Jason Chapman, Staff Writer
The first part of the Savannah Mayoral forums began on Oct. 10 in the Armstrong Center with a crowd of about 100 people. Four candidates were presented to the audience: Regina Thomas, Incumbent Mayor Eddie DeLoach, District 1 Alderman Van Johnson and Louis E. Wilson. Local WSAV news anchor Tina Tyus Shaw was the moderator of this forum.
In her opening statements, Thomas highlighted the importance of having an audit of the city government to see where money is actually going and having transparency for the people of the city.
“I’m no stranger to politics I served as your state representative for four years and I also served as your state senator for 9 years… We need to do a forensic audit and find out where the money is going and where it is coming from,” Thomas said.
DeLoach began his opening statement by letting everyone know that he’s “the man with the results.”
“I’ve had four years of great results with a great council and I look forward to an opportunity to do the same thing. So when you look at things I get results I don’t tell you about what I’m going to do. I tell you what I have done. I have got 5,739 jobs here in the city of Savannah the last four years. There is 1.5 billion dollars worth of investment in the city of Savannah over the last four years. There’s a 40% drop in the murder rates since I took office. There’s also [a] 20% drop in the poverty rate since I took office. All of these add up to a very good day in the city of Savannah,” DeLoach said.
Johnson included that he graduated with his bachelor’s degree from Savannah State College, and received a masters degree from Georgia Southern. Johnson believes in the future.
“Yes, the mayor just said it is a great day in the city of Savannah but it’s not a good day for everybody,” he began.
Johnson continued going on to speak on the issues of homelessness, and other issues that still plague the city. Johnson said, “I’m working to become your mayor to create better days for everybody. There’s a party going on in Savannah, everybody’s just not invited.”
Vietnam veteran Wilson began by stating his history in accounting and economics.
“We got a new city manager and the city manager says that Savannah’s now losing money. We’re spending more money than we’re taking in. This administration came in on a surplus and I think that if we don’t stop the bleeding soon we’re going to have some bad problems,” Wilson said.
Further issues of police department recruitment and retention were then addressed. DeLoach stated that his administration put five million dollars into the department for raises and implemented ways to move up in the police department, in turn making a career out of being an officer in the city of Savannah.
DeLoach said, “It’s important that we make sure we take care of our officers, we also want to make sure we do a great job of giving them the opportunity to advance.”
Thomas states that morale within the police department is at an all time low. Thomas said, “It’s hard to keep a police officer when other agencies around in law enforcement pay more, but I think that we need to be sure that we are fair in promotions we need to make sure that we get rid of the cliques, the friendship, the favoritisms, the cronyism and all the other isms and schisms that affect our police officers. They are overworked and underappreciated.”
Alderman Johnson responded to the question by saying nothing has been given to the department yet. Johnson said, “Because of the demerging of the Savannah Metropolitan Police Department, we ended up in a bidding war between our local area police departments. The two highest paying police departments [were] actively fighting over the same officers. Those who were able to leave left and that’s been our reality. As a result we have 50 less officers right now… You treat people fairly, you pay them a decent wage, you help them see a career path.”
Wilson was the second African-American deputy sheriff in the Chatham County Sheriff’s Department.
“I think that we should provide incentives for the police officers to stay, but I think that the rush to load the police department up with policemen too quickly it seems as though a lot of them don’t come out with the right kind of training,” Wilson said.
Question two addressed the crumbling infrastructure of Savannah. Thomas started, “With Savannah being the oldest city in the state of Georgia, I would say that we should have been doing this all along. You do not allow a building or any place else to sit and not revitalize it. It’s going to take a while because when I say we have a fiscal problem in this city, we really do have a fiscal problem in this city.”
Johnson wants a long-term commitment to infrastructure because it is not a project that can be completed in the short-term. Johnson said, “Savannah is an old city. We have old streets. We have larger vehicles that are traveling on them that have never travelled on them before. So it shows.”
Johnson wants to form a long-term plan and make sure that a little bit is done every year. Wilson believes that frivolous spending is the cause of the loss of our infrastructure. Wilson says, “I didn’t see much sense in buying fairgrounds, I didn’t see much sense in selling the water revenue department. There’s been a lot of kind of shady deals.”
Eddie says the funding for new infrastructure projects should come from the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST). According to the Chatham County Department of Engineering, SPLOST was first authorized in 1985 and out of the 159 counties in Georgia, Chatham County was the only one to implement it.
It has been continually implemented every year since then. It is a 1% increase on the sales tax, and 73% of the funds go to infrastructure. The other 27% has gone to quality of life projects like the International Trade and Convention Center.
The General Election day for voting is Tuesday Nov. 5. The polls are open from 7:00 a.m.-7:00p.m. For more information on where to vote in your area, as well as your residency eligibility, please visit vote411.org.