For 40 minutes on Monday evening, the two candidates for Watkinsville Council Post 1 in the June 15 special election responded to questions ranging from their views on managing city growth to the need for a city manager.
WGAU New Director Tim Bryant asked Chuck Garrett and Carolyn Maultsby 23 different questions in the candidate forum organized by the Oconee County Republican Party and Bethel Baptist Church.
Agreement between them was more common than disagreement.
Both said that the city needs a city manager, that the mayor should not be full-time, that a top priority is a truck bypass of the city, and that more personnel should be hired for the city’s parks.
Maultsby said the city should try to slow growth and “catch our breadth,” while Garrett said growth “is just something that you’ve got to deal with.”
The clearest difference was in their views about the nonpartisan election itself.
Maultsby said she has labeled herself as a Republican in the election as a way of “letting people know who I am and what I stand for,” while Garrett said the city “has to operate nonpartisan.”
Brian Brodrick, the sole active candidate for the position of mayor in the special election, also responded to questions from Bryant following the session with Garrett and Maultsby.
Session Format And Background
The forum took place in Bethel Baptist Church, 59 N. Main Street, just north of the Experiment Station Road and Main Street intersection, inside the city limits of Watkinsville. More than 50 people attended.
Oconee County Republican Party Chair Kathy Hurley and Marvin Nunnally, chair of the Board for Bethel Baptist Church, spoke just briefly before turning the program over to Bryant.
Monday was the first day of early voting for the June 15 election, and 35 of the city’s 2,247 registered voters cast a ballot that day.
Another 36 voted on Tuesday, and the county Board of Elections and Registration has mailed out seven absentee ballots, according to Jennifer Stone, assistant director of Elections and Registration.
Early voting will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each Monday through Friday at City Hall, through June 11, excepting on May 31, Memorial Day.
Stone said on Tuesday that Peter Steckel, who had qualified for the mayoral election but has said he intends to withdraw, had not filed his withdrawal paperwork. His name remains on the ballot.
Hurley told the gathering on Monday night that she had spoken with Steckel and learned that a death in the family has kept him from completing the official withdrawal.
The special election was necessitated because of the decision of Bob Smith to step down as mayor in March. Brodrick vacated Post 1 and was elected acting mayor.
Questions On Growth, Traffic, Roads
Bryant said he would read questions submitted in advance, and the first he asked was on growth.
“How do you plan to keep up with the expanding growth of the city while still maintaining a small town feel?” Bryant asked.
“I would prefer that we stop for a little bit and catch our breadth.” Maultsby said.
“You can’t completely stop growth,” Garrett said. “We’ve got stuff that been in the plans and working for several years. It’s just something that you’ve got to deal with.”
“What do you propose to alleviate the traffic on Main Street?” Bryant asked about halfway through the session.
“We need a truck bypass on (SR) 15,” Maultsby said. “We need to concentrate on that.”
“For the people that’s lived here all their lives, traffic has always been a problem,” he said, but the U.S. 441 bypass helped reduce the traffic when it was completed and a bypass of SR 15 would do the same, he said.
Both Maultsby and Garrett said they were supportive of plans to widen Experiment Station Road from the U.S. 441 bypass to downtown Watkinsville.
City Manager, Mayor, Term Limits
“If elected, would you be in favor of eliminating or reducing the duties of the city manager?” Bryant asked.
“No I would not,” Garrett said simply.
“We are going to revisit the issues of the charter,” Maultsby. “When you revisit the charter you may have to revisit the line between what the city manager does and what the city council does,” she said.
“The city manager is absolutely necessary,” she added.
Neither wanted the mayor to be full-time.
Garrett said he would consider term limits for members of city council and mayor.
Maultsby said her support for this was “across the board.”
Maultsby said she would give the city a score of eight on a 10-point scale for transparency, while Garrett said he would give a score of eight to nine.
“You continue to advertise that you are running as a Republican in a non-partisan race,” Bryant said to Maultsby. “Would you speak to that?”
“I believe in a two-party system,” Maultsby said. “I believe in letting people know who I am and what I stand for,” she continued.
“Sometimes the easiest way for me to do that is to say I’m a Republican,” she said. “I believe that there should be checks and balances, and the two parties do check and balance each other.”
“Nonpartisan is the way the city was set up,” Garrett said when given a chance to respond to the question directed at Maultsby. “That’s the way I believe it has to work,” he added.
“Unfortunately we’re in a society today where if you identify with either party automatically a wall goes up and people treat you differently,” Garrett said. “So I feel like this city has to be, has to operate nonpartisan.”
Budget Cuts, Priorities
Bryant asked the two to identify specific ways they would cut the city budget.
“I don’t know at this point that could give a fair answer,” Garrett said.
“Well there are lots of things that could be mildly tweaked,” Maultsby said. “If you have to make major cuts, you would have to look at the two major sources of expenditure, which are the police and the maintenance crews.”
Bryant asked each candidate to identify priorities once elected, and Garrett said traffic, speeding, and sidewalks.
Maultsby said the truck bypass, operations, and public communication.
“A lot of black history’s contributions to Oconee County has been swept under the rug,” Bryant said, reading one of the submitted questions. “What do you propose to expand the city of Watkinsville’s acknowledgment of these contributions?”
Maultsby said she would examine the city’s cemeteries, while Garrett said “We need to recognize things that haven’t been recognized in the past.”
Shifting To Brodrick
Half-way through the 90 minute session Bryant invited Brodrick to the front of the room and asked him to introduce himself.
“How do you plan to keep up with the growth of the city while still maintaining a small town feel?” Bryant asked after the introduction, reading from one of the submitted questions.
“We have to maintain high standards,” Brodrick said. “We’ve got to recognize that there is going to be some amount of growth.”
Brodrick told the group he moved back to Oconee County, where he grew up, in 2002 and was elected to Council the following year. He served on Council until he resigned and was named acting mayor in March when Smith resigned.
Brodrick said much of the traffic in the city results from the expansion of the port in Savannah and Brunswick and from residential growth in the southern part of the county.
“I don’t think we can press pause on everything that going to happen in Watkinsville becasue of what’s happened around us,” Brodrick said.
The city needs to work with the state and the county to find a route for a SR 15 bypass, he said.
He also said Experiment Station Road leading into Watkinsville should expanded to three lanes wide, not four as originally proposed.
Questions On Credit Cards, Harden Hill Road
Bryant asked Brodrick to explain why the city has “two dozen credit cards on file,” about cost overruns on the Harden Hill Road sidewalk project, and his role as a member of the Board of Oconee State Bank.
Brodrick said most of the cards were not full credit cards but fuel cards, that the Harden Hill Road project expanded and had to meet unexpected costs for right of way acquisition, and that he recuses himself on all matters dealing with the bank.
Brodrick also reviewed the history of the city’s decision to hire a city manager. He said the late Mayor Charles Ivie initiated the discussion, saying the duties of mayor had expanded and a manager was needed.
Brodrick said the city does not need a full-time mayor and that he hasn’t decided if he will seek the position in November.
“I’m kind of excited about the opportunity to just try it on and see if I can balance it,” Brodrick said. “If I can’t, then I can’t serve the city and I can’t serve the citizens, then that’s a decision I’ll need to make closer to November.”
Brodrick refused to endorse either Garrett or Maultsby when asked by Bryant.
I was not able to attend the candidate forum, but Philip Ashford did attend and made the video recording below at my request.
Ashford estimated that about 55 people were in the audience.
The opening statements of Garrett and Maultsby, in that order, begin at 6:03 in the video.
Brodrick began his introductory comments at 48:27.