Jimmy McCamey says he will work toward including all residents in local government, should he win his bid for LaGrange mayor.
“The lack of inclusion comes from leadership,” he said. “Government should be the voice of the people. The people I have talked to have been pretty consistent we need a change, and that’s encouraging regardless of the outcome.”
McCamey, 44, says he will bring back the town hall-style meetings the city used to host and be a voice for residents.
“If we’re going to grow the economy, we’re going to have to work collectively as an entire community,” he said. “If we bring everyone to the table, we all benefit.”
This is McCamey’s first run for public office, but not his first brush with the public. He first came to the attention of local officials about four years ago during a divisive debate about his group homes, the Center for Creative Growth and Development, now renamed Dream House Youth Services. There are three homes in LaGrange and one in Hogansville.
Christopher Caruso, 18, was convicted of the Nov. 14, 2009 murder of Joseph “Peace” Boison, a clerk at the Shell Mart on Vernon Street. At the time of his arrest, Caruso’s address was listed as a residence on Ridley Avenue, a group home run by the Center for Creative Growth and Human Development. Later, it was determined that staff at the Center for Creative Growth had reported to police that Caruso, placed in the home by the state Department of Juvenile Justice, had left the home without permission in October.
The killing led Mayor Jeff Lukken to write a letter to the state, asking for the homes to be shut down, and for the city to pass a comprehensive group home ordinance requiring – among other things – for the homes to be accredited. As a result of the scrutiny, the homes were shut down by the state in August 2011, McCamey filed for bankruptcy, and it was revealed that he has tax liens totalling $3.1 million as a result of failure to pay employee payroll taxes.
McCamey attempted to get a special-use permit to use part of the former West End School in Hogansville as a group home, but the request was denied by Hogansville City Council in June 2012. Hogansville also passed a group home ordinance identical to LaGrange’s.
McCamey said he realizes the “baggage” of the last four years will follow him.
“It comes up,” he said, saying he was “disappointed and hurt” by what Caruso had done.
The homes reopened under their new name – Dream House Youth Services – about two years ago, and have received state accreditation, according to the city. McCamey said he has a repayment plan for his tax liens and has been paying on the bill beginning two years ago. He was disappointed Hogansville council denied his request, but not surprised.
“It would have been a way for me to consolidate my services (by opening the school as a group home),” he said. The residential home he runs in Hogansville is open.
McCamey owns property in Hogansville and LaGrange and – until five years ago – taught at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, leading some to question his residency. A candidate must live in the city where he runs for office for a year before qualifying.
“I have spent the majority of my life here,” McCamey said. He graduated from LaGrange High School in 1987 and left for college, coming back in 1991, where he worked for Twin Cedars Youth Services for two years, while finishing his doctorate. In 2003, he accepted the job teaching in Wilmington and commuted back and forth, spending weekends here and weekdays there.
In 2008, he accepted a teaching job at Fort Valley State University in Alabama and has been teaching there since, where he is a tenured associate professor.
His education includes a bachelor’s degree in social work from Middle Tennessee State University, a master’s in social work from Clark Atlanta University, a master of mental health counseling from Troy State University and a doctor of philosophy of social welfare from Clark Atlanta University. He is a member of First Baptist Church on Fannin Street and 100 Black Men of West Georgia. He volunteers with Head Start, Boys and Girls Clubs of Fort Valley, and other groups.
“I have completed higher education, I have started a business,” he said. “Now it’s time to take my service to the community to a whole other level.”
McCamey said he has seen LaGrange through “a number of lenses” from growing up in poverty, a high school athlete and a professional.
“LaGrange has so much to offer all walks of life,” he said.
Although he’s proud of his education, he realizes college is not for everyone and the state of local education will be a major focus, if he’s elected. He doesn’t like to see Cannon Street, West Side Magnet and Unity schools closed.
“The schools need to be discussed,” he said. “There’s no way we can recruit businesses and retail if the schools have been moved out of the community. I will be an advocate for reopening the city schools.”
He’d also like to see more resources put toward revitalizing the small parks around the city, like Calumet Park, which was the scene of a shooting this summer, and East Side Park near Lucy Morgan Homes.
“East Side Park saved my life,” he said.
McCamey said he chose to run for mayor instead of council because “the mayor’s seat is critical at a time we have changed and evolved.”
He said he doesn’t want to become a full-time politician and would even support term limits.
“I think two terms is more than enough,” he said. “More than that doesn’t allow for new ideas.”