Candidates answer questions directed at them

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 12, 2004

Staff Report

Below are two specific questions posed to each candidate during Thursday night’s mayoral forum. A summary of their responses follows each question:

Mitchell Congress

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Q: It is common knowledge in the community that you are in the running for a teaching position in Georgia and that you have considered dropping out of this race. If elected mayor, would you continue searching for out-of-state employment? How can you convince voters that you are truly committed to running for office and serving as mayor if you are seeking job opportunities in another state?

A: Congress said it was erroneous that he was seeking a position in Georgia. “It’s actually another state,” he said. If elected, though, Congress said that he would then have a job and he would not seek employment anywhere else.

Q: In last week’s Chamber of Commerce forum, you definitively said you would hire Bobby Meigs as police chief if elected mayor. First, have you asked Mr. Meigs to serve yet, AND, can you explain to voters why you wouldn’t consult our current public safety director or members of the city council before making that selection?

A: Congress said he misspoke about what he would do about the appointment of a police chief. He said Meigs was someone he was interested in, but that he would consult with others in the city about the appointment of a new police chief, saying that such a hire is important to everyone.

Mike Grayson

Q: In 1984, you ran for public office in Demopolis and asked voters to trust your service as a city councilman. The voters, overwhelmingly, put you in office, but on Friday, March 29, 1985 – eight months after election – you resigned your seat to take an out-of-town job. If elected mayor, will you consider job opportunities in another city and if not, how can you assure voters of that?

A: Grayson first explained the reason for leaving the Demopolis City Council in 1985, and said it was something he needed to do for his family. “This is different,” he said about the mayoral position. If elected, Grayson promised that he would not seek any other job, committing to service for the entire term.

Q: If one of our four major industries shut down, what would you do to keep our city viable and healthy?

A: Grayson said he was in Demopolis when Vanity Fair closed, and said the same strategies must be implemented if something like that happened again in Demopolis. “I’m a people person, and that’s how you get through something like that.” Grayson said the key to recovering from economic problems is to work through connections made with people in Montgomery and Washington, D.C.

Stephen Gutshall

Q: While there are always extenuating circumstances, two community projects in the past year have run across tough times under your direction. The cancellation of the July 4th parade and problems surrounding the youth soccer league have caused concern among voters about your ability to lead an entire city. How can you assure voters that you have the ability to run the day-to-day operations of the City of Demopolis?

A: Gutshall remarked that there was no one in the room without fault, and he accepted responsibility for some of the problems with the two specific issues addressed. Gutshall also said that he worked with an entire board both times, and that decisions were made among all members of those boards. From the failures, he said, comes experience, and Gutshall said he had learned from both events.

Q: If the city’s revenue decreased after the next fiscal year, and you were forced to cut an expense from the city, what would you cut first and why?

A: Gutshall said he would first have to look through the budget and determine where savings could take place. “One thing I absolutely would not cut is public safety,” he said. Instead of cutting any one item, Gutshall said he would trim expenses in a number of areas.

Ed Key

Q: You haven’t gotten out much and aggressively campaigned. In the job of mayor, one of the biggest job requirements is being involved in community events. Actively recruiting employers and new citizens requires visibility. As the clich/ warns, you play like you practice, so if elected, why should voters believe you’ll be different as mayor than as a candidate for mayor?

A: Key said campaigning for public office is new to him, but that building relationships with people is not. If elected, Key said he has the ability to work one-on-one with people and that being visible in the community would not be an issue.

Q: The city of Demopolis is currently renovating a number of buildings it has either purchased or been deeded. If you had to stop work on one building, which one would it be and why?

A: Key did not give a specific answer of which building project he would stop if elected mayor. He did say he was concerned about some of the grant the city has requested and the disparity between those grants and how much the projects actually cost. As mayor, Key said he would take a closer look at what needs to be done with each building.

Ben Sherrod

Q: Running a city government, like any form of democracy, is about laws and abiding by the letter of the law. While you own property all over the city of Demopolis and have been able to claim one of your many homes as your voting location, you actually live outside the city limits. Does this mean you’ll be loose with the laws of the city if elected mayor AND, if not, how can you assure voters of that?

A: Sherrod said that abiding by the law would not be an issue if he were elected mayor. He said he checked in the revenue office before announcing his candidacy and was shown a map that placed him in the city limits. Sherrod also said that he’s always lived on the lot in question and that it has never been an issue in his previous runs for mayor.

Q: You have been quoted as saying that there is a real drug problem in Demopolis, but you have said you don’t know what the answer is. First, are you and other candidates just using the drug issue as campaign fodder AND second, why should voters elect you if you can’t offer solutions to what you claim is one of our city’s biggest problems?

A: Sherrod said he could not give an answer to the problem, but that he would find people – like a police chief – who could help identify ways to deal with the drug problems in Demopolis. He said the drug problem was not just a campaign ploy. “I see it every day, and if you don’t believe we have a problem… get your head out of the sand.”

Cecil Williamson

Q: Mayors get requests from citizens all the time – sometimes hundreds within a week. During this campaign, you have often said that the number-one concern of citizens is the lack of jobs here. However, according to the state of Alabama, Demopolis has the lowest unemployment rate within 100 miles – less than 5 percent over the past year. Even still, in every speech you give, you’ve apparently taken citizens at face value. My first question is whether or not you’ve personally looked into this claim that there is a lack of jobs in Demopolis AND, if elected mayor, how will you decipher between a citizen complaint and a real city problem that deserves the mayor’s attention?

A: Williamson said she knows Demopolis has a low unemployment rate, but she said citizens are more concerned about the level of pay in our current jobs. “What they want is something better than the $5-hour job, the minimum wage job.” Williamson said, through contacts in the state and nation, that she would work to bring better jobs to Demopolis.

Q: You have talked about getting Highway 80 and Highway 43 four-laned, and have told voters you’ll get that done. Do you have the ability to accomplish something other mayors, legislators, governors and U.S. senators haven’t been able to accomplish in the past 50 years or are you using this as a way to get votes?

A: Williamson said she wanted to clarify what she’s said about improvements to the highways in Demopolis. She said citizens have asked for four-laning of the highways and indicated that she has not promised construction. “If Don Siegelman and Hank Sanders and Artur Davis can’t do it, then I wouldn’t tell you that I can.” Williamson said she would be in Montgomery and Washington, D.C., continuously prompting officials to take notice of Demopolis.