My name is Bill Durrence, I am a candidate for the 2nd District City Council seat, and I want your vote.
NEW ENERGY and FRESH IDEAS
Bill Durrence has been an eyewitness to more than 60 years of changes in Savannah. We’ve come a long way from Lady Astor’s description of our home as, “a beautiful lady with a dirty face,” -- we’ve lost our focus in recent years. We can and must do better. That will require a lot of effort on many fronts, but here are the three areas where I think we need to concentrate:
Respecting our Past, and
A Vision for our Future
The most immediate priority is to repair our police department. It took a long time to get to the understaffed and demoralized department Chief Lumpkin inherited. We cannot take that much time to repair the damage. It is imperative that we give Chief Lumpkin the tools he needs to create a first rate, fully staffed force.
The sluggish Council support of the police department suggests they don’t get it. People who live here are, rightly, afraid. I’ve traveled all over the world. Day and night, carrying expensive camera equipment, I’ve walked the streets of New York, Havana, London, Paris, Rome, Cairo, and Beijing, roamed the savannas of east Africa and the jungles of Borneo, with little concern for my safety, but I’ve become skittish about walking in my own neighborhood after dark.
We have a convoluted hiring process that loses prospective recruits before they can even be offered a position, which sabotages filling substantial, perpetual vacancies.
We have known for some time that after spending $70,000 training each new recruit, we had trouble keeping the best and brightest of them because nearby communities not only paid better, but were safer to serve and protect. Only in the last few weeks has Council adjusted the pay scale higher, but even then the increase is just marginally better than neighboring forces, a difference certain to disappear in short order.
Another aspect of improving public safety is a harder, long-term process, but it is essential to deterring crime: We must create good jobs and extend economic development to all citizens. For decades we have had a persistent average poverty rate of 26%-28%, with some individual neighborhoods reaching 60%. We must find new ways to show youth with few resources a world beyond the mean streets they see as turf to be defended. We must give them a larger perspective. We must inculcate aspirations and give our youth the tools to pursue their dreams.
The imagination we need won’t come from our current leaders.
Individual businesses can step up and pay back the opportunity they have had for success by mentoring and training at risk kids. Through public-private partnerships with organizations like the Savannah Development and Renewal Authority, and The Creative Coast we can seed entrepreneurial efforts, taking advantage of pragmatic decision making skills of successful business leaders. We can spread tourism activities into the larger community, solving two problems—sharing the economic benefits while reducing the saturation of activities downtown.
Respecting our Past
The past is a touchstone in Savannah, but it serves us best as a roadmap for the future.
“We are not made wise by the recollection of our past but by the responsibility for our future.” G. B. Shaw
What has made Savannah a success over the last 60 years has been the preservation of our 18th, 19th and 20th century architecture, the celebration of our rich heritage as well as appreciation of our coastal environment. Most notably: Having an urban core that is a living city of residents, not a static set piece. These things make us unique, and create the allure for new residents and visitors. If we are to continue our prosperity, we must commit to protecting the things that got us here, or we become nothing more than the Jim Oglethorpe Theme Park.
We have to respect the protocols designed to protect our heritage, making variances and zoning changes the exception not the rule. A recent study by HSF points out our historic districts make up 8% of the city’s land area, but 24% of its taxable value. When a developer comes to the city with a request for a variance promising jobs, he should answer hard questions about what kind of jobs—full or part time, pay scales, advancement training—and sign contractual agreements to guarantee his promises if he gets those variances.
In mixed use areas such as downtown, we need to define neighborhoods as commercial, residential, or a blend of the two, based on predominant usage, and create different rules for behavior based on those designations, so, for example, residents don’t have to listen to touring late in the evenings.
We need to be sure everyone knows the rules and then we need to enforce those rules, something the city routinely fails at today.
And because Savannah belongs to her residents, we need to put the interests of residents at the top of every agenda.
A Vision for Our Future
Savannah has all of the ingredients to be a world-class city except for a failure of leaders who haven’t noticed this is no longer a small town; we have officials who react to events rather than anticipating them. There is no long-range plan for managing growth, no vision, no imagination. We must have thorough research, critical analysis, and careful spending decisions, with transparency and accountability.
The 2nd District is the economic and cultural heart of this community. It absorbs almost the full impact of tourism, our second largest economic sector, which benefits the entire region, yet we’ve been waiting over 20 years for a tourism management plan that protects our historic neighborhoods and the residents who create the Savannah brand.
Big plans for an iconic Cultural Arts Center are being made smaller.
Zoning and a land use map are the primary planning and management tools for government. Our MPC professional staff has been working for over a decade on a new ordinance to replace the current convoluted and outdated Zoning Ordinance originally written in 1960, yet the update remains stalled with no effort from council to move it forward.
· We should have thorough research, critical analysis, and careful spending decisions, with transparency and accountability, what we get is having to spend an additional $110,000, and eventually even more, on Coffee Bluff Marina, because of poor design choices. We spend vast amounts on studies that are either unnecessary or never utilized, including over $300,000 to learn what we already knew, that a cruise ship terminal was a bad idea. We bought the Waters Ave. shopping center without discovering there were structural issues and a tenant with a long-term lease. Where is the due diligence in managing the public coffers?
The Canal District, with its new arena, and Savannah River Landing are opportunities to extend the Oglethorpe Plan and continue to grow our Savannah Brand, something we cannot do in the confines of the 1 square mile Landmark Historic District. Do you want people who can’t do comprehensive planning, who can’t think big or long range, who don’t make good financial decisions—do you want the gang that can’t shoot straight to be in charge of building the arena and developing the Canal District? I don’t. And that’s why I’m here to make a difference for the Second District.
About Bill Durrence:
Bill is a lifelong Savannah resident who was born in the Second District. He began his professional career as a staff photographer at the Savannah Morning News. He then enlisted in the U.S. Army for three years. With an honorable discharge, he returned to his position with the Savannah newspaper, capturing historic images of our life in Savannah and the Second District. Today he is retired and teaches on the topic of photography and history. Bill and his wife, Barbara are active in the Savannah community and have served on numerous boards and commissions over the past 25 years living in Washington Ward. Bill’s dedication to the Second District is unmatched.