that there is already a homeless shelter, Open Hearts Community Mission, in Statesboro. But on the phone and in his outline, he indicated that he wants to provide a shelter for “drifters” and others not currently served.
To promote home ownership, he wants the city to back efforts to build affordable housing, provide information about organizations that offer financial help for buying a house and provide counseling about the responsibility of owning a home, he stated in the outline of goals.
Beyond those goals, he said he would encourage the City Council members to meet with the people in their districts at least once a month and bring those ideas back to the council meetings.
“Then me as myself, I want to get out and talk to the people,” Lawton said. “I want to have an open-door policy for at least two to three days a week where you can just come without calling, so we can talk. The main idea is, we have to get people’s trust – and I’m not saying they don’t have it now – but they’ve got to trust the government; they’ve got to trust the leadership.”
Then, if the city does “have to raise taxes to get more pay scale” for the police, for example, “it would have that support,” he said.
A 1969 graduate of William James High School, Lawton worked in the automotive industry and later for the U.S. Postal Service before continuing his education, attaining a Bachelor of Arts from Georgia Southern University in 2005.
He and his wife, the Rev. Deborah K. Lawton, are the founders of the nonprofit Tri-County Ministries of Jesus Christ, of the Spirit Filled Baptist Church on Packinghouse Road where he holds the title apostle and she is the current pastor, and of Hallelujah Transportation LLC.
Another story will report what both candidates had to say about a couple of issues, including the referendum on liquor stores that also appears on the ballot.