As we approach Savannah's municipal election Nov. 3, the Savannah Morning News has been talking with the candidates for the City Council and Mayor. The six candidates for Alderman-at-Large post 1 - Alicia Blakely, Travis Coles, Brian Foster, Joseph Steffen Sr., G. Lind Taylor and Clint Young - talked about crime, development and their priorities for Savannah.
"First of all, we have to look at the root of where the crime is coming from. Poverty, disparity, hopelessness, homelessness breed crime. If we empower the people and give them a sense of hopefulness, then we'll see crime drop. Right now, we have to invest back into our communities. We've got to invest back into our children."
"What I found out is that it is really sad how our officers are treated in this city. Why is it a police officer, if he gets hurt on the job, he only has 10 days of sick leave. He has to ask his fellow officers to give him time. That, to me, is ludicrous. You have to empower the police. You have to empower the community."
On promoting economic equality:
"When the money comes into this city, we have to make sure it's disseminated equally to everyone. You look at certain areas and see that nothing has been done. My job, hopefully, will be to empower the people so they do know how to go out asking for what they deserve."
"I think we have the right chief in place. Definitely staffing the police department is a key priority, but also thinking a little more creatively about technology. As far as I'm concerned, whatever the chief asks for would be given to him. Definitely the policy of community policing. Putting people in communities that are aware of the culture in those communities so they can be sensitive to the needs of the communities they're serving."
"I endorse the idea of building smaller homes, not necessarily permanent structures, but providing our homeless with at least a nice place to stay. What we need to be careful of is making sure we don't have surrounding counties bringing in their homeless people and dropping them off in Savannah. Savannah as a whole does a really terrible job of communicating the programs we have for folks who are homeless or veterans, and I think we need to have a better outreach program to let those folks know what is available."
On city spending:
"I think they need to look at their neighborhoods and invest more in neighborhood centers. Parks yes, but also community halls. Done in such a way it encourages a community to come together in a central spot. I think investment in those areas, especially the poverty stricken neighborhoods, is where we need to start."
"Public safety is number one. The crime is unacceptable. I've laid out a plan to accelerate the recruitment. You need to bring in trained officers from out of market by increasing pay. Every officer should have a patrol car. There is a way to do that without affecting the budget. You could do that by bond financing. There is no reason not to have a complete camera security system for the entire city."
On city finances:
"The city is in good shape financially. I think the budget needs adjusting. There's too much wasteful spending. A lot of spending in that budget should have been redirected to police. And it seems like every time something comes up they want to hire a consultant and study it to death. In my experience you let professional people on staff who ought to make a lot of those decisions and if you can't, you ought to replace them. Consultants should only be used when you have a very technical, specialized need that you wouldn't have somebody who normally does that."
On outgoing alderman Tom Bordeaux, who's endorsed him:
"Tom had a lot of frustration with what was going on. I think he pointed out a lot of things that were being done that shouldn't have been. I think he's a smart guy and he was pretty good in a lot of the stuff he did. Nobody is going to make all the right decisions because at the time you might not have all the information."
Joseph Steffen Sr.
"I think everyone who's running this year is concerned about crime and public safety. We are more than just short staffed.
We've got a good leader, but he doesn't have the tools he needs to solved the public safety issues. One of goals is to make sure we are not only competitive but we can retain good officers and that we give them the technology they need."
"While the city pays a living wage to its own employees, the city does not require those that contract with the city to pay a living wage nor do they require people who contract with the city to properly classify their employees. They get around paying a fair wage by calling their people independent contractors, and it continues to perpetuate poverty. That's something we could change fairly quickly. We can also incentivize based on them paying a living wage to their employees. Tax rebates, tax forgiveness, licensing fees, anything they pay to the city, we can waive those for a business that can show they pay a living wage to their employees."
On city development:
"For too long, we've allowed the elites in this community, the bankers, the investors, to tell us what the city is going to build. The development has to be complementary to the communities that are going to be affected by it."
G. Lind Taylor
"We're going to have to address a charter amendment with the city and move public safety people, fire, police and probably emergency services, from under the yolk of the city manager. They need to be under a subcommittee with the council or a public safety committee. A police chief cannot be bossed by someone who does not know police work. Second, you have to empower them, which means they need the necessary resources. We have to tell the people if we need to have a bond initiative to put the money up front. My idea to up the force is I would like to have two officers in a car. It's partnership."
On city spending:
"We're talking about fiscal responsibilities. If you don't have a plan, a picture of where you're going to go, you can't properly budget and have a fiscal disciplines. We're talking about this issue of buying. Well there's right or wrong and being aggressive in buying real estate. Are we making a judicious statement based on it's our money and the proper return for our dollar."
"It's going to take a lot of stuff. First of all, part of it is, if I see my community looking neglected, an eyesore, I'm going to think that way. We are going to have to start doing some cleanups. Number two, we are going to have to start doing some partnerships. I think it's a long-term process. We have to expose people to museums, to art, music. Get kids in college."
On addressing city problems:
"Combine resources. Consolidation. I believe that combined (county-city government) can fight poverty and crime better than what we are doing now. A good step has been the merger of the police force. We have a budget for 600 officers, but real-time numbers, with the tourists coming in, commuters, students, requires a manpower of three per 1,000. So 700-800 officers. I'm also in favor of a $10,000 signing bonuses, seven-year tax exemption as an incentive on state taxes. Give them something to bring them in."
On attracting economic development:
"We've been sending out the wrong delegation. I didn't think they sent out the right delegation for a Chrysler, BMW or Volvo. Whatever reason we lost to South Carolina that ranked last in education. It didn't look good for us. You should send out a delegation of maybe Ted Turner, Arthur Blank, some of the bigwigs. Whatever approach you took and you lost three times, you have to change that approach. You have to add more incentives."
On the city's new arena:
"I just hope they get it off in a timely fashion and when they do, not go out and have an outside management company come in. They would run it like the existing Civic Center that would have a living-wage job. We get an outside firm in there, I could see the disaster."