Politics | WCTV Eyewitness News: Tallahassee, Thomasville, Valdosta

Valdosta City Council: John Eunice, Jr. / Keith Lee / Ben Norton

John Eunice, Jr.

FACED WITH TOUGH BUDGET CHOICES IN THE COMING YEARS, AS A COUNCILMAN, WOULD YOU BE MORE IN FAVOR OF CUTTING SERVICES OR SECURING ADDITIONAL REVENUE TO BALANCE BUDGETS?
The city has been well managed financially over the past several years.  As a result, the city has not had to increase taxes over the last 15 years.  As city councilman, I'll make every effort to provide the highest level of services to the citizens of Valdosta.  Our goal should be to maintain that same level of excellence provided by our city, and to spend our taxpayer dollars wisely to avoid this situation. 

With both state and federal governments facing economic challenges, the question has to be asked where would the additional money come from.  I think we owe it to the taxpayers to not look at asking for funds that would add to government debt.  These tough times call for tough decisions, and I believe we can do that by looking at ways to cut/consolidate services that won't negatively impact the city.

PLEASE RANK THE FOLLOWING SERVICES IN ORDER OF YOUR GREATEST TO LEAST SUPPORT: adequately staffing new and expanded libraries, operating County Parks and Recreation programs, supporting services for homeless, supporting arts and cultural activities, improving storm water and flood control infrastructure, offering economic development incentives, expanding public transportation & safer pedestrian and bicycle corridors.
1.  improving storm water and flood control infrastructure - the building blocks for any future growth begin with infrastructure.  We saw the impacts of the flooding to our area this past April, and you can look around the country at the recent events in Wisconsin and Texas to understand the devastating impacts of flooding.  But, I look at this as a subset of a bigger picture whereby we should address our infrastructure to not only enhance opportunities for future growth, but also provide for and protect our citizens.  I recently had someone approach me regarding a problem they encountered last week with their neighborhood due to the heavy rains.  We owe it to our citizens to provide the necessary infrastructure to sustain and enhance our neighborhoods.  With budgets like they are, I believe our only major investments at this time should be in infrastructure and public safety.  By making these investments, I believe we can help build the case for attracting industry, which will help build our tax base and keep our city taxes low and still enable us to provide the stellar services the cities provide.

2.  offering economic development incentives.

3.  expanding public transportation & safer pedestrian and bicycle corridors .

4.  operating County Parks and Recreation programs.

5.  adequately staffing new and expanded libraries.

6.  supporting services for homeless.

7.  supporting arts and cultural activities - The arts and cultural activities provide so much to our community in the way of promoting diversity and enhancing cultural awareness, but in today's economy I would look at them more as a want vice a need for the community.  While arguments can be made that libraries and recreation programs are" nice to haves" as well, they provide service to a wider segment of the population and provide additional intangibles to the community. 

In this time of high unemployment, what are the most important things that should be done to improve Valdosta's economy?
The city has already taken positive steps by recently establishing the Valdosta Small Emerging Business Program (VSEB) to build capacity and remove barriers for small businesses and to provide opportunities for qualified VSEBs to conduct business with the City of Valdosta. We need to continue to promote this and also ensure we're working with our business leaders to promote a business friendly community. This would involve working with our Chamber of Commerce and business leaders. We have to work with our local industrial authority to make the right decisions that would attract businesses to the city and community.

The Community Task Force on Violence echoed some of these same ideas when they presented recommendations that included tapping into available resources to create job opportunities; setting up job and citizen skills training opportunities; bringing the chamber and business leaders together to discuss jobs, wages, and work ethics; and support employment programs for parolees and support faith based/church programs aimed at youth and young adults.

If elected, how do you plan to use your position to improve the lives of citizens?
The August issue of American City and County magazine delivered the following quote:  "Our challenge is with the limited dollars to figure out the projects and services with the largest impact to the public and focus on those. That's not a new concept, but it has to be taken to a higher level."  My goal would be to help take the city to the next level.  We need to continue to promote the basic needs of infrastructure/utilities and public safety for our neighborhoods.  In addition, I would work with the county to continue to enhance our working relationships.  I see a direct link between our city and county governments, and I also want to promote the link between our education systems and the industrial authority.  Our school systems need to continue to produce the caliber of students that will draw businesses to the community and help create jobs.

Biography:
• 1981 graduate US Air Force Academy with Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering
• 1985 graduate University of Florida with Masters in Engineering
• 27 year veteran United States Air Force, retiring as a colonel in 2008
• Two time Civil Engineer squadron commander
o Andersen Air Force Base, Guam
o Moody Air Force Base, GA
o Responsible for physical plant valued at over $1.3 billion supporting base populations in excess of 5000 personnel
• Extensive background in master planning, facilities and infrastructure supporting various aircraft and personnel missions
• Led US Air Force engineering efforts supporting US efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2006-2008
o Directed 3000+ Air Force engineers across 9 countries and 15+ installations
o Directed $1.5 billion design and construction effort across the region
• Selected as 2007 Outstanding Civil Engineer of the Year for the Air Force
• Currently employed at Moody Air Force Base
• Married to Tammy Allbritton Eunice for 27 years
• Children: John – UGA Law School student
Lindsey – employed by Booz, Allen, Hamilton in Washington, DC
James – senior at Valdosta High School
Keith Lee

FACED WITH TOUGH BUDGET CHOICES IN THE COMING YEARS, AS COMMISSIONER, WOULD YOU BE MORE IN FAVOR OF CUTTING SERVICES OR SECURING ADDITIONAL REVENUE TO BALANCE BUDGETS?
In order to work our way out of this recession, we must secure additional revenue to balance the budgets. This additional revenue can come in the form of cutting council's travel expenses or seeking federal grant money. The last thing we need to do is cut services.

PLEASE RANK THE FOLLOWING SERVICES IN ORDER OF YOUR GREATEST TO LEAST SUPPORT:
. adequately staffing new and expanded libraries (6)
. operating County Parks and Recreation programs (7)
. supporting services for homeless (4)
. supporting arts and cultural activities (5)
. improving storm water and flood control infrastructure (3)
. offering economic development incentives (2)
. expanding public transportation & safer pedestrian and bicycle corridors (1)

PLEASE EXPLAIN YOUR FIRST AND LAST CHOICES. HOW WILL FUNDING YOUR SERVICE PRIORITIES AFFECT TAX RATES IN THE SHORT AND LONG TERM?
(1) Public transportation and pedestrian corridors are essential in a town this size. It has been argued that public transportation is a bad investment in that it doesn't generate its own revenue. However, when one looks at the indirect revenue generated from public transportation services, the budget gets balanced. Public transportation will help attract business that will in turn create jobs which generates more tax revenue. Public transportation will also alleviate traffic headaches, which leads to a happy citizen. Public transportation will also mean fewer cars traveling on surface streets which means less maintenance.

Pedestrian routes are also needed in a town with a university. With 13,000 students and growing, we as citizens have to embrace the college and look at all the good they put back into the community. Many of the complaints from the community regarding the students come in the form of traffic congestion and parking. If we improve public transportation, we will be able to improve the relationship between the university and the residents.

(7) Parks and recreation are a vital component to any community and I hate that they made it to number 7 on my list. But my justification for this is because this is one area where we can recruit more volunteers from the community to lend a helping hand. We cannot expect citizens to chip in and maintain public transit and other infrastructure, but we can ask them to help maintain and improve our parks. In the Sunday edition (10/3/10) of the Valdosta Daily Times, there was a story about citizens getting engaged in the community to help improve local parks and recreation areas.

In this time of high unemployment, what are the most important things that should be done to improve Valdosta's economy?
Job growth is the quick answer. But everyone knows we need jobs, I think the disagreement comes in how we secure jobs. One thing that must be done is improved infrastructure. We must create an environment in the city that will attract business. This can be done in a number of ways: public transportation, aesthetics, and incentives. One problem that I keep hearing at city council meetings is the increased restrictions placed on local business owners that come in the form of sign ordinances and expensive conditional use permits.

Job contracts that the city issues need to come from local contractors. We don't need to bring in "outsiders" to do jobs that people here in Valdosta can do just as well. An outside contractor may be able to do a job for a few dollars less, but most of that money is going to leave the community. When we hire local, we support local business and local tax revenue, and in the end, we support our citizens.

If elected, how do you plan to use your position to improve the lives of citizens?
I hope to not only be a visionary, but also someone that acts on my visions. I hope to be a new voice with new ideas. I hope that one day Valdosta will be a unified community where one group doesn't feel like they are being neglected while others feel like they are bearing the burden. It has been said that all politics are local, and I hope to open the window to local government so citizens can really see what is going on. We must bring a level of accountability to all levels of government, and if elected, I will be able to improve that transparency here in Valdosta.

Biography:
Keith is a veteran of the United States Navy where he served for 7 1/2 years. 5 of those years were on board the USS Kentucky where he served as a nuclear machinist mate. Advancing quickly, Keith went from an unknown sailor to a young man that was respected for his ability to come up with innovative and efficient ways to perform various maintenance and administrative tasks. The recipient of two Navy Achievement Medals, Keith was best known for his time served as the Engineering Department Training Assistant where he assisted in the development and integration of improved strategies to enhance the department's capabilities with regards to training and administration.

Keith left the Navy to pursue a degree in political science in order to work in public service and give back to communities. He met his wife Ashley while he was in school and they have one son, Sawyer James. They have both served as his motivation in running for local office as they both want Valdosta to be the best place possible for Sawyer to grow up and call home. Before coming to Valdosta State, Keith was looking at the University of Virginia, University of New Hampshire, and Florida State University. After visiting Valdosta a few times with his wife, he knew without a doubt that Valdosta was a place he could call home. Keith will graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Political Science in December and will continue with his Master's in Public Administration at Valdosta State.

Keith is seeking the At Large City Council seat in order to be a pragmatic voice on the council, to help draw ties between various groups, and hoping to bridge some of the gaps that have developed in the community.
Ben Norton

FACED WITH TOUGH BUDGET CHOICES IN THE COMING YEARS, AS A COUNCILMAN, WOULD YOU BE MORE IN FAVOR OF CUTTING SERVICES OR SECURING ADDITIONAL REVENUE TO BALANCE BUDGETS?
Before cutting services or securing additional revenue, as Councilman, I would first look at the current expenditures to see where reductions in spending might be found while still providing quality services to the people of Valdosta. A way must be found to function within the revenue that is received and I believe that begins with cutting excessive governmental spending and eliminating waste.

PLEASE RANK THE FOLLOWING SERVICES IN ORDER OF YOUR GREATEST TO LEAST SUPPORT: adequately staffing new and expanded libraries, operating County Parks and Recreation programs, supporting services for homeless, supporting arts and cultural activities, improving storm water and flood control infrastructure, offering economic development incentives, expanding public transportation & safer pedestrian and bicycle corridors.
I must preface my response to this section by stating that all causes listed here are worthwhile. It is unfortunate, but a reality of economics, that there is only so much money that can be allocated to any cause. This is not a time to raise the taxes of the citizens of Valdosta. Prioritizing these causes does not discredit their worthiness; however, it does set up a useful plan that can be utilized as the economy recovers. As an educator, I am aware that effective learning cannot take place if a person’s basic needs are not met, and I believe this to be true regarding the contributions citizens make to our city. Therefore, I believe jobs, housing, health and safety for all Valdostans must be priority.

• offering economic development incentives important to create good paying jobs.
I see economic development as a priority for Valdosta. Businesses provide the jobs and revenue sources that help fund services, and Valdosta offers the important things that attract new businesses while keeping current businesses strong. We have a major north/south access in the I-75 corridor, close proximity to the east/west I-10 corridor, and railway connections that allow for the movement of many types of commerce. We are fortunate to have a regional airport, many local and national restaurant chains and retail stores, and Moody Air Force Base. Valdosta has a variety of choices in education: public schools, private schools, Wiregrass Technical College, Georgia Military College, and Valdosta State University. We must capitalize on these when supporting our current businesses and attracting new businesses.

• improving storm water and flood control infrastructure
The city of Valdosta has developed a storm water master plan in its efforts to control storm water. I am in support of the plan currently in place.

• operating County Parks and Recreation programs
It is my understanding that this service is funded by a county-wide set aside millage and managed by an appointed authority. The city has used SPLOST funds to pay for the expansion to Freedom Park, the rebuilding of the tennis complex at McKey Park, and the offices of the new Parks and Recreation authority.

• supporting services for homeless
I am a supporter of services that meet the needs of the homeless by providing “hand-ups” not just “hand-outs.”

• expanding public transportation & safer pedestrian and bicycle corridors
I am an advocate for keeping our citizens safe as they travel throughout the city. It is unfortunate that the Council had to vote down a public transportation system last year due to the economy. I trust we will be able to look at this again in the very near future.

• supporting arts and cultural activities
I have always been an advocate for the arts. The Lowndes-Valdosta Arts Commission receives support through the Hotel/Motel tax.

• adequately staffing new and expanded libraries
I support public libraries and believe they provide a vital service to our community. It is my understanding the funding source is within the budget of the county government, and I would encourage its continued support.

In this time of high unemployment, what are the most important things that should be done to improve Valdosta's economy?
Valdosta must be known as a business-friendly community that supports existing businesses and attracts new businesses. Businesses should not be hindered in their ability to advertise. The process of gaining business licenses and permits should be expedited, so new jobs can be offered in a timely manner.

If elected, how do you plan to use your position to improve the lives of citizens?
I will bring an honest, common sense approach to government and will be a spokesperson for the community. I will work diligently to see that hard-earned tax dollars of the citizens are spent in the most frugal manner, putting an end to taxpayer waste.

Biography:
My name is Ben Norton, and I am running for the Valdosta City Council At-large seat. I want to see Valdosta grow and prosper during these most unprecedented economic times. Valdosta has been my home for 45 years. This is the place where I was raised, educated, married, and now raise my children. It is time for me to take a more active role in dealing with its present and planning for its future.

I see issues such as efficient and frugal use of taxpayer funds, being a business friendly city, and effective communication between the City and County governments vital to the prosperity of all Valdostans. With my experience in the Valdosta City School System, I believe I have developed the problem solving skills necessary to work through today’s issues and understand their impact on the future of Valdosta. When I am elected as City Councilman At-large, I will work with Mayor and Council to continue to make Valdosta a great city for all its citizens.

I was born in Jacksonville, FL and moved to Valdosta with my parents and sister at the age of three. A graduate of Valdosta High School, I attended Valdosta State College and graduated from Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, TN. It was there that I met my wife of 23 years, Donna. We have two daughters; Karlee, a 2010 honor graduate of Valdosta High School and a freshman at Valdosta State University and Paige, a 9th grader at Valdosta High School.

I am a 24 year veteran teacher of the Valdosta City School System. I taught fourth grade at S.L. Mason and West Gordon Elementary Schools, sixth grade Social Studies/Science and Career Development at Valdosta Middle School where I was voted Teacher of the Year. Today, I am a teacher at J.L. Newbern Middle School where I teach students in REP Reading/Math.

During my service in the Valdosta City School System, I have served as Learner Focused Schools trainer, InTech Redelivery trainer, Teacher Support Specialist, after-school tutorial teacher, Saturday teacher, Leadership Committee member and chair, Staff Development Committee member, SACS Review Team member and chair, Character Education Curriculum writer and developer, member of numerous textbook adoption committees, curriculum alignment committee member, team leader, department chair, Jr. Beta Club sponsor, building representative for P.A.G.E. (Professional Association of Georgia Educators), and Relay for Life Committee member.

I currently serve as Vice President and Concessions Chairperson of the Valdosta High School Band Boosters, Inc.

At church, I have served as pianist, Sunday School Superintendent/teacher, Church Board Member, Vacation Bible School Director/teacher, Children’s Choir Director, Missionary Council Member, Finance Committee member, and Building Committee member.

I look forward to representing the citizens of Valdosta as the next City Councilman.
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