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Candidates roar at Lions Club

DEMOPOLIS – Three of four declared mayoral candidates had a chance to do a little roaring before the Demopolis Lions Club Tuesday during the club’s meeting.

Club members had invited Mike Grayson, Ben Sherrod, Cecil Williamson and Stephen Gutshall to present their platforms and answer questions from the group.

Only Ben Sherrod was unable to attend the meeting.

Lion Ronnie Antone served as the moderator for the meeting, and after the candidates picked a number between one and 20, the order of rotation was selected.

Gutshall spoke first, saying that after his seven-year resident, Demopolis “had become home.”

The “big plan,” he said, was not to look at what could be accomplished in the city in the next four years, but what would come in the next 18 years.

“I want my son to say to me ‘I want stay in Demopolis’,” he said.

Gutshall said as mayor he would focus on planning for the long term and concentrating on revitalizing the city’s downtown, as well as building on the successes of current Mayor Austin Caldwell.

Mike Grayson was up next and presented his plan based on TIGER: transportation, industry, grants, education and the riverfront.

“It would be a home run if we could get a new industry that was Gulf States-class,” he said, “and also two or three 30-person industries as well.”

Breaking down his major focus, Grayson said completing the U.S Highway 80 project and four-laning Alabama Highway 43 were essential ingredients to economic develop, as were airport upgrades, existing industry and business support, river development and rail development. He included in existing industry support recruiting new physicians for the hospital.

Seeking grants for economic development incentives and city projects and providing the “best educational facilities we can afford” were among Grayson’s highlights. He also favored retail development on the city’s riverfront.

“We can set the stage, but we also need to attract private investors,” he said, comparing developments in cities such as Chattanooga, San Antonio, Mobile and Tuscaloosa.

“We may not be able to rival what they have done, but we can do it on a ‘Demopolis scale’,” he said.

Cecil Williamson was the last of the three candidates to address to the club, and said she believed Demopolis was “poised for growth.”

Her campaign was about prayer, research and listening to the needs of the people of Demopolis.

“When I ask the question ‘what does Demopolis need,’ the number one answer is jobs,” Williamson said.

Creating an entrepreneurs’ academy and a business incubator were two ways she’d go about creating new jobs in the city, she said.

Revitalizing the downtown business district and helping the city grow its population were also key areas she said others have defined for the mayor’s role.

“We have all the resources, all the assets we need to make it happen,” she said.

“I would listen to people and find out what they would like to see happen,” she said.

Citing her service on various volunteer organizations and the city’s school board, she said the key for the mayor to accomplish that mission was the ability to organize and “build bridges” that allow for community growth.

Each of the three said they had the ability to provide the city with full-time service as mayor.

Three questions were asked by the audience relating to the mainstreaming of mental health consumers into the community, achieving more diversity on city-appointed boards and limiting the city’s liability exposure.

Official qualifying for municipal elections begin after notice of the election is given by the mayor on July 6 and close July 20. The election is Aug. 24 with a runoff, if required, on Sept. 14. New municipal officers take office in October.