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Statesboro Mayoral candidates talk police, taxes, and homelessness in forum

The three candidates for mayor of Statesboro sat before a crowded room on Wednesday night in an attempt to distinguish themselves from one another in a forum hosted by the Agape Worship Center Youth Development Program.


John Grotheer, Jonathan McCollar, and Jan Moore fielded a set of pre-determined questions on the role of the mayor, retention of city employees, crime, recruitment of additional officers, homelessness, and economic development and then answered a few questions submitted by the audience.

Their answers are summarized below and the complete video of the debate is at the bottom of the article.

The Role of the Mayor of Statesboro

Grotheer said the mayor relies heavily on the city manager to handle day-to-day affairs and administration, citing the manager as the chief executive officer. He said the mayor is the chief elected official and presides over the council and represents the city in various capacities.

Moore was quick to say that the position is not as straightforward. “Every document that goes out of that office you sign so you take it very seriously as to what you’re putting your name on.” Moore also said the mayor is responsible for setting the tone and the agenda for council, which dictates how council operates. She also emphasized the importance of being the face of the city across the state as well.

McCollar shared a personal story about a friend that passed away at a young age and the pastor that preached his funeral and spoke of the Greek God Kairos – the God with a ponytail on the front of his head so if he was going to be caught, he was caught coming on to the scene and not when he was leaving. “That’s how I liken the mayoral role for the City of Statesboro. I believe the mayor has to be present for the people but still have enough foresight to prepare for the issues that’s going to be coming down the line.”

Economic Development

McCollar said he’s an advocate for grassroots economics. He said the City has a huge opportunity for pushing minority business ownership, which will create jobs for everyone and increase the tax base. McCollar also emphasized that businesses must be diverse and Statesboro must be inclusive of all people.

Moore touted her current job in Economic Development and said jobs are imperative, but as are good paying jobs. “There is not a reason that anyone in this community that wants to start a business can’t get a leg up. It doesn’t have to be one certain segment or not. We all need to work together to support one another and support each others businesses, but we are only going to be as good as the jobs that can be created here.”

Grotheer said he agreed with both opponents and said create jobs is a priority so young people don’t have to leave town to get a job. He emphasized buildings in place could be renovated into office buildings and revitalized and that would ultimately impact the tax digest, which he said is a good thing. “Good paying jobs is very important.”

First priority as mayor

Moore said that because the community does not receive LOST funds (because all funds go to the school board), it’s imperative to get TSPLOST and SPLOST initiatives passed for parks and recreation. Additionally, Moore said the city needs to be providing transportation to the industrial park.

Grotheer seconded Moore’s suggestion and said he would like to see the city lead collaboraton efforts between the county, the Board of Education, and Georgia Southern to work together for recreation, economic development, infrastructure, and other resources. “I do believe there is room for us to be the leader in collaboration efforts.” Grotheer also said public safety is a top priority and he would make certain they have the resources needed to do their jobs.

McCollar said the biggest issue facing the City of Statesboro is poverty. Citing 50% of people in poverty inside city limits, McCollar said he will spend every day fighting poverty because it’s a moral issue.

Do residents and businesses need more or improved services? What are those and how do you balance demands for services with responsibility to taxpayers?

Grotheer said growth will place additional demands on the city services like police, fire, water and sewer, gas, and those departments will continue to expand to meet the needs. It’s very important that they’re accountable to the taxpayers, he said.

McCollar said more services are needed, but the mayor must think outside the box. He said if living conditions are not well, the city must consider what they’re doing as a governing body. He suggested using ‘creative measures’ like federal and private funding sources.

Moore referenced the strategic plan just completed by the city. “No one has ever asked the citizens, ‘What do you want’?’ She said a tremendous response was received, most emphasizing the desire for an improved quality of life, like parks, sidewalks and things for kids to do. She also said safety was one of the top priorities.

Will alcohol ordinances continue to be a major focus for the city?

Moore: “Three years ago, we had a college student murdered in a bar. It became evident real quickly, when the FBI got involved and a number of other agencies, that our alcohol ordinance was flawed. In fact, it had been dumbed down to the point that it couldn’t even be enforced. Could not even be enforced effectively. If you look at what an ordinance is supposed to do, it’s there to tell folks how to interact with one another and to keep you safe. Our ordinance didn’t keep people safe. Not at all. And so we had to re-do that ordinance. And I’ll tell you what, that’s a painful thing. It is a painful thing, but I believe in my heart of hearts to the depths of my soul that going through that process and redoing that ordinance – we saved lives. There is no doubt in my mind. There is a parent right now who got their child back because we re-did that ordinance.”

Grotheer: “I certainly agree 100% with what the mayor said. I believe that the corrected action plan to adopt an amended ordinance was taken on, and of course it amended the age of patrons as well as staff, which was a very important thing. So I want to reiterate what the mayor said and the right thing was done and I’m 100% behind that.”

McCollar: “The worst thing as a parent, I can’t even begin to imagine the idea of getting a phone call and someone on the other end of that phone call telling me that my child won’t be coming home. When it comes to the alcohol ordinance, a dear student lost their life 3 years ago, but students have been losing their lives at these clubs for 20 years and all of a sudden we have a family that pushes back, we want to take the necessary measures. This is what I believe, this is my fundamental belief, I fundamentally believe that when you are campaigning  to be in a role to be public servant, you need to understand the issues that’s facing this community. I’ve lost friends that I grew up with at these clubs. We want this community safe for everybody across the board and we have to create ordinances and we have to ensure the safety of those that decide to go out. My hope is that we don’t have to address it when we get there, but if we do, we will do everything we can to make sure these students are safe —” (cut off for time)

On the allegation that gang activity has been taking place in Statesboro for over 20 years

McCollar said he’s been addressing the issue for over a decade. He emphasized that the only way a community will move forward is if the tough conversations are had. He did acknowledge that gang members are moving into the city so that they can engage in criminal enterprise and it’s hurting members of the community and the students. Youth development and leadership are ways to combat the problem, he said.

Grotheer said there is no place in Statesboro for gang activity and that many times, crimes committed are not by citizens of Statesboro. “We need to work with other agencies and other communities to combat this problem. It’s just something that doesn’t need to exist in Statesboro and it needs to be dealt with head on.”

Moore cited her education background and said gang activity is going to be in Statesboro as long as it is allowed to be here. She focused on the importance of engaging youth in second and third grade – before they are lost – …(cut off for time)

How do we create more opportunities for youth?

Grotheer said the city needs to work with the Bulloch County Recreation Department to add after school programs and additional programs. He said the city should help funding those programs too.

Moore used the acronym ROE – Recreational, Occupational, Educational opportunity. She said if they aren’t occupied with all three, the battle cannot be won. “We are in a battle. This is it! 20 years from now, we’re lost. It’s not the mayor’s job. It’s not Georgia Southern’s job. It is our job.”

McCollar said too many children are in poverty, a situation that is out of control. He said national institutions with a specific purpose starting from cradle to the first year of college are a mechanism to address the issues because the national organizations are already doing it.

How can the city address homelessness and poverty? 

See 35:00 mark in the video below.

What is the city’s biggest financial challenge?

Moore: The biggest financial challenge is the tax digest is stagnant and decreasing.

Grotheer: Growth is placing huge demands on resources and costs continue to raise regardless of whether or not property values do. He said revitalization of downtown will grow the digest.

McCollar: The budget is not beg enough to provide services. He also said the west side of town looks the same as it did in 1981.

Statesboro has excellent employees. What is your plan to retain them?

Grotheer: City salaries need to be competitive. He said a consultant isn’t needed to determine competitiveness as the state issues the information annually for free.

McCollar: Pay is important, but he wants to creative an environment where everyone feels valued and everyone feels like they’re on the same team. “The one criticism I hear over and over from city employees is that there is an air of cronyism and an air of certain cliques.”

Moore: In referencing the pay study conducted two years ago, Moore said city employees are paid at 57% of the median pay range. She also the city employees are loyal and hardworking and they take great pride in their jobs.

How would you rate the relationship between the Statesboro Police Department and the students at GSU?

McCollar: “What I do believe is there are some barriers that’s preventing us from being as effective because, not only Georgia Southern students, but the greater community, my belief is this right here: I believe if we create a commission where we bring individuals together and we open up that tough dialogue, then we’ll be able to move our community forward because the worst thing that we ever want to see is a Tamir Rice or a Trayvon Martin or any other issue that’s happened across this country. So do I believe there are barriers there? Yes there are. But I do believe we need to be that city that has those tough conversations.”

Moore: “I can tell you what they tell me. When I go out and speak to Georgia Southern students, which I have done quite a bit with several different groups, I always ask this question: ‘Are you afraid of the Statesboro Police Department?’ And you might say ‘Well, why would you ask that?’ and I said, “Cause I gotta know.” And guess what they tell me, almost overwhelmingly. ‘Yes we are.’ And I’ll ask them ‘Do you feel targeted by the Statesboro Police Department?’ And what do they always say overwhelmingly, particularly females? ‘Yes we do.’ Do I sit here and think the City of Statesboro Police Department is targeting university students? No I don’t. Do I wish that university students would not be afraid of the police department? Yes I do. So we’ve got some work to do.”

Grotheer: “I just want to thank the mayor for sharing that insight with everyone here, including myself tonight, hopefully we take that and develop a strategy that is not ‘we’ and ‘them,’ it’s all. The students are just as much a part of this community in a college town. And often times in college towns, students are viewed as outsiders and really the city has embraced the students to be a part of this community.”

Our youth that live in the low-income housing in Statesboro are in need of a park very close to their homes. What can be done to existing parks to give those children positive activities to do?

See 50:00 minute mark in video below

Please express your acquaintance with and potential support for Boys & Girls Club of Bullloch County.

See 54:00 minute mark in video below.

What is your plan for both retaining current SPD police officers and recruiting new officers?

See 57:30 minute mark in video below.

As Mayor of Statesboro, would you support an initiative to decriminalize Statesboro inside the city limits, making it an unarrestable offense with a fine?

Grotheer: No.

Moore: No.

McCollar: “It depends.” McCollar said while he doesn’t see it in the cards for Statesboro right now, as things change on the national level, he can see down the road in several years where it would be an initiative that would be accepted by the City of Statesboro.

You can watch the debate in its entirety in the video below. Early voting has already started and runs through Friday, November 3rd. Election Day is Tuesday, November 7.

REPLAY: Statesboro Mayoral Debate

Posted by All On Georgia – Bulloch on Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Jessica Szilagyi is a former Statewide Contributor for AllOnGeorgia.com.

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