Savannah's District 2 candidates discuss priorities, issues
By Eric Curl, Savannah Morning News
As published on Sunday, Sept. 27
Four candidates are running for the Savannah City Council in the city’s Second District going into the Nov. 3 election.
Alderman Mary Osborne is after her fourth term, while Bill Durrence, Detric Leggett and Andrée Patterson each hopes to replace her.
All of the candidates recently sat down to discuss their priorities for the district and the city. In addition to crime, issues discussed included revitalization efforts, planning, the Cultural Arts Center, job opportunities and short-term vacation rentals. The conversations have been edited because of space constraints and for the purposes of clarity.
Bio: Durrence is a lifelong Savannah resident who served in the U.S. Army for three years. He recently retired as a professional photographer but continues to teach photography and history. He serves on the Downtown Neighborhood Association board of directors, is an active member of the Historic Savannah Foundation and served two terms on the city’s Tourism Advisory Committee.
SMN: Is the City Council at fault for the crime rate going up?
DURRENCE: They bear some responsibility for that. That’s a really complicated social issue. It’s not just a policing issue. I think they have failed in how they manage the department.
Once they realized it was a problem, it took a long time for them to deal with it. From the pay raises to money for cars, they have been slow to work on a fix for the department.
Crime is more than policing. You’ve got to not only create jobs, but good paying jobs.
SMN: What can an alderman do to create jobs?
DURRENCE: We can create an environment that is more hospitable to job growth. There may be a way to work with the school board to create a better workforce. Create job-training programs. The city could encourage higher wages be paid on city projects.
Also require higher wages when variances are requested. The standard approach for that is, I’m going to create jobs, but nobody goes beyond that to say what kind of jobs.
A better technological infrastructure. Fiber optic cable so you can draw businesses that struggle to do business here now. Chattanooga is just coming on so strong because they put fiber optic all through.
SMN: What do you think about the plan to revitalize Waters Avenue?
DURRENCE: The concept to do that is good. I don’t think it is working out.
There is a constant waste due to poor planning. The money we wasted on the Waters Avenue shopping center — we bought without doing the due diligence.
SMN: What would you have done differently?
DURRENCE: I would have wanted to know that when we bought that shopping center, we could use it.
At whatever point we discovered we had a problem, I would have wanted to know why that happened.
SMN: What are some of your other priorities for the second district?
DURRENCE: The biggest issue we need to deal with is planning for where we are heading. Every decision we make is based on just that moment.
I had a boss one time who used to tell us he wanted us to do what he called blue sky daydreaming. If you could have anything you wanted, don’t worry about how you do it, how you would pay for it or anything else. If you could have anything you wanted, what would it be?
I see us trying to do something like that.
On a 30- or 50-year horizon, what would we want the city to look like? Obviously once we establish that goal line, we’d have to make modifications. But if we had that goal, every decision we made would be based on supporting that goal.
SMN: What do you think should be done with the existing arena?
DURRENCE: I like the idea of saving the Johnny Mercer Theatre and getting rid of the arena and requiring as much as possible of the Oglethorpe plan in that area.
SMN: Do you think we’ve reached a tourism saturation point?
DURRENCE: I believe we have reached it, if not passed it. I would prefer we added more affordable housing instead of creating more hotels. I think we need more people living here, not passing through.
SMN: Do you support short-term vacation rentals?
DURRENCE: I’m not absolutely opposed to them, but I wish we had a way to manage the volume of them. That is part of a broader long-range planning issue. I think we should be giving preference to owner-occupied rentals.
SMN: What do you think about the performance of city staffers, especially City Manager Stephanie Cutter?
DURRENCE: I have a lot of respect for Ms. Cutter’s integrity. I think she stepped in at a time when we desperately needed someone that was solid, dependable, get the job done, no drama. She did a terrific thing for the city taking over and cleaning up the mess.
The big question mark for me is can she be more than that. That was the job that needed doing at the time, but that is not the job we need to be doing now.
Read more from this interview and the other candidate's perspectives by clicking here.