Pembroke held an open forum for its City Council candidates to allow the community to meet the hopefuls on a more personal level, and ask some tough questions.
Roughly 30 residents joined Doug Kangeter, for District 2, Anthony Greeson, District 3, Tiffany Walraven, for District 4, and Angela Reed, for Councilmember-at-large, along with Mayor Judy Cook and District 1 incumbent Johnnie Miller. The forum was held Tuesday, Oct. 30.
"I do appreciate you taking the time to come and be here tonight," Cook said. "This forum is an opportunity for you, the citizens, to ask questions and formulate ideas on what you want for the next four years, and what direction the city needs to take."
Pembroke resident Gloria Schneider introduced moderator Dave Williams, who took the anonymous questions and read them to the candidates. While some questions were candidate-specific, most were addressed to the panel.
"I thought it was very informative, and I thought all the questions were excellent. It gave the candidates an opportunity to answer what the public really wanted to know," Cook said afterwards. "I think in a small town, the anonymity of filling out questions was the best way to do it."
While holding an open candidate forum is not new to Pembroke, Cook said it’s been a long time since the city has held one.
"We’ve provided a place for it one other time, but it’s been a while," she said. "I was a little disappointed that not all of the candidates were there."
District 4 incumbent Randall Butler, Councilmember-at-large incumbent Ernest Hamilton and District 2 incumbent Elijah Lewis, Jr. were not present at the forum.
"I was scheduled to work and I wanted to leave word at the meeting that I was set up to work out here on Hwy. 80," Butler said. "We’re widening four miles of that road, and from 7 p.m. at night to 7 a.m. they can work uninterrupted. I am the construction manager, and the DOT has had several layoffs and the guy I had working for me at night got transferred to another project so I had to be out here last night."
"Unfortunately I had to work at that time," Hamilton said. "For my business, there were some port-a-potties I had to go pick up and they were having a ribbon cutting, so I had to go and get them and I couldn’t make it. But I saw some video from the forum and it looks like it went good."
As of Friday afternoon, Lewis could not be reached for comment.
Editor’s note: Questions were provided from residents, answers were from candidates during the forum.
There has been much discussion about the image of the city of Pembroke and the need for positive role models for our young people. As a representative of our city, how do you plan on improving and contributing to this need?Johnnie Miller: "To be a role model, you have to set an example. If I’m on this council, and I get a DUI or something like that, what kind of role model am I?" It’s hard sometimes. But we have to push the bar up a little higher. I’d like to continue to keep that bar up high." He said he likes to think of himself as a good role model for the city and its residents.
Judy Cook: "My grandmother used to always say, ‘A good name is what you have. Only you can lose your good name by the things that you do and the things that you say.’ I’m the first to say that no one is perfect. But I have strived over the years to set examples for my children, and my grandchildren, and the city of Pembroke. We’re on display at all times, whether on or off the job."
Anthony Greeson: He consistently considers how his actions might impact his children, because he wants to be a great role model for them. For him, becoming an elected official will be an extension of that mindset, by being a role model for other children and adults alike. "This city needs more role models, and not just by us, but also the citizens and the business people in the community."
Doug Kangeter: He knows he will have to earn the community’s respect first and foremost. "I was raised to have respect for my elders. You’ve got to set an example because people are going to look up and see what we’re doing. People make mistakes; I’ll sit here and tell you I’m not perfect. But I think I’m a very good role model for my children and I can be a good role model for this city and I’ll have respect for the city."
Angela Reed: Being a role model is all about character. "We’ve got so many people in this city with good character. What I want to see us do is pool those resources and bring them all together. Let our children know that there’s good things to do and you’re going to feel good doing them, and you’re going to make your community better. I think I have a good, strong character and I feel like I have the city’s best interest at heart."
Tiffany Walraven: She’s learned a lot from watching her elders and those in the community. "Character is who you are when no body’s looking," she said. "I shouldn’t have to worry about what I’m doing if I know that I’m always doing the right thing. We’ve got to be the people we say we are."
Angela Reed, can you verify if you have several DUIs?
"I have no DUIs. Politics is nasty; this has been rough. I have absolutely no DUIs. If you want to see my record, I’d be glad to show it to you. I’m an open book. I’m sorry people in Pembroke have to hear such nonsense. Let’s just get along, because this does nothing but make me mad. I want you guys to be more interested in what I’m going to do for the water, or your sewer or your sidewalks – not my driving record. But if you need to see it, just call me."
What prior leadership skills do you have that will help you as a city councilperson?
Miller: His hardest leadership experience is something he’s currently doing: Chairman of the Deacon Board for his Baptist church. "Politics is easy when compared to church," he said. He’s also a retired school teacher and coached basketball for 33 years. "In order to be a good leader, you have to be a good follower first, and I’ve been under some good leaders."
Cook: She’s worked for the city since 1972. She said she’s also worked under a number of mayors, and got to see each different style of leadership that those mayors brought to the position. "I learned so much from these people. They were my mentors and my leaders. I think I attained leadership skills from each one of them."
Greeson: He’s had experiences from a multitude of things. As a paramedic, he’s the on-site leader in all emergency situations, which can sometimes be real crises. "I know it’s not the same thing as running a city, but I also spent six years in the Georgia Army National Guard at Fort Stewart, where I had troops under me. Being a councilman, it’s a lot of responsibility and a lot of stress. You have to be able to handle situations as they come and take the good with the bad. I think it comes back to character – how can that person handle the situation."
Kangagter: He’s worked with his family at their business since 1995, making decisions that impact him, his family and the business. Working together is important in his daily routine, and he’s good at working in a team environment. "It’s not all about book smarts but also about common sense, and I know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em."
Reed: She’s served on a number of community chair committees and those experiences have helped teach her how to listen to a group. "None of my decisions will be made by me alone. If you can’t listen, you might be missing something. I want to be up here so badly, to show you I can work for the city."
Walraven: It’s important to work not only with the city, but the county and state as well. She’s had the opportunity to learn her strengths in being a better leader, working for the Chamber President in Athens. "And you can’t always be the Chief, sometimes you’ve got to be the Indian – you have to understand all parts of leadership."
What do you think is the most important thing facing Pembroke right now?
Miller: This particular election is what’s going to be really big for Pembroke. "Will things stay the same or will there be changes? This election will set the tone for Pembroke’s direction, and the voters will make that decision."
Cook: There’s a lot going of good things going on in the city, behind the scenes. "(My staff) loves Pembroke and they want to see good things for Pembroke. But, in turn, they need good leaders. I can sit here and name you everything we’ve got going on, and everything for the future. One of the main things I want to see is that theater up." She hopes after the election, whoever the council may end up being, she wants to start handing off individual projects for the councilmembers to take over and work on.
Greeson: The fact that there are city conflicts and not enough cooperation between the council and the community is most pressing. "We need to move forward and get hidden agendas cut out of the way, and I want to see the city grow but growth needs to be controlled. The city needs to come together and work as a team."
Kangeter: He agreed it’s going to be very important for the city to start working more cohesively, and one of the major issues he sees is water and sewer – "mainly because I don’t have it."
Reed: She wants to see more for the youth of Pembroke. "It’s going to be very important. The youth of our city are going to grow up and they will need somewhere to live." Pembroke should be the place they choose to stay.
Walraven: Preplanned growth and development is going to be the most important thing – not sporadic growth sprouting up all over the city. "We need to plan where we want things to go before we continue to grow; we need to make sure places are safe, and we need more programs for all members of our community."
The pool of skilled labor in the city is shallow. How can that be improved?
Miller: With skilled labor, employees have to be paid well and that can sometimes mean raising taxes. To avoid that, it has to be a gradual growth. The city first needs to finish establishing water and sewer, and then start increasing more housing opportunities, and from there, employment more skilled labor opportunities will come.
Cook: The city hosted the employment application process for Alco, and they saw 200 applications filled out for 30 positions. "That tells me we are in desperate need for jobs for our community." To work for the city, a person must have a driver’s license and be able to pass a drug test – which seems to be a big holdback. She said transportation needs to be addressed also, with many people having the skills but no transportation to travel to those opportunities.
Greeson: The city should try and get one of the nearby technical or vocational schools to hold night trade classes in Pembroke. "I feel that we’ll draw more businesses here if we are offering the classes and training to our community right here in the city."
Kangeter: He’s not surprised about the issue of working for the city. "I know people who can pass a drug test but who don’t have a license, and vice versa. I don’t know what the answer is, but I know I can get it working with these people up here. Together, we can do it."
Reed: Getting the youth more involved will help the city in the long run. "If we build their character, I think we’ll see our youth growing up and staying here to work. People coming together and brainstorming is what’s going to get our skilled labor up. Our youth need to have pride in the community so they’ll want to stay after they graduate."
Walraven: She was told by her high school guidance counselor that she couldn’t make it to the University of Georgia. "Had it not been for 4H, I wouldn’t have pursued that. You have to have the proper programs in place, and people in the school system to encourage the students. They’re going to be the next workers here. If you’re not encouraging them to go to college, you’re not encouraging them to get training, you’re not encouraging them to go out and shadow jobs. You’re not going to have people who want to come back here. It’s very important they have support."
How can we bring industry to the area to provide local jobs for our community?
Miller: Even global industries could possibly be a consideration. "We need to go global; people are looking for places like Pembroke – with a low tax base – to be in. So we need to give them incentives. That’s why I said we need water and sewer. We have the land, but those other things are going to be what people look at."
Cook: This upcoming year, the budget has included for a part-time Planner/Economic Developer. While there won’t be a huge industry in the city – that’s the Industrial Park’s job –the council has been working to get places like McDonald’s and Alco. "Those are the types of business we’re going to attract. And I get excited if we create three jobs. So we put this position in the budget and that person will try to solicit businesses that are compatible with Pembroke."
Surveys have shown that underage drinking and drug use are the number one concern for our teenagers. What plans do you have for dealing with this issue in our community?
Miller: It’s a bigger problem in Pembroke than compared to other community sometimes. Parents really need to work on being the best role model they can be for their children, and "we need to crack down on ID checking."
Cook: Because Pembroke has so many single-parent homes, it’s a difficult situation. The county is working on getting a five-year grant to help support programs to help fight underage drinking and drug abuse. "It’s going to be important to educate the kids and the parents, and make sure parents know what their children are doing. If you keep a kid busy, you keep ‘em out of trouble."
Greeson: The city using the Fatal Vision "drunk goggles" is a good start. The first proactive step will be to get parents involved, followed by the whole city. "Kids need a place to go when no one else is home. As a paramedic, I’ve seen people die – I’ve seen children die - it’s the worst call you can take."
Kangeter: This is definitely a prominent issue for Pembroke. "We’ve got a drug problem. My belief is we need to get additional help from even outside the community – not just our police but others to help with the problem." Making sure everyone is carding for everything is a start, and things need to continue from there.
Reed: There used to be the Neighborhood Patrol Group, a group of women who would literally patrol the streets and give the police tip-offs. "Cops can’t be everywhere. What’s going to have to happen is our neighborhoods are going to have to get involved. There’s towels swinging letting people know there’s drugs being sold. It’s a fact. Let’s get some programs into effect. If you elect me up here, expect me to come and put you on the spot to get involved. If we keep our youth involved, we’ll help keep them out of trouble. Get them busy so they’re too tired to be out on the streets on Saturday nights."
Walraven: She didn’t really realize what was going on until she went to college. She said at UGA, multiple peers were killed in accidents or died from alcohol poisoning in the dorms, and the city and college collaborated to help prevent the problem and educate the students and their parents about it. "Through that, when I came back here, I started seeing it happening and realized Pembroke does have some issues that need to be addressed."
How would you go about resurrecting recreational activities such as softball, soccer, etc. for our youth?
Miller: It will be important to bring the city’s park back to life and that the city needs to start putting more money into recreation.
Cook: Getting some recreation solely for Pembroke would be a good starting point, with teams in the city playing against each other.
Greeson: He doesn’t want to take anything away from Hendrix Park, but he would like to see something in Pembroke.
Kangeter: He remembers playing t-ball at the park, and would love to see more things here as well. "There’s plenty of Pembroke kids who could be all star athletes, but they lack the resources to build on that."
Reed: She’d like to see some small festivals, on a smaller scale and more often. "Bring people to our Main Street. I’m talking about vendors that are from here. Have some activities for our kids, but also for our adults to do; let them get silly too. We are a small town and we want to enjoy life. It’s not all about working 9-5. It’s also about getting together on the weekends. I want to see everyone from all districts coming together."
Walraven: The city has a lot of the resources in place, but now they need to be fixed up. "We as adults need to be out there playing and enjoying ourselves. We have a lot of overweight people here and everywhere. You’ve got to promote activities in the community. Maybe it’s a quarterly community softball game, maybe it’s all the local businesses challenging each other to a game. And if the kids see us out there having fun, they’ll want to be involved with it too."