Childs, Hart appeal to voters during council forum

Published 8:50 am Saturday, October 21, 2023

The candidates for LaGrange City Council had a chance to appeal to voters Wednesday night during a forum hosted by the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce and The LaGrange Daily News.

Incumbent Leon Childs and Travis Hart squared off in a forum discussing the 2B seat on the council, while incumbent Mark Mitchell and Curtis Brown discussed their qualifications for seat 1C.

The entire forum can be viewed at www.lagrangenews.com. Here’s a look at some of the highlights from the Childs and Hart forum:

GBI investigation

The second question of the forum asked Childs and Hart about an ongoing investigation into an incident that allegedly occurred between Councilman Nathan Gaskin and Childs. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation was brought in to investigate so that the LaGrange Police Department could avoid a conflict of interest since it would’ve been investigating its own council.

“I cannot speak too much on the investigation because it is an ongoing investigation,” Childs said. “But I will only say to all the people in this room, the people on Facebook and everywhere —  when the investigation is concluded I expect to be fully exonerated. I feel like that any and everyone it’s your first amendment rights… if you feel you are in threat of another individual,  to protect yourself.”

The LDN has frequently reached out to the GBI for an update on the investigation, but as of Friday morning had not received any update.

Hart’s question did not pertain directly to the investigation.

He was asked if elected officials should be held to a higher standard once in office.

“We have to ask ourselves, if we are fighting a battle against the city of violence, we have to not beget violence if we are going to ask our citizens and young people to not do the same thing. I don’t know what happened,” Hart said.

“I don’t know anything about the situation. I know certain people have breaking points and if you are pushed to a certain point then you have to do what you have to do, but as an elected official I know we have a higher ground to stand on.”

Childs then responded by saying there was no gun involved, and he said there’s been a “smear campaign” from people who do not want to see him in the seat.

Community violence

Both candidates were asked about any policies they propose to address ongoing gang violence in the community.

Hart said his first initiative is public safety, which includes ensuring the LaGrange Police Department has all of the resources it needs.

“There are plenty of programs that we need to be focused on that we need to pour money into, assist in any way we can to prevent these kids from joining these gangs,” Hart said.

“It’s actually becoming a pandemic. It’s another pandemic we are going through with the senseless killing, the gang initiations and the senseless violence.”

Childs said more work needs to be done on the “foundation and the environment” for children.

“The house is the foundation. If a child does not have a proper home that he gets up from in the morning time and he lays down at nighttime, then everything else is not going to be right. Once they don’t have that proper foundation, they are going to get up and start thinking about trouble. They are going to lay down and start thinking about trouble. The housing is very, very imperative. Ask yourself why you don’t see a whole lot of gang members and violence on Country Club Road, but you see a lot of gangs and violence in District 2 on Hamilton Road. It’s because of the foundation. If you stabilize the housing market and the environment and have these kids a safe, workable housing and safe environment where they can go to and from and come from, then we can stabilize this gang violence.”

Moderator Jamey Jackson asked both candidates if the money to fund these initiatives should come from the city budget.

Childs said the city and major entities need to lead initiatives.

“If we can spend — I don’t want to throw no shade on nothing or no one — but I just feel like a lot of pet projects that we spend a lot of money on, it could go better if we tried to help the citizens in our district,” Childs said.

“You asked where the money would come from. The city can play a part, DASH can play a part, Habitat for Humanity can play a part, my company can play a part, [Hart’s] company can play a part. It’s going to be a coalition of everybody coming together to address the issues in our community to make things right.”

When prompted in an additional follow-up by Jackson, Childs used The Thread as an example of a “pet project.” He said he supports The Thread, but other priorities could’ve come first.

“Please don’t take it the wrong way. The Thread is much needed,” Childs said. “I like walking it … I’m just saying some things I think we need to get our priorities in order to address other things first before we do things like that.”

When asked about where the funding would come from to fund initiatives to reduce the violence, Hart said the city budget has helped local organizations and noted the city has also helped the organization Childs works for — Groundswell.

“We can’t say that the city budget cannot fund this program and the city budget funds our program, so we have to be on the same page as to where the money is coming from,” Hart said. “The budget is allocated every year and the budget is voted on every year to direct where these funds are going. I think the funds should come from the city budget.”

Affordable housing

Both candidates were asked with the importance of public/private partnerships for growth within the city of LaGrange, with the Rail District specifically referenced.

Both candidates grew up in the Rail District.

Childs said he agrees with the growth and development of the Rail District, but he doesn’t want citizens displaced from their residences.

“It has been said I am anti-growth and anti-development, and I’m not,” Childs said.

“What I am against is displacement. I am against people being out of their homes with nowhere to go. I’ve taken a lot of heat for that from a lot of people.”

Hart said it’s a “travesty” to see people displaced with nowhere to go.

He wants to form a task force with developers.

“We can take funds from the private individuals and the city and make homes that people can actually afford,” Hart said.

“Most people who live in that area can’t afford a $350,000 house. It’s out of the question … If we don’t build but one house or we don’t build but one complex for people to say we are doing something to make sure somebody has a place for affordable living, affordable housing, then we are trying. We are moving in the right direction. We are working together, and we are not just displacing people because we want to make a dollar.”

Wasteful spending

The candidates were asked if there were any programs the council would deem wasteful spending that they would eliminate. As he did many times throughout the forum, Childs went back to housing being a main issue, continuing his answer to a question about holding landlords accountable for living conditions.

“If the annual income for a family house in LaGrange, is $40,000, why are we building $400,000 houses?” Childs said. “Why are we building apartments that are $1600 or $1700 for one bedroom? … Who is going to stay in these houses?”

Hart said there aren’t any programs he deems as wasteful spending.

“I think everything the council approves to fund is pretty much a needed source because if it wasn’t the council wouldn’t vote on it,” Hart said. “I know we have a very diligent mayor and a great city council that does their homework on all of the things they fund and all of the things they don’t fund.”

The entire forum can be viewed online at www.lagrangenews.com.

Early voting will continue through Friday, Nov. 3 at the Troup County Government Center.

Early voting is also open on Saturday, Oct. 21 and Saturday, Oct. 28 from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. at the Troup County Government Center.

Polls will be open on Tuesday, Nov. 7 from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.