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Mayoral candidates invited to speak to citizens: Part 2, Lee Kinnamon

Three groups, Unity Community, Sisters in Service of Southwest Georgia and Ready for Change-AME will be hosting all three mayoral candidates in a virtual forum. The Zoom session was recorded and posted on social media. Technical support for the Zoom meeting indicated a Facebook page belonging to Ready for Change AME would stream the event.

The second of three candidates for mayor to join the forum was Lee Kinnamon. Sebrina Graham moderated the event and outlined the expectations. When she completed posing a question there are three minutes in which to answer. The forum was to last no longer than 30 minutes. Kinnamon was given the chance to introduce himself.

Lee presented his mayoral theme as “Building a Better Americus Together.” He then brought up specific examples to ponder to include the flood of 1994, the tornado of 2007, Hurricane Michael and the recent tornado. Kinnamon states, “I want us to remember how during these moments of crisis and disaster the community seemed to come together and unite behind a common purpose. I fully believe we are at our best when we are working together in this community.” Kinnamon then shifted to tasks on the table which will demand the community’s attention. He acknowledged that Americus has some history which at times is very painful to recall. However, he stated, “it requires honest communication, to unite, go forward and come together.” He made clear an effort to do so cannot be done superficially, “but in a meaningful way” which means “bringing people to the table who have been historically marginalized.” In ending his vision for Americus, he states, “We will build a better Americus, but we can only do so when we work together.”

Dr. Graham then presented the first question for candidate Kinnamon to offer his thoughts. “From your perspective, in the area of commerce, is the City of Americus’ business industry progressive? Is it thriving? Does it have adequate jobs and are they recognized as fluid? If not, what would you do to change that?” Lee first wanted to “champion the success we have had and not ignore them.” He mentioned a new industry coming to Americus, Americus Fresh, which will be bringing 200 jobs with it. He also agreed continued growth is still necessary. He remarked often times wages are low and spoke on the need for industry “that will provide the highest possible wages for our workforce—not exploiting but bringing good wages to citizens.” Kinnamon listed off several entities which work towards bringing in new industry. He remarked they likely “function with perhaps a common vision, but that is not always articulated or always clear.” If elected, he would coordinate efforts behind a common vision. He remarked industry needs to offer “the best possible job opportunities for citizens—all citizens, a lot in the marginalized population get left out. I am committed to stop that from happening and bring greater equality.”

Graham opined that Kinnamon might meet some resistance in those efforts and there may be actions geared to accommodate the higher socio-economic class. Then she presented the next question, which was, “As mayor, how do you address old systems and modes of city management styles that might be antiquated without a progressive strategic plan–could be lacking in metrics to measure success—lacking data to substantially identify stagnation and maybe operating outside of basic ethical practices. How important is that voice of concern—how important is the voice of the citizens on this topic?” Kinnamon revisited a previously established theme of community engagement being vital. He admitted that “sometimes networks can be stagnant to progressive change.” He also made clear the mayor’s role. “The mayor works in concert with the city council. We can affect policy changes legally.” Lee then explained what his responsibility as mayor would be. His role would be that of a “influencer, a promoter, a bridge builder, a consensus builder.” Kinnamon feels his history of serving on commissions and boards gives him a skill set which makes him effective in “building that kind of consensus and bringing people to a new way of thinking.” Another mayoral responsibility he sees very clearly is the importance of making citizen appointments to boards, commissions and authorities. “I know this, a lot of our boards, commissions and authorities have had the same personnel on them for a long time. The mayor and council can affect change with respect to appointees…..I am committed to seeing voices that have not been heard are brought to the table and have good and fair representation of the entire community.” Kinnamon reports he would use his mayoral power, along with city council support, to steer such appointments. He also sees “good training and good support to boards” being imperative. “Accountability is a major piece of my platform, and it needs to be data driven, measurable results.” Kinnamon sees setting goals and action items as being important to the way local government operates. “I emphasize the need for strategic planning and implementation of measurable goals. Coming from an educational background, I’m steeped in all of that to measure results.” To sum up his points, Kinnamon states moving forward “starts with good intentions but it’s not enough. We need follow through. (We need) accountability and it’s got to be data driven. I am committed to all these things and making certain voices that have been marginalized in the past will be present in the future and going forward.”

To segue into the next question, Dr. Graham stated, “the community is polarized. And so, you have a segregation of social interaction and constraints of information flow.” The next question was “What will you do to improve race relations and address institutionalized racism?” Kinnamon addressed the question with “open channels of communication and transparency are the first step.” He lamented that “back room dealing” should have no place in government. “I believe firmly that decisions need to be made in the open air.” Lee then made a promise, that if elected, he would immediately establish a “Mayor’s Advisory Council…..The people on that council will be representative of the population.” Kinnamon acknowledges one division in our community is “generational.” He stated that many on citizen boards are 50 years and older. He feels “we need to begin to look toward younger people in the community and if we don’t, who will be the next generation of leaders?” He made his point further by stating, “we have to double our efforts and bring them (younger people) into the leadership pipeline….” The only way to do this is to make sure we have “fair representation of all voices, and that can mean gender, that can mean generational, and of course from both the white community and the African American community—but also the Hispanic community, which has become an invisible presence in this community. We don’t hear from that demographic, and they are rising in numbers….I think we have to hear from them, and if we don’t, they will become another marginalized community.” Further, “The promise to the community is that: I embrace diversity, I embrace equity, I embrace inclusion. I’m a historian, I understand the systemic problems, I am aware of them and know they exists. I pledge to work diligently to embrace change that’s needed. I hope to build a consensus around that change needed. We can’t mandate it, but what we can do is build a more trusting and respectful approach to government.” Additionally, Lee commented on the need to collect data/surveys from the community, and although he understands we are currently on a virtual basis, he sees the need to “take the government into the neighborhood rather than expect the neighborhood to come to the government.” He wants to meet smaller groups in person to address neighborhood specific issues. He sees there might be fear associated “with coming into city hall” and he understands the benefit of going into community for more hands-on events.

Graham then brought up crime, gun violence and safety. Graham states Americus’ crime rate is three times higher than the national average. She states leadership and those seeking leadership positions have been “concerningly silent and shut up in their own havens of safety while the community is being terrorized.” The question then followed, “Subjection to random shooting in the City of Americus has a high probability rate. If elected, would you be willing to exercise your official authority to employ the mayoral emergency power, that is a provision in the Georgia State law, and establish executive orders to keep citizens safe? Will you be present for the fight to keep this community safe as current leadership has not? And if so, how would you pursue any additional external resources if needed?” Kinnamon agreed it is an issue that “concerns all of us.” He states it is a personal issue because he has “lost former students to this violence.”  Kinnamon describes his approach to violence as “violence itself is a problem in our community and our society, it cuts across all people…. (we) need to remember the gun violence—the drive by shootings—are symptoms of a much deeper and complex root causes.” Drawing from his experience in education, he states, “you’re not going to be successful in treating symptoms. We have to begin to unravel the problem at its root cause.” Kinnamon listed some of the “root causes.” Economic disparity, education, hopelessness and problems the community has failed to address are some of the issues Lee sees at play. “The symptoms of those things are a policing problem. The root causes are community problems. It is going to require a community solution.” In regard to executive orders, he is willing to utilize them with consultation from city council and law enforcement. He is also willing to bring in outside help if necessary. In starting, Kinnamon reports, he would educate on how crime affects everyone, and would consider a “Stop the Violence Summit” made up of a team who understands the issue on a root level. He listed off several professions which could prove beneficial in the approach to include faith leaders, addiction specialist, and mental health professionals. He believes this does not lay only on law enforcement and sees the importance of law enforcement getting both the training and support they need as well as increasing an officer’s desire to serve Americus. Lee expressed his belief in retaining officers in the city.

To preserve time, Dr. Graham moved on to another question regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. The standing question was “What is your strategy on vaccination knowledge, education on COVID-19 and its variants, improving the community response to vaccination and overall impact that COVID-19 is having on the community?” Kinnamon acknowledged COVID-19 “is a divisive issue.” He feels the most beneficial action is “to launch an effective public campaign to encourage the wearing of masks, where advised, because the guidelines call for wearing masks in certain venues and settings.” He sees his role as mayor as being one of influence. Kinnamon places high value on an ability to connect, demonstrate and lead by example as mayor.  Lee reports being very much in favor of neighborhood based mobile vaccination sites. “Taking mobile vaccination events to neighborhoods” would be a strong part of his plan to mitigate the spread of the virus. He then stated data from the CDC and WHO on communities with higher levels of vaccinations are faring better than those with lower rates. He highly encourages using CARES funding carefully and effectively.

In closing, he thanked the moderator and the community at large for supporting he and his wife, Karen, not only now, but over the years. He reports an “outpouring of support.” The encouragement and love shown has proven to be a great comfort to Kinnamon. “This is my promise to my town, Americus. If elected mayor, I am going to return that love to you. And how will it be returned? In a mayor who will work diligently–full time–I am retired and will work on this problem day and night–full time–for the benefit of all the citizens in this community. All those people I have taught and have grown up and are now good citizens, they deserve a good community. And together, we can build a better Americus. We will not do it individually in our silos, we must come together to build a better Americus.”

The last of the three candidates, Marcell Baker, will be taking questions from moderator, Courtney Moore on Monday, 9.20.21 at 7pm. The meeting can be accessed on Zoom. com with meeting ID number: 525 677 3347. The notification issued indicates the meeting will be on Facebook as well, although a site is not determined. To view clips from this forum, please visit Ready for Change AME Facebook page. Election day for mayoral and city council members is November 2, 2021. Early voting is 10.12—29.21, with two Saturdays, 10.16 and 10.23 being opened to voters. All early voting will be at GSW/Griffin Bell Golf Club on Lee Street. Regular precincts will be open on election day. To check or change your voting status, please visit mvp.sos.ga.gov.