MEET THE CANDIDATES: Mayoral candidates in their own words

File photo: Terry Richards | The Valdosta Daily TimesMayoral candidates David Sumner, J.D. Rice, Scott James Matheson and Kevin Bussey answer questions from the public at a recent political forum.

VALDOSTA – The Valdosta Daily Times sent a list of questions to the five mayoral candidates. For the sake of transparency, the answers are being run verbatim. Editing for clarity did occur.

Brooks Bivins

Why did you decide to run for mayor this term?

Bivins: “The spirit of God told me to.”

What makes you the most qualified candidate in this race?

Bivins: “The spirit of God leads me.”

What are three specific goals from your campaign’s agenda?

Bivins: “Number one, safety is my first concern for the citizens. Providing a safe, learning, loving environment for the people. So, I have to work with all departments. I’m going to have to learn a lot more about the in detail stuff when I get there. Your concerns are my concerns. That’s the bottom line. I’m human just like you. I believe that my generation, which are now parents and grandparents and some great-grandparents, need to help the young people get to a point in this society that those who don’t take advantage of the first opportunities God has given them — such as going to school and getting educated and trying to find a skill of some sort. I want that. I want to provide educational tools for those that are incapacitated. Going to jail, coming out the same way you went in is 90 percent of our problems. I believe that the Lord’s Prayer needs to be put back into the school system because you’ve taken away my freedom of religion. How can I have freedom of religion and you tell me I can’t speak of God in the school system? You can separate God from you. That breath you just inhaled and exhaled belongs to God. How you choose to use your life is your freedom of choice. We’ve got all this violence and crime and all that kind of stuff, and we don’t have to talk about it. We’re scared to turn on the TV and find out that somebody just got killed or shot up four or five people right here in Valdosta. You don’t have to go out of town to find this stuff. To me, I believe in what the Lord said that will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven, those quoting the Lord’s Prayer. Either we’re going to be with Him or we’re going to be against Him. I want to be with Him, and I know that He will help us solve our problems. Only He can do that. Me by myself can’t. You by yourself can’t. But God and us can.”

Outside of the coming Arglass Yamamuru factory, what will be your main method to stimulate the local economy?

Bivins: “Anybody telling you they’re running for the mayor of any city’s first priority is safety I hope. And trying to bring jobs. A city that is not growing is dying, but the kind of jobs you bring makes a difference. And again, I got to be there and see what is offered. Under my watch, if God blesses me to become the mayor of Valdosta, what jobs that would be best suited for Valdosta and those that want to come here, but if you want to know how I feel about it, I’ll tell you I lean on green. I want jobs to come here, proactive towards trying to save our environment, while providing jobs for the community.”

If elected, how would your government provide transparency to the public?

Bivins: “God has given me an idea, but it won’t be me the mayor. It will be we the people. If God allows me to become the mayor, he will have chosen me because I want to serve Him and His people. So, I will need everybody’s help that is willing to help bring Valdosta to what He has said — a little bit closer to what it being like in Heaven here on Earth. I will try and have a lot less behind-the-door policies. Closed door stuff. Because I would really like to have a team of people to volunteer to be part of the solution. What is wrong if I had a select group by the people of people to just get the information, brainstorm it and make suggestions? It’s still up to the council, not the mayor, but the council to approve it. But if I’m following God and have God telling me what to do, God will you give somebody the right idea on how to solve this problem. My belief is I know we can’t do this by ourselves. We got to depend on God. God don’t need us. We need God.”

Do you support or oppose SPLOST VIII and why?

Bivins: “Right now, I’m undecided about it because so often, we’ve been made promises about what’s going to go on with the money. Then, the money has been diverted to different things. I don’t want that. That’s why I want more transparency.”

Kevin Bussey

Why did you decide to run for mayor this term?

Bussey: "I decided to run for mayor to 'be the change, I wish to see.' I returned home so that I could apply all that I have learned throughout my life within the military and in Washington D.C. working with the federal government. I’ve found it very easy to complain about the issues in Valdosta, but the difficult and most honorable thing to do is be a part of the solution; not the problem. I want to be more hands on with the social and economic development of Valdosta. Our city needs new, fresh ideas and perspectives in order to improve the overall culture and quality of the city. I want to help push that narrative in order to truly make Valdosta 'A City Without Limits.'"

What makes you the most qualified candidate in this race?

Bussey: "I coached, trained and mentored thousands of soldiers for 13 years in the U.S. Army before medically retiring in February of 2015 due to injuries I sustained in battle. During wartime, it didn’t matter if the soldier next to me was black or white, Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal, etc. All that mattered to me was that we were all Americans and it was my duty to protect their well-being and ensure that they made it home safely to their love ones. This would be my same mentality if elected mayor. To ensure the well being of every Valdostan and to assist in the efforts of improving the overall quality of life in our great city. While serving the White House by way of the United States Department of Commerce, I balanced multi-million-dollar budgets and allocated resources throughout different states and federal agencies. This knowledge and experience would be beneficial to our city in ensuring that we are fiscally responsible with our finances. At 33 years old, I am the perfect age to not only bridge the generational gap, but to also be actively engaged in all aspects of the community without my age or health being a hindrance. Since returning home to Valdosta, I’ve attended and graduated from the Valdosta Government 101 course, the Valdosta Citizens Police Academy, as well as the Valdosta Citizens Firefighters Academy. I’ve built meaningful relationships within City Hall, as well as within the community, and those relationships are essential in furthering the progression of our vibrant city. Aside from all that I have achieved in life and the relationships I have nurtured; my heart is what qualifies me the most. I’m honest, genuine and true. I live my life by the core values of L.E.A.D.E.R.S.H.I.P. (Loyalty, Efficiency, Accountability, Duty, Empathy, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage)."

What are three specific goals from your campaign’s agenda?

Bussey: "Because we have a weak-mayoral form of government in Valdosta, the mayor holds no executive power and has limited formal authority over the decisions made by the city council, the city manager or the department heads. The mayor is the voice of the people and the power lies in the ability to listen to the community, identify their concerns and advocate for their needs before the above-mentioned entities.

"So, with that being said, one of my main goals is to get the DESI ACT ordinance on the agenda to be voted on by the city council. This measure will mandate that all property owners, property management and their contractual agreements with renters enforce that adequate security and/or police enforcement is present at the property if there is to be a large amount of people expected. This policy will help prevent tragedies like the deaths of Desiyunna Hill and Solomon Lee from occurring again in our community. Mandated requirements in rental agreements will not only protect the citizens, but the property owners as well.

"My second goal includes reviewing the city charter and its ordinances/policies to make sure that it is up to date in allowing our city to operate to its utmost potential and at its highest efficiency level possible. Current Mayor John Gayle appointed a committee to review the charter in phases and I want to continue that practice in a similar fashion to ensure that the city leadership can identify any weaknesses and revise rules and regulations need to be amended.

"My third goal would be to work with planning and zoning administrator to review the Land Development Regulations in the same manner in which I would review the city charter. The LDR is a one-source stop to all necessary guidelines, ordinance and policies for all city land development, redevelopment and zoning. When it comes to new small businesses/economic development, we must continue to review our LDR, as well as study those of other cities who are having exponential economic growth to see if some of their successful methods of approach are duplicatable.

"If we’re ever going to see this city prosper in a way we all dream of, we have to ensure that the leaders of the city are all on the same page. I would like to hold quarterly meetings with the VSU leadership, SGMC leadership, Moody Air Force base command, county officials and neighboring cities to ensure mutual growth and collaborative planning."

Outside of the coming Arglass Yamamuru factory, what will be your main method to stimulate the local economy?

Bussey: "Transparency, unity/collaborative efforts and infrastructure are the fundamental keys to my platform. Focusing on the latter two will be my main methods of stimulating the local economy. Valdosta must come together as a community and promote to our citizens to buy local from the small businesses that are the backbone of our economy. We must also help to create new small businesses by directing aspiring entrepreneurs to the Valdosta Small Emerging Business Program and assist them in utilizing the resources that they have available. Our city must also explore ways to create more industrial/trade jobs locally because more jobs, means more money earned by citizens, which in turn means more money flowing throughout our economy. How do we do this? Focus on infrastructure. Infrastructure includes, but is not limited to, Internet, communications, roads, sidewalks, bridges, sewers, water treatment, private/public projects and more. Improving our infrastructure will not only create hundreds of jobs in itself, it will also make Valdosta a more attractive and desirable place to entice new businesses to come. Outside of creating jobs by continuously improving our infrastructure, I would also work with the Lowndes-Valdosta economic development authority to see if it were possible to offer incentives to further entice companies to come to our beautiful city."

If elected, how would your government provide transparency to the public?

Bussey: "As stated before, transparency is one of my three main platforms. Making pertinent information more easily accessible to all citizens is a top priority of mine. Times are changing and that means we must also adapt in order to change and progress with the times. We must explore different, more progressive methods of distributing information and engaging the citizens. We must utilize technology to help educate the masses. All departments and government organizations should have better online visibility, especially on social media. These social media accounts should have live streams which would host open to the public board meetings, city council meetings or budget discussions.

"Recently, the potential sale of Mathis City Auditorium has become a topic of discussion because of social media and the outcry from some of our citizens. My biggest concern with the situation was that ideas were being discussed and possible decisions were being approached concerning the fate of this building, for the most part, outside of the sight and knowledge of the majority of our taxpaying citizens. I feel that this is something we should change. I would also like to see a Valdosta mayor podcast, speaking on issues of the city. On average, less than 1/10 of 1 percent of the population physically attends city council meetings or similar functions. That level of engagement is unacceptable.

"It is now time that the city utilizes technology to help spread public information. Outside of using technology, we must also get into the habit of having more regular town hall meetings (and even city council meetings) within the community so that we can bring information and the city leaders to the front doors of our constituents. Transparency will help regain community trust in law enforcement and elected officials."

Do you support or oppose SPLOST VIII and why?

Bussey: "I support SPLOST VIII 100%. Georgia law allows local communities to use Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax proceeds for capital improvement projects that otherwise could not be accomplished or financed unless it was paid for with a general fund and/or property tax revenue. We have to look at SPLOST in the manner Florida does. The more people travel from different states to Florida and travel on their highways and turnpikes, help in the efforts of improving their infrastructure by way of paying toll fees. The more people that come into the city of Valdosta, shop at our mall, live in our hotels, buy a drink at our stores help pay for the capital projects needed to improve our city opposed to every citizen in Valdosta doing it themselves. As your next mayor, my job will be to work with the city manger and council to ensure $64 million capital projects are allocated throughout our city based on need and progression."

Scott James Matheson

Why did you decide to run for mayor this term?

Matheson: “Many things drew me to run for mayor, first and foremost the fact that it is a non-partisan race and doesn’t divide friends and neighbors when it comes to finding common-sense solutions in areas of need. Second, the challenge of inspiring seven great councilpersons, to set direction for 600 wonderful employees, who then provide 55,000 residents with great service and a better quality of life.”

What makes you the most qualified candidate in this race?

Matheson: “My deep involvement in all areas of our city for the last 30 years truly sets me apart in this race. When you roll up your sleeves and serve as a way of life, it exposes you time and time again to areas of need and the true heart of the city. I have served on the Red Cross board over the years, the Azalea Festival board in its early years, the LAMP board, the community council with our chamber and more. I am currently engaged in the One Valdosta-Lowndes initiative and also serving this year as president-elect of Leadership Lowndes. Furthermore, for the last 16 years I have sat down every other Monday with our county government and every other Friday with our city government as well as our school systems, university, technical college, all departments in our city, emergency management, local industry, airport authority, parks and rec, our medical center, South Health District, Partnership Health and any and all charities.”

What are three specific goals from your campaign’s agenda?

Matheson: “Three specific projects I hope to realize in my first year are a tiny house community to act as transitional housing for various programs such as LAMP, Salvation Army and The Haven. A transportation initiative utilizing Uber/Lyft that many cities have foregone public transit buses for and finally a weed and seed program to identify substandard housing and systematically start revitalizing homes for a better quality of life and to breathe life into our declining tax digest.”

Outside of the coming Arglass Yamamuru factory, what will be your main method to stimulate the local economy?

Matheson: “Listen, if revitalization is the slow and steady way to increase our tax digest then good paying jobs is the fast way. Better paying jobs mean better spending people. I was at the ground-breaking for the Arglass Yamamura facility and got chills because it was such an international affair. The Arglass people live in New York but are Venezuelan by descent; the Yamamura partnership is obviously Japanese. To be on the map for this kind of partnership is a game changer for Valdosta and should be nurtured at every turn. Support for our Development Authority but never leave them standing alone at a table. Having a strike force from the university, Wiregrass, the chamber and both city and county governments is a must.”

If elected, how would your government provide transparency to the public?

Matheson: “I am in the media and transparency is key. I have vowed to take a half a dozen meetings each year to the community. We will exit the council chambers and let the respective councilpersons drum up interest in advance at local community centers throughout the city.”

Do you support or oppose SPLOST VIII and why?

Matheson: “Finally, I fought against the T-SPLOST because I viewed it as damning to be the 8 cents on the dollar community (especially backed up to Florida). I also opposed it because of its regional nature. I even said at the time that T-SPLOST passage would cause SPLOST backlash and that would be a severe blow to our community. SPLOST passage is a must like never before. The city’s share of the revenue over the six years will be approximately $64 million and we have dedicated close to $40 million of that to continued sewer improvements and manhole rehabilitation. The defeat of SPLOST VIII would set us back decades on infrastructure repair.”

J.D. Rice

Why did you decide to run for mayor this term?

Rice: “After serious consideration I decided to run for mayor because I realized that Valdosta’s potential for economic growth is vast and achievable. Valdosta has two of the nation’s busiest interstate highway systems in close proximity, two of the nation’s largest railroads intersecting our city, an airport with the third longest runway in Georgia and one of Georgia’s leading universities that is complemented by two great colleges. Consequently, forward thinking is needed to assure that economic opportunities are aggressively sought to bring Valdosta job opportunities that can provide salaries and benefits to support our citizens. Knowing this, I believe we need a mayor that’s going to aggressively work with the city council and authorities to seek out, work with and actively recruit viable and sustainable businesses to propel Valdosta as truly the city without limits. I believe that I have the vision and the passion to get the job accomplished.”

What makes you the most qualified candidate in this race?

Rice: “When I reflect on my many years of experience working in governmental management, serving our country in the military, being immersed this community’s fiber through a commitment of service in a multiplicity of organizations, I feel that I am the most qualified candidate because my experience has allowed me to be a part of the everyday interactions that have made this city move forward.

"I didn’t just approve my city department’s budget, I developed multi-million-dollar budgets that were balanced and never operated in excess of the budget. I have had the opportunities to work with other government officials on all levels, thereby, resulting in me gaining a very thorough understanding of how each segment of our city’s departments work.

"I have volunteered serving the citizens of Valdosta in many capacities including helping Southside Recreation and the Mae Wisenbaker Southside Library when both were trying to start new programs. I’m the only candidate that has led local, state and national organizations. I have worked with both Moody Air Force Base and Valdosta State University on several projects. Additionally, my training with Air Force personnel and contingency celebration plans prepared for assisting in the transformation of Valdosta State from its college status to its new university class. Each of my endeavors have served to enhance my understanding as to how interconnected our city has to be in order to fulfill its greatness.”

What are three specific goals from your campaign’s agenda?

Rice: “Although I understand that there are many needs that confront our city, I am particularly focused on the following agenda initiatives:

"Our city needs public transportation and I have proposed to pay for it without using property taxes. The Georgia House of Representatives has a proposed House Bill 448, that states: '(d) It is the intention of the General Assembly, subject to appropriations, that the fees collected pursuant to subsection (b) of this Code section shall be made available and used exclusively for transportation purposes in this state. if passed would allow local communities to increase sales taxes on hotel/motels to assist in paying for transportation cost incurred by cities.'

"With the support of city council, our state representatives and senators, I would assertively petition the Georgia Department of Community Affairs and the Department of Health and Human Services for grants to build homes for the homeless, like other communities have done.

"I understand that the growth and prosperity of our city will always be defined by the quality of life of the least of us. To that end, I am committed to working with city council representatives, the chamber of commerce and local businesses to initiate a jobs-training program to help our youth learn the job skills needed to enter the workplace after graduation. The ultimate goal would be to have a collective city program in which jobs would be provided for students during the summer months. When our young adults are working, our police department can take a break.”

Outside of the coming Arglass Yamamuru factory, what will be your main method to stimulate the local economy?

Rice: “Throughout my tenure as Valdosta’s fire chief, I was privileged to understand the many obstacles that businesses were encumbered with in their pursuits to open new businesses in Valdosta. Therefore, I am dedicated to work diligently with city council members and the city manager to review the many regulations that are currently curtailing business growth in our city.

"I would diligently recommend that any regulation that prohibits and/or unduly restricts the economic growth of our city be revisited and carefully addressed to meet both the needs of the city and the prospective business owner. Revisiting the Land Development Regulations would be the first step in addressing this need. The Land Development Regulations over-regulate and is cost prohibitive to the growth of Valdosta. 

"I believe that together everyone achieves more. Therefore, I would work with the industrial authority, city council, county commission, the chamber of commerce and local businesses to develop a plan that’s workable for Valdosta to recruit and support businesses that bring above-poverty-level wages and benefits to the citizens of Valdosta. This can be done by promoting our region as the economic hub of South Georgia, outlining the quality features we have to offer, such as rail, air, highways, proximity to three deep-water ports and available workforce.”

If elected, how would your government provide transparency to the public?

Rice: “Transparency in city government empowers the public to become more involved and committed to the efforts of the individuals responsible for representing their needs. It is necessary to embrace public participation for citizens to voice their concerns so that the efforts of their representatives may be attentive and focused.

"Currently used venues for communicating citywide information would be reviewed. Valdosta has a television channel on Mediacom. This station can be utilized to broadcast city council meetings. Moreover, when there are major property purchases to be considered, those should be included for public input, such as the proposed sale of Mathis City Auditorium and the possible purchase of the old Valdosta High School.”

Do you support or oppose SPLOST VIII and why?

Rice: “Yes, I support the passing of SPLOST VIII because our city needs revenue to improve the infrastructure to make Valdosta a more pedestrian-friendly city. Our city has a great need for sidewalks, bike paths, park improvements and road improvements and many more programs. Our area serves approximately 250,000 people and many of those that use our services do not contribute to its upkeep or the expansion of police, fire or sanitation services they may receive while in our city, unless they pay sales tax.”

David Sumner

Why did you decide to run for mayor this term?

Sumner: “I could no longer sit back and watch our community waste opportunities for growth and development. Our city has become younger and poorer over the past 10 years. Our household income is $40,391 compared to a peak in 2008 of $48,019. We are on a trend line of worse things to come if plans are not developed to stop this downward spiral. Our city is at a crossroad. Inexperienced leadership could take us down the wrong path. We must move forward. I have the experience and knowledge of city government to help all of Valdosta. My plans call for job growth, low property taxes and goals to improve our quality of life and allow all to enjoy a greater level of prosperity. Working together we will build a better Valdosta.”

What makes you the most qualified candidate in this race?

Sumner: “I served three terms on the Valdosta City Council. While serving I held the position of mayor pro tem and was elected mayor by my fellow council members after the death of then Mayor James H. Rainwater. I have made many trips to Washington, D.C., to lobby on behalf of the City of Valdosta and attended meetings at the Pentagon with Parker Greene for support of Moody Air Force Base.

"I obtained the certificate of achievement presented by the University of Georgia and the Georgia Municipal Association for completion of the Harold F. Holtz Municipal Training Institute for Elected Officials. I attended and completed the prestigious Georgia Municipal Association’s Leadership Institute for Municipal Elected Officials at the University of Georgia.

"I participated in 10 budget cycles of the City of Valdosta having influence on those final budgets. I was a member of the team who negotiated the first service delivery agreement between the City of Valdosta and Lowndes County.”

What are three specific goals from your campaign’s agenda?

Sumner: “Number one priority is jobs and job growth. We must work with various authorities and other government agencies that will partner with the City of Valdosta to obtain this goal. There are many organizations in both the public and private sectors that can help move this goal forward.

"Low property taxes are a must. Our aging property owners on fixed incomes cannot carry the burden of higher taxes. We have plenty of revenue as the city has been given many new avenues for taxation which they have used. We must control cost and work within our means.

"Improve our quality of life for all sectors in our city. If we work together as one community being ever mindful of the responsibilities of both governments (Valdosta City Council and Lowndes County Board of Commissioners), all citizens will benefit. I know that a rising tide will lift all boats.”

Outside of the coming Arglass Yamamuru factory, what will be your main method to stimulate the local economy?

Sumner: “I believe in free enterprise and small business is the foundation and fabric of our city. City government must encourage business to grow and not hinder those opportunities. It must serve as a catalyst to propel growth rather than obstruct. We have many pressing issues today. If you do not recognize these issues how can you lead. Some of our authorities supported by city tax dollars are operating under outdated models. Those entities should be held accountable by a standard of metrics and reporting. If progress is not achieved lack of change is inevitable. I say we look for partnerships outside the norm. We must be concerned about health care, industrial growth and jobs. Our city must carry the torch of promoting and selling our community using the latest in modern technology. We can find new resources using analytics such as data mining to match us with new business and industry so we might compete in this new economy. We must find opportunities from those businesses that operate (online) as well as brick and mortar.”

If elected, how would your government provide transparency to the public?

Sumner: “Good government is open government. We must explore the latest in technology and look at various methods that could increase transparency such as strategic performance management. We could create dashboards that are designed for citizens to access and read information in an easily accessible format (open data). They would have access to ongoing project such as SPLOST to see where those projects are along with other issues before council. Data dumping and requiring citizens to plow through hours of minutes seem to be outdated. I support full freedom of the media. I believe media forces governments to be relative, current and modern. People lose faith in government when they feel elected leaders have violated their trust and no longer welcome their input. Media brings those issues to the front and usually require politicians to be accountable for their actions. I support transparency to the public.”

Do you support or oppose SPLOST VIII and why?

Sumner: “I do support SPLOST VIII. This SPLOST is loaded with infrastructure projects that are long overdue. Most of these projects would put a burden on property taxpayers strapping them for the services used by many who are not. Our city has many aging infrastructure needs and this SPLOST addresses many of those. We will look back years from now and realize completing these projects allowed us to move forward addressing other issues that are important for our growth and development.”

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