Candidates seeking election for seats on the Thomaston City Council for Districts 1, 2 and 3 and for the position of Mayor of Thomaston were present at a candidate forum held by the community organization, Upson Professionals Inc. last Thursday evening. Candidates Lakeitha Reeves (District 1), Patsy Perdue (District 2 incumbent), Jeff Middlebrooks (District 2), Ryan Tucker (District 3), Coleman Dumas III (Mayor) and J.D. Stallings (Mayor) were given three minutes to speak to the crowd of nearly 60 people before taking questions from the audience. Gary Atwater, incumbent for District 1, was not present at the forum. Several issues such as utility rates, transparency in government, Lake Thomaston and consolidation were discussed throughout the evening.
The current Thomaston City Council has heard from many concerned citizens over the past two years about ever increasing utility bills, noting they are creating a hardship on not only residents of the city, but also for small businesses in town. Lakeitha Reeves, who is seeking election for a council seat in District 1, stated she wants to be a voice for those who feel like they are not being represented and will work with the mayor, council and city manager to address the issue of the utility rates. Jeff Middlebrooks, who is seeking election for District 2, stated utility rates are the number one issue in the City of Thomaston and he feels if something does not change, then small businesses will be forced to close their doors. Middlebrooks pledged to work to bring the cost of utilities down if elected. Patsy Perdue, incumbent for District 2, stated she would like to see budget billing in place for city utilities, so citizens would know what they are going to have to pay each month and not be surprised. She also wants to have the ability to pay with a credit/debit card and online bill pay.
Mayoral candidates Coleman Dumas III and J.D. Stallings were both in favor of lowering the utility rates as well as having online payments available. Stallings, who formerly held the District 3 council seat prior to resigning to run for mayor, stated there needs to be more transparency when it comes to the utility bills and budget billing should be put in place so residents and businesses will know what they pay in January will be the same as what they pay in July. He added that he wanted to make sure there was a consistent billing and rate structure when it comes to utilities instead of fluctuating rates.
Another main topic that was brought up by the candidates is transparency in government, with several speaking about the Lake Thomaston project. Since the announcement of the project earlier this year, which will build a park around the lake with plans for an outdoor amphitheater and water activities, many citizens have expressed concern over there being no prior public information that anything was being planned. Middlebrooks stated he feels the public should have had more input and been allowed to vote on the project instead of just the city council. He also added he feels there is a higher need for jobs in the community rather than a lake. Dumas agreed and added the citizens should not have found out about the project in their utility bills.
Perdue also addressed the matter and stated she voted for the project and was proud she did. She noted there were plans for a Lake Thomaston project back in 2007 when she first came on the City Council and many citizens had asked her why it was not allowed to be used by the public since it was paid for by tax dollars. Perdue added she feels it will only benefit the community and help in attracting others to the area because it shows Thomaston is willing to invest in itself.
One way to increase transparency was brought up by Ryan Tucker, who is running unopposed for the District 3 council seat. Tucker stated he plans to institute town hall meetings throughout the community. He feels this will allow citizens to have more of an input on city matters and will give the council a better opportunity to have conversations with their constituents, which is sometimes hard to do in a regular business meeting. Stallings agreed with Tucker and added that he feels the city should take another look at the policy of citizens having to sign up a week in advance to speak during the public comment portion of the regular council meetings because you may not know a week in advance there is something you need to bring up to the council.
The last main topic that the candidates were asked their opinions dealt with the consolidation of Upson County government and the City of Thomaston government. Reeves, Middlebrooks, Tucker and Dumas all stated they felt it was something that could be looked into to see if it would be beneficial for the community, but a study should be done to weigh the pros and cons before a decision is made. Dumas also stated the matter should be voted on by the public to make the final decision.
Stallings stated he did not feel it was right for Thomaston at this point in time, but it is something may need to be looked at in the future. He stated after doing much research on the matter and speaking with those in charge in consolidated areas such as Columbus and Athens, he believes Thomaston is both too big and too small to have consolidation benefit the community; adding that it would be hard to accurately provide the same services to everyone given the size of the county. He gave the example that many complain about the high cost of the budget for the Upson County Sheriff’s Office now, but if the governments were consolidated it would likely go up even more. Stallings believes a lot can be accomplished just by working together with the county and that consolidation does not have to be in place in order for that to happen.
Perdue told the crowd it would not come as a shock to anyone, but she is against it. She told the crowd she has studied the matter and looked at communities who have implemented it, but feels it would not be beneficial to Thomaston. She stated that many people say the city and county do not work well together, but that is not true, noting the relationship is better now than it has been in a while. She stated she felt the best way to benefit the community is to have everyone jump in the same boat, and that can be done without consolidation.
Early voting for the November 3 Municipal Election and the county-wide Special Election for the SPLOST will continue until Friday, October 30 at the Civic Center from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. For those waiting until Election Day to cast their vote, remember there have been some changes made to the voting precincts. The new voting precincts are as follows: Atwater, Reeves, Redbone and The Rock will combine to form the Redbone precinct and will vote at New Hope Baptist Church located at 1165 Hannah’s Mill Road in Thomaston. The Salem precinct will stay the same and will vote at Salem Baptist Church, located at 1349 Highway 80 in the Salem community. The Town and Lincoln Park precincts will combine and form the Town precinct and will vote at the Civic Center, located at 101 Civic Center Drive in Thomaston. Yatesville and The Jug will combine to for the Yatesville precinct and will vote at the Yatesville Community Center, located at 10 Empire Street in Yatesville. Precincts are open on Election Day from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.
Ashley Biles can be reached by calling 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @AshleyBiles1