Oct. 28—Editor's note: This article has been changed from its original version. Early voting will take place 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. this week.
VALDOSTA — J.D. Rice is another rising candidate pursuing the mayoral seat in the November local election.
Election Day will be Nov. 7 at voters' assigned polling places, but early voting will continue 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, Oct. 30-Nov. 3, at the Lowndes County Board of Elections, 2808 N. Oak St.
Rice retired as Valdosta fire chief in 2013. He taught from 2015 to 2019 at Valdosta High School. He first ran for mayor in 2015 against former Mayor John Gayle and in 2019 against incumbent Mayor Scott James Matheson. This year marks his third campaign for the seat.
"Valdosta has a tremendous amount of potential and I don't believe it's being used to its fullest capacity. I have a passion to help our children and that is one area that is not being addressed," he said in an interview Wednesday.
As a father of six children, Rice finds it heart-wrenching that Valdosta's youth seek other communities to further their life goals and build families.
"They shouldn't have to. That could be an option for them. A lot of kids don't want to leave Valdosta. But in order to make it they have to go to Atlanta or Orlando, [or feel like] I just have to leave here. That's one of my driving forces for me wanting this job is for me to bring an environment here so that a child feels like, I can stay home and make a comfortable living and a family and not have to worry about leaving," he explained.
Economic development and becoming a more business-friendly city are focal points on Rice's priorities for the position.
He said transportation is a huge asset for Valdosta with an interstate highway that crosses the United States, two major railroad systems that transverse the entire Southeast United States, and the local airport, which he said has the third longest runway in Georgia (only Atlanta and Savannah have longer runways than Valdosta).
"That's a selling point," he said. "That's a chance for economic development. The infrastructure is here, with our railway systems, highway systems and our airport."
Rice suggests promoting the city as a transportation hub to entice cargo industry such as FedEx and UPS to locate in Valdosta and researching how to participate with the Georgia Ports Authority.
"We have a lot of potential in Valdosta, but we don't advertise it. One of the things that hurt us is that some of the people in leadership seem to think that the workforce is not here. I don't believe that," he said.
He listed the local school systems, Valdosta State University, Wiregrass Technical College and Georgia Military College as organizations that produce a job ready workforce everyday.
Rice said his career as a fire chief has given him experience in planning for public safety emergencies.
"Planning for the worst is a tremendous advantage I have over anyone else who's running. I've been in situations where I had to plan for disasters, so I know what to look for. Also, being in the fire service helps me because you talk about the displacement of people. When storms hit everyone is not going to be prepared to move," he said. "I know the current administration did a great job at trying to get the debris removed, but there has to be a human side to it. What are you going to do about the people?"
He suggested the city could have booked rooms at a local hotel or motel to house at least 50 displaced residents for a week until they could return to normalcy.
Creating more forms of transportation like buses similar to VSU's and expanding the current Valdosta OnDemand systems' operating hours are two major areas he would work on as mayor.
The rising crime activity in the city is another issue Rice wants to address. He said establishing a job training program would help combat the crime rate. For education, he would like the city to pursue expanding broadband internet service so children can access and work on their homework if their family doesn't currently afford it.
He also wants to create more affordable housing options throughout all sides of Valdosta, decrease substandard housing and experiment with more communication methods for elderly residents.
"I believe in forward thinking, having compassion for people and being honest. Things I can do, I'm going to do. Things I can't, I'm going to tell you I can't do it. I'm not going to lead you on. I know how to create jobs. I know how to establish and have great relationships with other agencies and counties. With me as their chief as far as budget management, I never had a deficit in 20 years at the fire department so I'm a good steward of your money," Rice concluded.