The Ledger-Enquirer's weeklong series of Q&A articles continues with candidates for the at-large seat of Columbus Council.
Former educator Judy Thomas, who was elected to the council in 2010, is seeking re-election.
She faces challenger Felicia Hamilton, who is an owner of The Gallery at Fountain Park.
1. Does Columbus need a crime prevention director?
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Judy Thomas: I support the Office of Crime Prevention and its mission to provide assistance to groups that can show their programs help to prevent crime in our community. The Director of the office is an administrative position. It is not a law enforcement position. The current director works very closely with the Crime Prevention Board (which recommends to Council which groups are awarded grants to further their prevention programs) and with citizen groups, including neighborhood watch and associations which work in our neighborhoods to help deter and prevent crime. I support the position and am satisfied with the work of the department.
Felicia Hamilton: The functions of the crime prevention director are needed and should be carried out in some manner by a full-time position or incorporated into the responsibilities of an existing position to ensure that we meet the objectives of the program.
2. Does Columbus need three law enforcement offices?
Judy Thomas: Often when this question comes up, the underlying question is, "Can we save money by consolidating the three offices?" No matter how many law enforcement agencies we have, the work of each of these three must still be done.
We must provide security and support for the courts and run the jail (Sheriff's Office), enforce laws and ordinances (Police Department), and serve papers from Municipal Court and carry out evictions (Marshal's Office). These are, generally, the main missions of these agencies and must be done, no matter who does the actual work. There would be some savings in consolidation, and the question then becomes, "Is there enough savings to be realized to justify consolidation?" To my knowledge, no study of savings has been done. Before we would move on this, I would request a thorough study of savings and the impact on the safety of our citizens.
Felicia Hamilton: Each of these entities were designed with core missions that represent different facets of public safety. The Sheriff is a Constitutional office and the police department is authorized by the city charter.
The Marshal's office is authorized by the State of Georgia and it's continued existence has been reaffirmed by our voters twice in local ballot questions.
3. Can trash pickup be cut down to once a week, and can this change help with our budget deficit?
Judy Thomas: One of the goals of the new recycling program the city has instituted is to cut down on the amount of trash that we generate for the landfill. It will take a joint effort on the part of our citizens to recycle, and the city to provide the equipment and support necessary to make recycling easy to do.
These efforts will cut down on the need for twice-weekly trash pickup. There will be some savings for the budget both in the collection of trash and recycled materials as well as the cost of maintaining the landfill. It cannot be done overnight, but must be phased in as the program becomes second nature.
Felicia Hamilton: Yes, Columbus has made a significant investment in the recycling center and has put in place a pilot program in each council district to start the process of increasing the percentage of households engaged in recycling.
I would like to be an advocate for recycling that will lead to Columbus becoming a leader in this effort resulting in the need for only once a week garbage collection. The bottom line will be a greener city, reduced city expenses and a reduction of the deficit.
4. Should Columbus pursue a referendum to remove the property tax assessment freeze?
Judy Thomas: This particular issue has been before the voters at least three times, and each time the voters have voted to keep the freeze. In order to make any change in the property tax assessment procedure, the question must go again before the voters. If there was what I considered to be a viable alternative proposed to the current system, I could support a referendum.
The process could take two referendums in order to repeal the current system and replace it with another, and while I always support the citizen's right to voice his or her opinion on civic matters, my support would take into consideration the viability of any alternative procedure and the ability to conduct the votes with the least cost to the taxpayer for the elections as possible.
Felicia Hamilton: Those who have the benefit should keep it, however, I am open and will work to pursue public discussion about a different but fair system for new home buyers on a going forward basis.
5. Do you think major projects like the natatorium, city service building and ice rink are necessary?
Judy Thomas: These venues, and others, add to the quality of life for our citizens, and those listed here were subject to a referendum vote for SPLOST funding.
We must be sure that the construction costs do not overrun the amount authorized by the SPLOST. A second concern comes when these venues are built with little or no planning for maintenance and operation costs. We cannot forget that once we have built facilities such as these, we must keep them in good condition and staff them.
Felicia Hamilton:These are great quality of life projects which are important to a progressive, growing city in attracting and /or maintaining new industry, military and other families, homeowners, young adults and retirees.. These projects were part of the public discussions in regard to the LOST and/ or SPLOST that were approved by Columbus Citizens. I am pleased to see these amenities because I believe Promises made to our citizens should be promises kept!
Name: Judy W. Thomas
Education: BA, Georgia College (now Georgia College and State University), Milledgeville (Elementary Education)
Experience: Executive/chief of staff to Mayor Jim Wetherington, member of Columbus Council since 2011.
Family: Sister, Brenda Williams Gilkey and her husband, Gil, brother David Williams and his wife, Dominique Tomita Williams, eight nieces and nephews and 11 great nieces and nephews.
Facebook/Twitter: Judy Thomas for City Council (Facebook)
Name: Felicia L. Hamilton
Occupation: Owner, The Gallery at Fountain Park
Education: Auburn University, Columbus State University, (Social Science/psychology)
Experience: Motivational speaker, business owner, published author, member of Convention and Visitors Bureau Board
Family: Mother and five siblings