Candidates hoping to be the next LaGrange mayor faced questions Thursday night from Circles of Troup County, the area’s anti-poverty initiative.
The questions were prepared and read by Circles leaders in front of a packed room at LaGrange Memorial Library.
“I want you to look at me as a candidate,” said Jimmy McCamey, owner of Dream House Youth Services and one of the three challengers for the seat being vacated by 16-year Mayor Jeff Lukken.
“Look at where I came from,” McCamey said. “I will be a role model. I’ve come a long way and I have a lot more to offer. This is why I came back to LaGrange.”
Current LaGrange Councilman Jim Thornton told those in the audience that those who choose the new mayor need to focus on the candidates’ experience.
“The city is in a critical place,” he said. “You need to look at the candidates’ records and their experience. I have a record of service and of getting involved and trying to make things better.”
Mike Smith, a local attorney touting himself as the first atheist to run for mayor in the state, said the election is a chance to change things.
“I’m a humanist,” he said. “I believe we have the right and responsibility to make the world a better place. I’m not a politician. I am an activist. I want results and I don’t believe these two people will bring the results LaGrange needs.”
Circles leaders asked the trio their thoughts on the question that often appears on job applications: Have you been convicted of a felony? The group is pursuing legislation in the state to change the question so candidates have a chance to explain the circumstances behind the incident. Having a felony on one’s record often keeps a person in poverty, in spite of the fact they’ve paid their debts to society and changed their ways.
All three said they’re in favor of people getting a second chance.
“I want to go further than that,” Smith said. “The system is stacked against people. The war on drugs is actually a war on poor people.”
Smith said he’d be in favor of not only the proposed change Circles wants, but for opportunities for non-violent crimes to be erased from records.
Thornton said he has good relationships with state legislators and would work with them to get the changes made.
“It’s a state law and not a local issue, but the mayor does have a certain moral authority for the city,” he said. Thornton said he’d be willing to make an effort to speak with local employers to get them to not automatically discard a candidate’s application if the answer to the felony question was “yes.”
McCamey said he’s had to disqualify job applicants with college degrees because of the question, particularly because the state has rules of who can be allowed to work with children.
“I have struggled to hire people,” he said. “We need serious revisions to this law.”