LaGRANGE — At a political forum last week, candidates for LaGrange City Council presented their thoughts regarding the future of the city, its challenges, strengths and opportunities. In the interest of informing the public, the Daily News is presenting some of their answers this week, based on the seat each candidate is vying for. Today, we present incumbent City Council member Willie T. Edmondson and his challenger, Nathan Gaskin.
The two are running for council seat 2C. Early voting is underway now and registered voters can cast ballots at the Troup County Government Center, 100 Ridley Ave., between Monday and Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Hogansville Mayor Bill Stankiewicz moderated last week’s forum, which was hosted by the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce. Each candidate was given two minutes to answer the following questions, and the time was kept by both chairpersons of the Troup Republican and Democratic parties. The candidates’ answers have been pared for space and where some sentences have been removed, ellipses have been inserted. A full recording of the forum may be heard by reading this article online at www.lagrangenews.com.
What do you see as the greatest strengths and, conversely, challenges facing the city of LaGrange, and how, specifically, will you address those issues:
Edmondson: “One of the greatest challenges right now is attracting industries to come in — good industries, with good paying jobs. Also, our housing industry. We have some problems with our housing, particularly upscale housing. We lost some of the Kia people because we didn’t have the right housing amount in LaGrange, and our crime seems as though it could be much better. I think our school system needs to come up. … The shopping, also, could be better in LaGrange. We have a great recreation department, but if we had some shopping to go along with it, that would be great. Those are the challenges I see.”
Gaskin: “I believe our greatest strength in this is our people. I believe our greatest challenge is opportunity. Both need each other to make this city great. There are people that are very talented, but don’t have the opportunity to go to a technical college. … We don’t have any viable ways for anybody of meager income to get to the technical college. There are no means of public transportation … $5 a pop is not feasible (for a cab ride) for a person of meager means. There’s no walking trails, no bike trails. … If you want to talk about housing, one of the big problems with crime in the community is lack of home ownership. … If people had the opportunity to take ownership of their community, I think we’d see less crime in those areas.”
The city operates on a $110 million budget that includes multiple utilities and services. What prepares you to deal with and manage such a large business enterprise?
Edmondson: “It takes $300,000 per day to run the city of LaGrange. Out of that, it comes up to $110 million per year. We have a large budget to work with, but it takes a working council and council working with staff to look this budget over. I’m a businessman, not only that, I have four children that I’ve sent through college, and I’ve made sure that I’ve done that as well as operate a house. I’m a businessman so it gives me the insight to sit down and know exactly how to work with that budget. … Even though we have a surplus, you can’t just spend like we have no tomorrow, you just don’t ever know when something may come up. That’s been my experience working with the budget.”
Gaskin: “Whether you slice a pie consisting of $1 or $100 million, you’re still slicing a pie. So, if you’re able to manage a household of four children, you’re still able to manage a household of 4 million people if you chose to look at it that way. … I’d like to see a more in-depth report than what the citizens get, in order to analyze where we can make cuts, adjustments and changes. The experience that one needs to deal with the financial situation of the city is not too difficult considering the city had a $53 million surplus last year. We’ve got the money to do whatever we need to do. In fact, it’s a matter of if we’re taking too much to be considered a nonprofit organization.”
The City Council has allocated funds in support of the race reconciliation initiative in Troup County. First, how would you characterize the state of race relations in Troup County and do you believe the initiative is worth while?
Edmondson: “I’m sitting in a building tonight (the Del’Avant event space), where when I was a child, my grandma and I were degraded. We’ve come a long way, a long way. We still have a long way to go. … Sure we have our differences, because we don’t go to church together, we don’t do a lot of things together. We just had forced integration in the 1970s. … Whatever we can do, there was a place not long ago (Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore), where you saw on the news they were having racial problems. I didn’t want that in LaGrange. I didn’t want to see LaGrange in the streets burning and fighting and all of these things. Fifty thousand dollars was a drop in the bucket to do something. We wanted to be proactive, not re-active.”
Gaskin: “I’ve never been to one of those meetings, I’m not exactly sure what goes on, but I will tell you this: I have spoken with the U.S. Department of Justice. I have talked with them about the racial disparities that exist in the city of LaGrange, Georgia. I have sat with the former mayor at the same table with the U.S. Department of Justice. Last time I checked it didn’t cost me a penny to sit down and have dialogue with people who are able to make decisions and impact the situation. There are some truthisms that need to be faced in order to impact race, and money has nothing to do with it. … Equity in governance is a more viable topic than race reconciliation. There comes a time when you just have to do what you need to do. What you do on that side of the tracks, you need to do on the other. … That’s all I have to say about that.”
Earlier this year, the city of LaGrange experienced a significant increase in violent crimes and crimes directly related to street gangs. What should the city be doing to address this issue?
Edmondson: “Yes, gangs do exist in Troup County. For a long time, I was just unaware. I still had the small town mentality and I thought parents just needed to step up to the plate. … I think we need to make sure we invest in more recreation for our children, more mentoring programs, all because the reason they get into gangs is because the gangs accept them in and make them feel as though they’re part of something. Our children need to feel like they’re part of something. If we need to increase our budget for those mentoring programs, I’m all for it. … They’re operating on a string budget. … Those are the things that could really help with crime.”
Gaskin: “That’s a very complicated question. … There are people who are ostracized from society and pushed to the fringes. When you’re pushed to the fringes, there is no protection, so you clique up with who ever you can for protection. … So the violence that you see is a direct result of not paying attention to the core. When you start kicking these kids out of school in middle school and short changing them on amenities and recreational opportunities, and guidance, when you start not taking into account the mentoring and leadership, when you stop taking advantage of that, you create a situation where you see a spike in violence. What we need to do to reverse it is go back to the actual core.”
Read Wednesday’s LaGrange Daily News in print and online for the forum between City Council incumbent Bobby Traylor and challenger Mark Mitchell.
Tyler H. Jones is a reporter at LaGrange Daily News. He may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2155.