Southern Georgia Black Chambers hosts second candidates forum

Oct. 25—VALDOSTA — The Southern Georgia Black Chambers (SGBC) held a second candidate forum Monday evening that yielded one word as a common theme for the City of Valdosta's future: communication.

The first panel was held at the Valdosta City Hall Annex and was in partnership with the Southern Georgia Black Chambers (SGBC) and The Game Changers with Angela Ward on Tuesday, Oct. 3. The second hosting was held to give candidates who were not able to attend the first session.

Ward moderated the panel including candidates Fallon Harris, city mayor; J.D. Rice, city mayor; Nick Harden, city council at large, Alvin Payton Jr., city council at large; and Edgar Tooley, city council at large.

Southern Georgia Black Chambers President and CEO Dewayne Johnson opened the event. The conversations ranged on topics from innovative communication methods and how to increase city engagement throughout Valdosta's community. Candidates were able to respond in two-minute increments.

Ward asked the city council at-large candidates: Accessible housing is a concern for many residents. What steps would you take to address affordable housing issues and provide housing options for low to middle income candidates?

"When I ran for office the first time one of my campaign slogans was 'Rent if You Must, Buy if You Can,'" Payton said. "I'm still a strong advocate that homeownership is the way of building wealth.

"How do you encourage people to buy homes? You have to have the income to support that," Payton continued. "There is something called private public partnerships. In that private public partnership, the city provides tax abatements to the investor on the standard that housing will be made available to low income individuals at a decreased rate."

Harden followed by acknowledging the dire need. He said there needs to be advocacy and accountability for renters and more regulation on landlords. Harden also expressed a need for creative needs to revitalize in the area.

"The city is already proposing a mixed income housing project on the Southside. This is going to include low to moderate income housing for families. What I propose is to expand that not only to the Southside but to the Eastside and Westside. In order for this to be sustainable, what we have to do is have jobs come that will provide not minimum wage but a livable wage," Tooley said following by the attendees' applause.

Ward continued asking the mayoral candidates questions regarding economic development, public safety and strategies to improve communication and the local educational experience.

The panel ended with audience members asking questions about revitalizing not just Southside but all sides of the city and maternal health care disparities.

The attendees received light refreshments provided by Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated, Kappa Tau Lambda Chapter; and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, Kappa Eta Omega Chapter and Kappa Upsilon Chapter.