By Brian Myers | Illustration by Jenn Carroll

WITH ANY election cycle, the topic of local crime will typically take a front seat in the months leading up to voting. Citizens want to feel safe in their community, and those who vie for positions of leadership seem to always make this a focal point in their campaigns.

For At-Large Post One candidate Clinton Young, the current state of crime in the city of Savannah is the highest of priorities for the upcoming 140th Council to address.

In his interview with the Savannahian, Young spoke quite candidly about what he considers rising crime rates in the Hostess City. He identified several primary driving forces behind the violence that is reported across the city’s neighborhoods, and warns that economic factors will only make them worse unless elected officials and community members take decisive action.

He is concerned by what he calls growing gun violence in broad daylight. “It’s not common to shoot a woman carrying a baby in broad daylight, but that has happened in Savannah.” Young discussed growing up in a “rough neighborhood, in a single parent household.” He lost a brother at a young age to violence, making his quest for making the streets of the community safer a personal quest.

Solutions for crime reduction and prevention are certainly discussed by elected officials and hopefuls on every level of government. Unlike some who vie for office, Young has laid out plans to help quell crime in the city. He is advocating for a 10 p.m. curfew for anyone under the age of 18, unless they are accompanied by a parent or guardian. He discussed the various problem areas in and around the city that crime is at its worst, citing that we have “40 years of data to draw from,” which should be used to direct law enforcement to places that need evening and late night foot patrols.

A father of four with four grandchildren, this Army veteran brings a lot of business and community experience on his candidate resume. He is the CEO of Yellow American Vendors, as well as a third generation commercial fisherman. His business experience and community activism not only give him the background to qualify him for the job he’s vying for on the November 7 ballot, but also gives him the passion to make the city of Savannah a better place to call home.

“What we have to do is clamp down on the housing authority. A lot of the drug dealers take over these houses, and run trap houses and stash houses. It’s been going on for years. But the gun violence takes it to another level. That’s why I say we need prime time foot patrol in these areas.”

Young referenced many unsolved shooting deaths in the city, including a June 9, 2021 incident in the old Hitch Village. On that date, a mass shooting left one dead and eight injured and is still unsolved. To prevent cases like these from occurring, Young unveiled a plan that involves incentivizing officer recruitment, citizen involvement, and collaboration.

Young points out that not having a fully staffed police department is a detriment to crime prevention and reduction. He recognizes that there are many reasons why it’s difficult to hire and retain officers, and offers solutions to these problems as well. He says the Savannah Police department suffers from a “deficit of manpower,” which has to be addressed first.

“They’re doing the best they can,” Young said, “but can only do so much without a full staff. We need better pay. We need better incentives. Let’s bring the time to be fully vested in retirement down from 10 years to five. Offer home assistance, daycare assistance.”

Young also pointed out that the job itself carries more responsibilities and burdens now than in years past. “ Police need better resources to handle calls that involve citizens that are mentally ill,” he stated.

Furthering his plan is his call for a temporary joining of Chatham County law enforcement and the Savannah Police Department. From his viewpoint, this collaborative effort will double the efforts at combating the crime problem.

From there, Young is advocating for elected officials, law enforcement, and leaders from neighborhood associations to form a unified front. He’s insistent that the elected leaders need to “get out from behind their desks” and walk these neighborhoods so that they’ll have proper perspective as to what they are dealing with.

Young fears that crime will soon have a negative impact on one of the city’s most valuable resources, the tourist industry. According to Young, nearly 20 million tourists flocked to Savannah last year, having a 4.5 billion dollar impact on the local economy. This industry is in danger of being affected by acts of violence if the city’s elected leaders fail to act. He said, “Crime and inflation can ruin tourism. Understaffed police departments can ruin tourism. Crime against a tourist can give tourism a black eye” He dug in deeper on this point by stating that his belief is that “the best gift we can give a tourist is the collaboration between the county and city to reduce and prevent crime. The main focal point on tourism and Savannah as a whole is public safety. It’s a 4.5B industry. Make sure that it's a safe 4.5B industry.”

This marks the seventh election for Young, who last ran for District 2 for the Georgia State Senate, the seat currently held by Derek Mallow. Young also had an unsuccessful bid for the State Legislature in 2020, in a seat that was held by the late Mickey Stephens. Prior to his being on the ballot for state-wide office, Young had several attempts to earn a seat on Savannah’s City Council. In 2007, he ran for Post 2 At-Large. His 2011 bid was more successful for this seat, making it as far as the runoff election.

When asked what sets him apart from competition, Young stated, “I’m not a Manchurian Candidate. I’m not a puppet. No special interest groups control me. We’re not going to get anything done if we're not united. We need a one set mind for preserving our city, but working in a unified posture is number one.”

Aside from crime, Young feels that increasing inflation will create a larger population of unhoused members of the Savannah community. “Rent is high if you cannot buy,” he quips. He also warns that a “high rate of gentrification is coming,” where even more people can potentially be displaced. His solution is to create incentives for constructing more affordable housing, which he says can be successful if the new Council restructures the SPLOST language. “I think the next time we pass a SPLOST, we should include a tithe of 10% that is earmarked for fair (and affordable) housing.”

SCAD remains one of the other relevant topics among candidates in every election cycle, with some not viewing the storied educational institution with 100% favorability. Young, however, spoke in the highest of regards to the school. “A lot of folks would like to make SCAD pay,” he begins. “But that’s a state issue,” he points out, referring to how not-for-profits are given property tax exemptions. He continues, saying that “SCAD has single handedly brought urban renewal and revitalization to the city. We need SCAD. The student population brings a lot of money to the city.” Further, from his point of view, “the business that they do deserves the tax breaks.”

Rising rental costs have generated discussions about how elected officials can best assist citizens with creating affordable housing. When asked about this, Young double-downed on changing the SPLOST language. He is concerned that it’s primarily “the single parents with children that are getting displaced. We need more affordable housing to address this. We have to do more for women and children by way of affordable housing. But I believe we can do better than the $11M earmarked for fiscal year 2022. No more SPLOST until that 10% earmarked amount for affordable housing is passed.”

Young is proud that Savannah will be home to three Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) once the area’s Hyundai plant opens its doors for business. But he says that without a ready workforce, other companies might overlook Savannah in the future when it’s time to open a new plant. To solve this problem, he wants to push for a joint effort between the City of Savannah and the Chatham County School District. “With any new ESPLOST that’s passed, some of the revenues should be used to help prepare students for technical training through technical centers built on the site of the high schools.” Young insists that by doing so, the city will have students that have earned “a four year head start” over graduates from other school districts.

“We’re lucky to have one of the largest construction projects in America happening in the area with the new Hyundai plant. We’re fortunate to have this amount of growth. We have to prepare for a ready workforce and collaboration with the Chatham County School District presents future generational opportunities for both workers and the City as a whole.”

For readers that have paid attention to Council meetings from this past spring and summer, they’ll be aware of the heated discussions surrounding the current millage rate. Some members of the current Council fought unsuccessfully to drop the rate, as increased property values resulted in citizens paying more in annual property taxes. When asked about how he would handle the millage rate in the future, Young had this to say:

“There’s a little disparity in the millage rate discussion among some leaders. The millage rate is the lowest it’s been in 35 years, but the property values increased. Most will only pay up to $175 a year more.” Young maintains that as long as the value of your home increases, that paying more in taxes is a natural occurrence. And not necessarily a negative one. He looks at homes as being an investment for property owners. More value is a great advantage for homeowners, especially in a seller’s market. “As long as my bottom line goes up, it’s an advantage.”

Young, though praising the local economy on many fronts, wants to approach the budget with an extra layer of caution. “We need to fight to keep things the same in inflationary times,” he said. “Expenses increase, and those costs are going to be paid for somehow. Let’s maintain the budget without increasing local taxes. It should be a living and sustainable budget.”

With the prospect of legalized recreational marijuana looming in the state of Georgia, candidates were asked about their positions on the issue. Young’s position is the following:

“I’m against drugs. Medicinal marijuana is another story. But recreational marijuana is something else. Don’t drive drunk, and don’t fly high. I’m looking at what it’s going to do to our youth and the workforce. OEMs don’t want someone working on a 50M dollar bird high. You’ll be shut out of the job market. I’m totally against the legalization of recreational marijuana. Medical marijuana has a purpose and is supervised by a doctor.” He acknowledges that while it can still be abused, this abuse is minimized as it is at least being administered under the supervision of a physician.

Young’s stance of recreational marijuana use led to questions regarding the current position taken by the city in how possession of small amounts of the drug are handled by police. Currently, possession in small quantities is a non-criminal offense, resulting in a municipal ticket, if anything at all. This is a practice that Young wants to see continued, in spite of how he personally feels about the drug. His concern is that arrests for minor marijuana possession charges puts youths in a system that they are forced to fight long and hard to escape from. But, he says, if an offender keeps getting ticketed for possession, they should have to attend mandatory drug counseling after the third offense.

When asked about what he’d like to accomplish in his first term, if elected, Young said that reducing and preventing crime is at the top of this to-do list. But he is also advocating for more resources to handle issues surrounding homelessness and finding more affordable housing options for citizens.

“Lots of folks can’t afford rent, which is higher than mortgages in many cases,” he said. “Getting affordable housing, getting land, getting grants from the federal government are needed. If we don’t address this now, it will affect us all. From tourists to our citizens, public servants should be there for them.”

Young wrapped up his interview by offering the following words:

“This is the 290th year of our great city. On November 7, they will select the 140th administration. I ask for their help, I ask for their hands, I ask for their voice. I promise to be the champion of their voice. Together, we can work to make life for every parent, grandparent and child a safe and prosperous way.”

He then called for the current and future Councils to have its memberships work in harmony with one another. “If it doesn't profit Savannah and profits only a certain segment, then it's a disservice. I want to be a champion of all people. What I see right now is the need for a united front. We’re going to have a lot of issues to answer. We must have a united front to address them.”

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