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Candidates field questions at NAACP forum

CONYERS - A political forum held Thursday night saw the two challengers for a seat on the Conyers City Council present their ideas for the city while the incumbent issued a statement detailing his accomplishments.

Patrick Batubenge and Linda Scott appeared at the event sponsored by the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, while Councilman Gerald Hinesley was unable to attend due to a prior business commitment.

Hinesley is seeking his second term representing District 3, and this is the first election in more than 10 years in which a sitting council member has faced opposition.

In a statement read to the audience, Hinesley, a certified public accountant and chief financial officer for Associated Paper, stressed his experience as a council member and his work on the financial oversight committee.

"Conyers is financially stable and is positioned to serve the citizens and to take advantage of future opportunities," Hinesley wrote.

Hinesley said his vision for the future of the city included stressing the revitalization of the historic district, continuing with enhancement programs such as the West Avenue Beautification Project and being good stewards of available resources while maintaining financial stability.

In his opening remarks, Batubenge, a teacher and girls soccer coach at Rockdale High School, said as the community continues to change, it is time for a "different perspective" on the part of the City Council.

"This is a changing community, and I'm the most qualified person to make that change," said Batubenge. "We are now a multicultural community, and I'm certainly open to different cultures and values."

Scott, a community activist, said sitting on the City Council was about "leadership, but it's more about public service. We should be very available to the public and pay attention to the concerns of the citizens," he said.

When asked what would be the first thing she would do if elected, Scott responded by saying she would like to see the city hire a full-time ordinance officer to help keep the city cleaner.

A number of questions were raised that seemed more appropriate for someone running for the school board than City Council, but both candidates noted the city government could take steps to help improve the schools.

Scott said she would like to see an ordinance against "sagging pants" and gangster dress that had its origins with prison gangs.

To the same question, Batubenge said he would like to form a committee to address the school dropout rate because it had a direct effect on crime in the city.

"Much of the crime in the city, such as burglaries, are committed by people 13 to 17, and if we can keep them in school, we will have an impact on this problem," Batubenge said.

Scott also said she would favor a more coordinated effort on the part of the city and county to "rid our community of illegal immigrants."

While Batubenge acknowledged illegal immigrants would always be an issue, he said it was time to "look past that" and noted that "illegal does not necessarily mean bad people."

Batubenge, who is originally from the Republic of Congo and became an American citizen in 2005, said, "We need to look at their heart and intentions," rather than simply placing them in a category.

When asked what one thing the city has done in the past they would question, Batubenge responded by questioning the process the city went through that resulted in a branch of Georgia Perimeter College being located in Newton County rather than on property in the Georgia International Horse Park.

Scott said she was concerned about "over-development" and the decision the city made to annex land on Eastview Road that led to residential development.

Questions about long-term planning and economic development were also raised, and Scott noted that "more attention should be paid to outer neighborhoods and not just have the emphasis on Olde Town and the Horse Park."

Batubenge said long-term planning was critical and efforts needed to be made to reach dormant areas.

"When I drive around, I see a lot of abandoned store fronts," said Batubenge. "We need to work with property owners to build business ownership."

Ric Latarski can be reached ric.latarski@rockdalecitizen.com.