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Monday, December 09, 2019
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COMMENTARY: Voters Deserve Well-Prepared Candidates for Mayor

By Lou Phelps, Publisher

 June 4, 2019 - Sometimes, even after being out of the game for many years, politicians decide to jump back in.  Such is the situation with former State Senator Regina Thomas who has jumped into the race for Mayor of Savannah, a move that will potentially split the Black vote, as well as the city's Democratic vote, as Alderman Van Johnson challenges incumbent Mayor Eddie DeLoach.  Her motivations are difficult to discern.

She ran unsuccessfully for Mayor in 2011, and for Congress unsuccessfully in 2008 and 2010. In the 2010 race, she even tried to mount a write-in campaign that was disallowed by the courts. 

Thomas, who is 67, has not held elected office for more than 11 years, and has not served on any city board or commission since at least 1994.  We can find no information on any appointed position she ever held in city government prior to running for State Rep. in 1994 in a special election after a scandal involving State Rep. Dianne Harvey Johnson. 

Her list of civic activities in recent years is also bereft of any significant positions; She’s a nice woman, and has been a fun-to-watch member of the Savannah Bananas “Banana Nanas” dance troupe.  

But, the leadership of a $350 million corporation is something that needs far more preparation than remembering dance steps.

This week, she posted an open letter to the residents of the Parkside Neighborhood Association, after attending their monthly meeting last week.  Her written statements indicate just how out of touch she is, and that’s a concern when we see so many other candidates, including for district Alderman, who have spent years preparing to run - leading their neighborhood associations, attending budget hearings and constant attendance at City Council meetings.  

She outlined her reasons for seeking office in this manner to the residents of Parkside this week (text is quoted exactly):   

“Just to give you a heads up in where I am coming from: This Mayor and Council has borrowed in excess of $145 million dollars in bonds that we - the tax-payers of Savannah will have 30 years to pay back. The City states in the SMN on May 8 of this year that their intentions are to use the city's rental motor vehicle tax. (I am not trusting that this will be the only revenue source that the pay back will come from; one other issue that we all face is the 'Fire-fee' - no it is an option that the City can use. The ordinance that created the fee is a part of the City's Charter. At any given time the City can send to us a bill without notice and we will have to comply. This is how our Mayor and Council operate - tell the residents nothing - do as they please and we pay.”

Both points she is attempting to make are in serious error. 

All government entities – cities, counties and municipalities – bond for major capital improvements.  The bonds are underwritten by the lending institution only when the revenue stream for repayment is clearly identified, and is sufficient. The reason for a bond is often an investment in infrastructure so that private investment can then take place, investment which will later generate significant growth in the tax rolls, money that is in addition to the revenue stream to pay back the bond.   

In other instances, bonds are used for roads, sewers and water systems – services the government must provide. Bonding – borrowing – is used to build the project which is then paid back over a specified number of years, just like a home mortgage.  Her lack of understanding of the reason for this $145 million bond is perhaps aimed at an uninformed voter, those who react to any criticism that government is 'overspending.' 

Second, her statement that the City Council can impose a fire fire “at any given time,” is not inaccurate, it's false.  Her opponent, Alderman Van Johnson, not only led the battle to defeat the imposition of a fire fee for the 2019 operating budget, but then had the Fire Fee Ordinance REMOVED from the City Charter.  

However, had he NOT been successful at removing it from the City Charter, ANY such fee the City Council choose to levy or increase would have to have a first and second reading. It would also be part of the fiscal budget process. Budget hearings by the Council occur over multiple days, and are open to the public.  Any decision to use a fire fee, or ANY fee, rather than to raise property taxes to cover city expenses, would then be part of multiple hearings at the City Council, and have to be supported by a majority of the Council.

Whether Thomas is uninformed, is trying to use scare tactics, or does not understand the actual processes of city government, is not clear.  But the public is due far more from a candidate for Mayor.   

And, since Mayoral candidate Van Johnson led the fight against the fire fee, and then provided the leadership on the Council that convinced the majority to remove the fire fee from the City Charter, it is difficult to understand the political ground she is seeking to stake out.

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