Face off for District 1 city council seat

Published 9:00 am Wednesday, May 15, 2024

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Darby Pippin and Forrest Johnson will face off during the May 21 election for the District 1 city council seat. 

The candidates, both newcomers to politics, will be competing for the vacated seat of Councilmember Jim Arrington. Arrington stepped down in February to run for city mayor. The winner will fill Arrigton’s unexpired term. 

Pippin is the co-founder and president of DanRic Homes. Johnson is a relationship banker at Bank of America. This is both candidate’s first time running for office. However, both Pippin and Johnson said public service runs in their families. 

Why run for office?

“I was born here in LaGrange. I grew up here….I’ve just been part of the community ever since. I really wanted to run because I feel like Lagrange is at a really important place in its history right now,” Johnson said. 

Johnson’s father was the longtime Troup County Historian, Clark Johnson.

“I’ve always grown up with a sense of how important this place is and you know we’re at this kind of crossroads in LaGrange is history,” Johnson said. “I just felt like it was very important to have someone that I feel like is going to make the right decisions for the city, and make sure as the city grows, that we don’t lose our identity.”

He said leadership is key during a time of so much growth for the city of LaGrange. 

“My family has a history of public service in the LaGrange city government,” Pippen said. “My grandfather was a longtime mayor, Gardner Newman, and my Aunt, Kay Durand, was the first female city council[member]. So, I kind of have always thought it was something I might do.”

Pippin adds that timing allowed her to run for office now. She served on a housing committee the late Mayor Willie T. Edmondson put together last year.

“I just started asking different questions and being exposed to more of the issues in LaGrange, and attending more city council meetings and just thought it was something I wanted to pursue,” Pippin said.  

What qualifies you to lead?

Both candidates cited their upbringing in LaGrange as giving them an understanding of the city. For Pippin, her work has given her a greater insight into the community as a whole. 

“I think that having a background in construction and residential home building has given me an opportunity to see firsthand the effects of a stable and safe environment for children to live and to grow,” Pippin said. 

The business owner also discussed her experience in community development. 

 “I’ve served on the Development Authority of Lagrange for the last nine years. So I’m very attuned to our industrial base, our economic development, and our workforce needs.”

Johnson will soon be getting his second degree, an MBA from College of William and Mary. He has also worked, in various capacities, with and for the city. 

“I’ve worked with Lagrange College, and have worked in mental health. I’ve worked in tourism for Lagrange. And right now, I work for Bank of America where I help the people of Lagrange with their money,” Johnson said. “Having the conversations with the people that I have … I have a sense of what people’s priorities are, and I am confident that I will be able to represent those priorities and represent those interests in the city government.”

What will be the focus of your time in office?

“My platform is definitely managing growth. Lagrange has to grow. But I think we need to be selective and I think we need to be intelligent about the opportunities that we choose, as far as our growth is concerned,” Johnson said, citing the Unified Development Ordinance and Master Plan as frameworks to accomplish his goals.

Johnson said his campaign is focused on three things: responsible growth, responsible stewardship of city resources, and providing quality services to residents.

“Lagrange has a lot of wonderful amenities that we offer our residents and we’re able to do that with some of the lowest utility rates in the state of Georgia. And without charging city residents property taxes. And I just want to make sure that we continue to be responsible stewards of those city resources,” Johnson said.  

A large part of providing resources is using those resources to provide safe spaces in the city of LaGrange. Johnson aims to tackle safety in two ways.

“We have to enable our police force to provide the kind of protection that the people of Lagrange need, but we also need to focus on community outreach,” Johnson said. “Police are able to treat the symptoms but I think that we need community outreach to get to the root of why we’re seeing so much crime in our city.”

Pippin discussed housing as an issue she would like to address. 

“Over 60 percent of the homes in LaGrange are rental units,” Pippin said. and I think we’ve got to have a robust program to be sure that our landlords are keeping our housing in the state that it needs to be.”

Pippin sees better code enforcement as a way to ensure healthier environments. 

“I like to call it strategic code compliance,” Pippin explained. “Instead of enforcement with tickets and fines, it’s more through compliance, where you work with the people and look at, are they not in a position to be able to maintain their home…landlords that are not keeping up their homes?”

Pippin sees the short-term rental regulation, which has been tightened by the council in the last few months, as something that will need to be addressed along with housing. Another focus for her is crime. 

“We’ve got to provide the police department, our public safety, whether it’s police, fire, EMS, with the resources it needs to be able to have the programs and the [work]force necessary to keep a handle on our violent crime.

Working with a new council and mayor

With two special elections, the LaGrange city council will look different after May 21. The candidates who win the seats for District 1 and the mayoral race will start immediately. The candidates discussed how they would jump into their role if elected. 

Pippin said she has attended almost every work session and council meeting since the special election was called for the seat. She has also worked at establishing relationships with the council members and candidates she did not know before running.  

“I’ve met with a lot of staff at the City Hall to make sure that I understand their issues and where they’re coming from,” Pippen said. 

“I’ve made an effort because this was such a short election season, to make sure that I was informed and ready because we would take office, immediately, whoever’s elected. I wanted to be sure that I was well informed and ready, ready to go in the event I’m elected.” Pippin said. 

Johnson has also formed relationships with the city officials he would work with if elected.

“I have worked with a few of the city councilmen already when I was doing work with tourism…I feel like I have a good relationship with a lot of our city councilmen, as it is, and so I feel confident that I would just slot right in and get to work, ” Johnson said.

Both candidates agreed on the need for unity in the city. 

“I am committed to the future success of Lagrange. I think we’ve got an opportunity to inspire more unity amongst the members of our community, whether they’re in district one or district two, and I am ready to work for a better future for all” Pippin said. 

“My campaign slogan has always been ‘One city one direction.’ Even though I’m running for the LaGrange City Council District 1, we cannot go anywhere unless we all pull together.” Johnson said.