District 5 Council seat candidates speak at forum

Published 10:04 am Wednesday, October 11, 2017

By Beth Alston

Part 2
AMERICUS — The Sumter County Chamber of Commerce recently hosted a Candidates Forum at Georgia Southwestern State University.
The event was moderated by Len Hicks and was well attended.
In Part 1, mayoral candidates Laura Lee Bernstein and incumbent Barry Blount spoke.
In Part 2, candidates for the District 5 seat on Americus City Council spoke: Kelvin Pless and incumbent Shirley Green Reese. Each was given five minutes, followed by 2 minutes.
Kelvin Pless won the draw to speak first.
Pless first told a little about himself.
“.. I’ve been a product of this community all of my life. I’m 51 years old. The only time I spent away from here was the time I spent at Troy State University. I had a lot that I added in terms of my leadership there in various aspects. I graduated from Troy State University with a degree in … music education. I came back to my hometown to raise my family … I raised both my daughters when they were three and six; that’s responsibility. After that I worked for International Paper for 19 years; during that time, I had the opportunity to be a leader as far as a technical coordinator. I was also the safety … coordinator. … For the last six to seven years I’m now with the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice in the education department. I work with some of the best and most challenging kids anybody could ever had. If you think public education is tough, try my field. But the beauty of all of it is that we transform young men into … productive citizens.
“With all that said, why do I want to become your next city council representative for District 5? It’s because of my passion and love and integrity toward … this town. My parents, Brother Andrew Pless Sr., and Tiller Pless, my late mother who died back in February, raised me with old-fashioned values and those values don’t only carry over to me talking to you as an individual but in every way I serve. My plan to serve on the city council is to work with all the council members and the mayor, whoever that may be. I look forward to serving the community.
“For the last 16 to 17 years, I’ve been in communications with Sumter Broadcasting Sunday mornings starting at 6 a.m. That gives me a lot of experience with communications. I’m not fearful of people because I love people and people most of the time they love me back.  … I believe I could serve in the full capacity that I need to.
“There are concerns I have around Americus. … We’re not a perfect town. It’s a good town. But above good, there’s got to be excellence. …”
Reese took the podium next, also starting with her background.
“ … I attended the public school system right here in Americus and Sumter County. My sister and brothers and I learned from two loving parents. This is where I learned that what matters is not just your name but what you get done to help others. It is where I learned that you usually get more done when you work with people who need you most. I also learned that … you have to be prepared to make tough decisions that will make a real difference in people’s minds. I’m giving back my services to a community that made a difference for me during my childhood days.
“I have a lifetime of experience, qualifications, leadership ability and a proven track record of providing educational, community and public service on the local, regional, state, and national levels for over 25 years. That counts right here in my hometown of Americus, Georgia. For the last four years, I had the privilege to serve as your representative of District 5 on the city council. I’m seeking your vote and support for another four-year term. Over the last four years I’ve stayed true to my 2014 campaign promises. I will continue to promote a more effective and more accessible government in addition to promoting several policies that will improve the quality of life for the taxpayers throughout District 5 and the city of Americus. I’m proud of what we’ve achieved in the last four years. I’m proud of my record, but I’m not done yet. As councilor for District 5, I will continue to offer new ideas for an ever-changing district.
“Some of the improvement we have made during my tenure on the city council are implementing the Land Bank Authority and Family Connection; increased shop productivity by 200 percent; resurfaced six streets and more; upgraded some of the city parks; improved Easter Morning and Elm Street area storm water drainage; reduced staff shortage in the police department; reduced our crime numbers for the first six months in 2017; established a robust health and wellness incentive-based program for employees; many, many more improvement have been conducted …
“We’re still facing one of the worst economic downturns we have seen in decades. I will take an active role to assist in finding new industries and businesses to accommodate all the citizens of Americus. I believe there is still work to be done. This is the primary reason why I decided to seek another term. I love this city and I have discovered that being in office does make a difference for District 5. My campaign is about economic development, fiscal accountability, sustainability, transparency, collaboration and a voice for District 5. I must admit progress has been made during my four years in office. If elected I will continue to work and help grow our community wealth, to build upon the great work of those before, to make our city an even better place to live, work and raise a family. Now’s the time for new approaches. Now’s the time for innovative solutions that will build an ever-stronger Americus. We have much work to do. As a city councilor for District 5, I will continue to take a respectful and professional approach to strengthen investment in our community, putting family first. I will continue to work collaboratively …”
At this point, the moderator announced that Reese had reached her five-minute limit and would enter her two-minute phase.
“… to invest in public safety, strengthen our workforce, attract new businesses, revitalize local investments and encourage prosperity for families,” she continued. “These are the priorities that will grow our community well. These are also the key actions that will lead to increased economic stability to support and promote Americus’ unique human, cultural and historical resources. Let’s work together to grow District 5 and the community well. Let’s work together to meet Americus’ challenges and celebrate our successes. I would like to continue making a significant difference for four more years. I cannot accomplish my agenda without your support on Nov. 7 to vote for and reelect Dr. Shirley Green Reese …  ”
Pless then took the podium for his two minutes.
“There’s a saying in education that students don’t care about what you really know or what your background is but most about how much you care. I care for Americus. Talking to some potential voters while I was out campaigning, I heard a lot of genuine concerns, everything from infrastructure, the sewage system, the economic balance. Personally, I’d like to see us go to what I call a 15/25 — 15 or 25 dollar-an-hour jobs in our community. I don’t know how much influence the city council has on it, but it should be touched in some kind of way. I’ve witnessed a lot of our properties are going down in our city. Houses are abandoned. A lot of people are renting. … From what I looked at in the statistics … 60 percent more houses being rented versus people owning. That’s oppression, and when you have oppression you have crime. I don’t care how we look at it. Lots of people say this is a retirement town; there’s nothing wrong with that. I think it’s time to make this town more secure for those who do want to retire. But at the same time, we can’t forget about those people who’re of working age. When we have students to graduate from Georgia Southwestern State University, or South Georgia Tech or even our local high schools, we need to put something in that they can walk into. One time we had the Davidson Rubber companies; we don’t have that anymore. We have the minimum wage and there’s nothing wrong with minimum wage, but we when I was coming along it was more designed for when you get out of high school you make better profits for yourself so you can get to the next level.
“I think we need to take a greater interest toward excellence … we need to become an excellent city. The city that sits on a shining hill, we need to brighten our lights. My saying is ‘this is your town, our town. Let’s come alive, Americus. There’s a lot of work to do.’ That’s why I want you to elect me as your city council District 5 representative.”
Read Part 3 in Saturday’s edition for the question and answer period. Also other candidates are recognized.