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Eddie DeLoach: The Connect Interview 

'I’m not looking to split the vote. I’m looking to win the vote.'

IN ADDITION to owning the landscape business Tidewater Management, mayoral candidate Eddie DeLoach served as Chatham County Commissioner on the Westside from 1992 to 2000, and ran unsuccessfully for Chatham County Commission Chairman in 2012. His father, Jimmy DeLoach, was a longtime County representative from the same area.

You’re an old West Chatham guy. I’ve heard it said you represent the future because of all the growth in Pooler. But isn’t that sort of a Catch 22 because so much of West Chatham’s growth is really due to things that the City of Savannah can’t get right?

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Planning. That’s the difference in the two. In West Chatham you have the example of Pooler, Bloomingdale, all those places plan ahead. And really the County, too.

They all planned ahead to develop the Pooler Parkway, the Jimmy DeLoach Parkway. They planned their SPLOST programs so far out ahead they were able to purchase the right of way at a cheap price, for example.

That’s what we need to do in Savannah: Have a 10-20 year plan for everything and anything, from the arts to the roads.

How did we get to this place where Savannah seems to have no vision, where City government seems to be winging everything?

When there were Don Mendonsa and Michael Brown, those guys were real City Managers. They had a strong Mayor and Council that would work with them. The Mayor and Council gave them long-term vision, and those strong City Managers went out to develop those plans.

Over a period of time it seems that Mayor and Council in Savannah now either don’t know or aren’t aware of what is taking place in City government.

They depend on City government to the point that instead of directing the ship, the ship is directing them. That’s where I think we’ve fallen off.

Would you vote to keep City Manager Stephanie Cutter?

My vote is to sit down and talk with her. I respect her more than to just go in and say, “You’re out of here. “

I would sit down and analyze the situation as a group, with her as part of that group. Let’s talk about what’s best for the City. Long-term are you the best one for this position?

I think she’s a person with integrity. If she feels she can do it, we’ll give her a run.

But regardless of what the Mayor and Council haven’t done right, those below her report to her and she has responsibility for their job performance.

So what is your vision for Savannah?

Most visions are pie in the sky type things. But you can put each thing in a silo. For the arts, for example, we know what we need to do. We need a closer relationship with SCAD, so that we have a Cultural Arts Center here second to none for the Southeast and the nation. We’ve got one of the premier schools in the world here, why not accent that? Do the same thing with Armstrong, Savannah State, South University, Savannah Tech.

We should ask these educational institutions: How do you see yourselves serving the City of Savannah? How can the City serve you? We need to develop closer long-term relationships.

That way maybe when we bring businesses here, they’ll be able to find a qualified workforce. Gulfstream currently has to go outside the local area to hire, because we still haven’t pushed the issue of an educated, qualified workforce.

The other side of that issue is the idea of a citywide living wage. Where do you stand on that idea?

If you look up the so-called living wage for one head of household with maybe three children, I think the number is like $65,000 a year, something like $31 an hour. It’s a ridiculous number.

Look, I wish everybody was making a million dollars a year. But the fact of it is our economy is based on a certain setup.

I’ll never make what a doctor makes, but I didn’t study hard enough to be a doctor. If you don’t graduate from high school you’ll never be in a position, other than maybe from sheer perseverance, where you can make a large sum of money. You have to move up the rungs of the ladder from the bottom to the top.

That’s where small business comes in. And we need to take care of every one of them. If we foster a good small business climate, we’ll have positions for people just out of school, for people who need to clean their slate, where people can learn the ropes and move up the ladder.

It seems like the City of Savannah isn’t only neglectful of small business, it’s antagonistic against it.

I don’t think the City is intentionally against anybody. We’re just at the point where working with the City of Savannah is simply one of the worst situations you can find yourself working in.

I’ve dealt with them myself, in construction, in development, you name it. It’s a broken process, a process where they can never give you an answer so you can move forward.

Look at the effort try to get a food truck ordinance. In 2012 was the first time that was mentioned. Now we’re coming into 2016 and we still don’t know anything yet. How is that possible?

Another thing that would seem to be easy to do is find other places where things work, and say, “Y’all have a great program here, how are y’all doing that?” Why do we always need to reinvent the wheel if it’s already there?

They’ve got to get this food truck ordinance out in front of the public and just move forward!

Addressing the stubbornly high poverty rate is also an issue this year. What would you do to address that?

The first thing to do is take children when they’re young and make sure they have the ability to read at their grade level. Research shows that if they can do that, the number of those who can graduate is incredibly higher. The key is not letting them fall by the wayside when young.

After you do that, I want to do something like taking maybe a quarter of each year’s graduating class, let’s say about 500 or so.

You give them a 10-week program in the summer between their junior and senior year where they will work with one of the industries around here that signs up for the program.

We’ll teach them what it means to be employed. From filling out the application to making sure you’re there at 7 a.m. or whenever you’re supposed to.

It’s hard to believe, but as a small businessman plenty of times I’ve had to point to a clock and say, “7 a.m. means 7 a.m. That’s when we expect you to be here.”

Then we send them back to senior year, and they can go to college or to tech school or be employed, and their value is higher. If their value is higher they’ll make more per hour. That will reduce the poverty rate in the long term.

People in this race have said, “If everybody raises their hourly rate by two dollars an hour, that will reduce the poverty level overnight.”

That’s a great applause line, but the reality of it is not there. That’s not how it works. It sounds great, but it’s so shortsighted it’s ridiculous.

That said, you’ve focused your campaign primarily on crime and public safety. How would you address the officer shortage?

You’re going to lose 5-10 percent of your officers a year anyway. If you do the math that means you lose up to 60 officers a year to retirement, to leaving, whatever. That’s two whole classes.

So knowing that, why wouldn’t you already have two classes going all the time? It’s just common sense. But we’re not doing that.

We might have to go higher than the numbers we have. If 605 is what Chief Lumpkin wants, that’s where I’ll be. But we may all decide we have to go up.

To me, you’ve got to pay officers not only high enough to come in, but it has to be logical for a person to attempt to stay for a long period of time.

Currently we have people who’ve been there a long period of time making the same thing as people walking in the door.

It’s not right. It’s demeaning. Morale will be zero. Your best people will leave.

It’s interesting that the fairgrounds purchase seems to be the last straw for so many voters this year. What’s your take on that?

Study that. Find out where the money came from. If it came from the Parking Services budget, as appears to be the case, then eventually they have to put that money back in that account.

Why in the world would you buy property when you’ve got to put that money back in the same place? But they’re spending $3 million on an open field.

I understand if something great comes up you have to move quickly. But that property’s been available for awhile, and all of a sudden with an election coming up they find the money? That’s not right.

You entered the race fairly late. Then you were accused of being paid by Edna Jackson supporters to enter just to split the vote against the Mayor to ensure she enters a runoff, which she would likely win. So... were you paid to enter the race to help Mayor Jackson get reelected?

No. I’m not looking to split the vote. I’m looking to win the vote.

And to really run a race you’ve got to be able to challenge the incumbent. You know the people and money Edna Jackson has behind her. She’s got the jack!

You don’t just walk in the door and say, “I’m not going to take any money from anybody, therefore I’m going to win.” You got to be able to get your voice out there, to get people to understand who you are.

Now in my case I was out of politics for 12 years. So there’s a completely different group of people that don’t know me at all.

They know me pretty well on the Westside, but we’ve had large growth on the Westside too. There are plenty of new people in West Chatham who don’t know much about me.

There are so many people out there just like me. We’re all fed up with what’s happening to our city.

To me the bottom line is: There’s not a single person in the City of Savannah who will say they’re better off now than they were four years ago. Nobody except maybe the Mayor.

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Jim Morekis

Jim Morekis

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A native Savannahian, Jim has been editor-in-chief of Connect Savannah for ten years. The University of Georgia graduate is also a travel writer, authoring regional guides in the Moon handbook series... more

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