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Lake City candidates argue change versus tradition

Lake City voters will apparently have to choose one of two paths for their community on Nov. 8.

The city is scheduled to hold an election that day to determine who will fill two seats on the City Council. The field of four candidates includes incumbents, Bobby Williams, 76, and Dwight Ginn, 76, and their challengers, cleaning company owner, Raymond O. Johnson, 67, and mechanical engineer, Aric Walker, 36.

Williams, 76, has been on the council for 40 years, and Ginn has been on the council for nearly nine years. Johnson and Walker have not held political office in the city before. The top two vote-getters will win the council seats.

The race is shaping up, however, to be a question for Lake City residents as to whether they want to stay the course –– by re-electing Williams and Ginn –– or if they want to see change come to the city, by electing Johnson and Walker.

“We’ve done a lot of good work in Lake City, and I want to see that continue,” said Ginn.

Johnson said, however, “we need to get them old people out of there.”

Lake City Mayor Willie Oswalt’s seat is also up for re-election, but the 71-year-old mayor is running unopposed, guaranteeing stability in at least the top elected office. He said he has been mayor for 38 years, meaning, regardless of what happens in the city council race, there will still be at least one tie to the town’s traditions remaining.

Additionally, Lake City voters will be deciding whether they will allow package alcohol sales in the city, on Sundays, according to Ginn.

The council candidates have somewhat different ideas on where the city should go from here. Williams and Ginn said they want to stay on the council to continue current public works projects, including a nature preserve and a new public works facility.

“We’ve got a new park that we’re about to open up to the public, and a new maintenance building that we’re constructing, and none of them are finished yet,” Williams said. “I would like to see all of them through to completion.” He added that he wants to “maintain the [current] quality of life” in Lake City.

Johnson, who owns Lake City-based Hu-Ray Cleaning Company, Inc., and Walker, a senior mechanical engineer for Southern Company Services, say there are trust and communications problems within the city, however, which they feel need to be addressed.

“The city should be governed like a business, while making decisions that are in the best interest of its people,” said Walker, who has lived in the city for five years. “The people of Lake City have lost trust in their council, and I want to regain that trust. There is no more room for complacency.”

Johnson, who has lived in Lake City for 37 years, added that he would “love” to improve the lines of communication between the city, and its residents.

“There’s a lot of people who don’t know what’s going on in the city,” he said. “It’s like with this new park they are opening [The Willie R. Oswalt Nature Preserve, which opens this weekend]. Everybody wants to know when it’s going to open, and how much did it cost, and why did we need it in the first place. I want to get people involved in the city. I want to let people know more about what’s going on in the city.”

Walker said he would like to see the city use the Internet, and social media web sites to get information about Lake City’s news, events and projects out to residents; implement a city hotline that people can call to register complaints; and circulate surveys to gauge residents’ feelings about services offered by the town. Lake City is the only town in Clayton County that does not have a web site.

Johnson would not go as far as saying he and Walker are running as a joint ticket, but he did say they have been “collaborating.”

Ginn and Johnson said they would also like to see the city take steps to attract new businesses. “Why are so many businesses closing up and leaving town?” Johnson asked. “Why can’t we get something good going here?”

Ginn said there is little they can do, however, to turn around the city’s economic fortunes, when many other areas of Clayton County, and the nation as a whole, are having troubles with a struggling economy.

“I hope we can get them [vacant business locations] filled,” Ginn said. “You hope you can do this, and you hope you can do that, but in the end, all you can do is hope things get better.”Ğ