By Brian Myers | Illustration by Jenn Carroll
AS A candidate for the At-Large Post 1 position, Carol Bell brings a full plate to the table.
For more than three decades, Bell served as a department head within the City of Savannah before throwing her hat in the political ring in 2011 and successfully winning what would become the first of two four-year terms in the Post 1 position.
After a narrow loss in 2019 for what could have been her third consecutive term, the University of Georgia graduate is one of seven candidates vying for the position that is currently held by the Alderwoman who defeated her by a mere 267 votes, Kesha Gibson-Carter. Gibson-Carter is seeking the office of Mayor, leaving a race for the Post 1 seat wide open in what has become a hotly contested race.
In an interview with the Savannahian, Bell talked of how her extensive experiences make her a solidly qualified candidate. “I know the City from both sides, as an employee and as a policy maker.” Bell, if elected, wishes to use this bevy of experience to focus on three areas of what she considers her top priorities.
At the top of Bell’s list is public safety. “People need to feel safe. It doesn’t matter what the stats say if people feel otherwise.” She elaborated on that point by stating that the best way to ensure that crime reduction and prevention are possible is for Council to push for a fully staffed police department.
Bell is also passionate about Savannah’s workforce having affordable housing. In an era where many Savannah citizens are experiencing surges in rent and greater economic barriers to home ownership, Bell is ready to meet this challenge with new ideas. From her experience as a City employee, Bell says she recognizes the importance for city staff to work with developers to get permits and inspections in a timely manner. “Any delays,” she says “can drive up costs, particularly with mass housing.”
Bell continues by expressing that she is a big believer in public and private partnerships. According to Bell, “Private enterprises have the expertise to make projects happen, but the rules and regulations need to be followed and followed up on by the city in a timely manner. Something has to change. We are not achieving the numbers for affordable housing that is necessary. The end goal should be that some of the units built are affordable by working class citizens. If we sit down collaboratively, as opposed to the city facing them alone, we achieve more.”
Bell also believes that local government should “ensure that we have opportunities for all of our citizens.” Expanding on that point, she stated, “I’m afraid that some of these economic opportunities that are coming before us will be presented and our citizens, and that the ones who need them the most will not be prepared.”
To do her part as a proactive and concerned citizen, Bell has been speaking to faith-based leaders, encouraging them to speak to their congregants about the importance of being vigilant and staying involved.
When asked about how the next City Council should work with SCAD, Bell offered her viewpoint that SCAD has proven itself to be a good corporate citizen during its time in the city. And though the majority of the properties held by the school are exempt from property taxes, Bell insists that “they contribute to the community in a number of other ways.” Bell would like to see more conversations happen between the City and the school regarding the art college getting involved with Payment in Lieu of Taxes programs (PILOT), a dialogue that has been started, according to Bell, but not yet reached any conclusion.
After the current Council held a series of public meetings regarding the millage rate, you can count on property taxes being one of the hot topics of this election cycle. Bell praised the current Council on what she says is a “bold move” to use the windfall that increased property valuations gave the City to make needed improvements to the storm sewer system, but that she would like to see an overall freeze on any taxes that local citizens pay. Taxes that are paid by tourists, like lodging taxes, should be considered if the city needs to increase revenues. “High taxes can really cripple our citizens who are trying to live the American Dream. Our business owners who are creating jobs for our citizens feel this, too.”
Bell acknowledges the importance that a bustling tourist economy has for Savannah’s future. But she says that the community needs to do more to make Savannah look its best. “Trash and uncleanliness is really aggravating,” she said. “We can do a better job making the community look better.” Bell promises to push for a grassroots effort at making this a reality, one she insists should begin with the City working with local neighborhoods. Giving incentives and recognition to microcommunities is more effective than just a mass cleanup orchestrated by local government. She wants Savannah’s citizens to take ownership of their neighborhoods, and make keeping them beautiful an ongoing effort that never goes by the wayside.
With the prospect of recreational marijuana becoming a legal reality in many states, the Savannahian asked the candidate how she would want the local government to tackle this issue if and when the drug is made legal in that capacity. Bell stated that she has personal opinions on its usage, but her job is to be the “voice of the people.” Should recreational marijuana become legal in Georgia, Bell would like to have community forums and get feedback from how the city at large feels about the issue so that their voices can be heard.
When asked if there were any other goals she’d like to accomplish if the voters send her back to City Hall, Bell had these words: “I believe that it's important that each council makes improvements to our community that have not been made. One of the things I’d like to see done, is that I’d love for us as a council and as a community to continue the growth of the progress that we’re making addressing homelessness. It’s sad when we realize that people are living on the streets. It breaks our hearts. Especially children. I believe in continuing to become more informed and collaborating with social service agencies to partner with in continuing forward momentum to address homelessness.”
“I’d like to leave Savannah better than I’ve found it,” Bell said in closing.“I'm running because I want to join those people in making sure we have a safe city, with a fully staffed police department, and to ensure that we will have a place for our working citizens to live affordably.”
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