Questions and answers

Published 10:29 pm Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Seven candidates for Demopolis City Council seats and Demopolis mayoral candidate Mike Grayson spoke at a town hall forum held at Alabama Southern Community College’s Demopolis University Center last night.

Council candidates in attendance were Dexter Jones and Thomas Moore from District 1, Mitchell Congress and Charles Jones Jr. from District 2, Ronnie Byrd and Melvin Yelverton of District 3 and Jeremiah Dial of District 4.

Each candidate was allowed three minutes to make opening statements. After that, Robert Shepherd, a resident of District 1, asked why people in the audience had to write questions, as stated in the forum’s format, instead of just standing up and asking the questions.

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Moderator John Lehning, an instructor at ASCC, then said that he was open to that if the candidates were willing to change the format. The candidates agreed, and the floor was open to questions.

Shepherd asked Grayson what he meant when he stated he wanted “one Demopolis.” Grayson responded that he wanted all citizens to feel like they could play a part in the city.

“You always look for the best players, no matter what their race,” he said.

Shepherd then asked the Council candidates on their positions on electing school board members.

Moore said that a referendum to allow electing school board members had already passed, and it was u p to the City Council to either pass that option by ordinance or allow for city-wide elections on that matter.

Dial was in favor of electing school board members — “That assures an unbiased opinion,” he said — while Yelverton said, “I always believe that if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. The school system is doing fine the way it is.”

Congress said he has always favored an elected school board — “Appointed people feel beholden to the person who appointed them,” he said — while Charles Jones Jr. said that at first, he was against electing school board members, but after being “up to bat three times” and not being appointed, he is now more in favor of electing them.

Byrd was in favor of electing school board members, while Dexter Jones said “We need an elected board.” Grayson said, “As I said in 2004, we should not politicize our children’s future. If we have leaders of good merit, they will appoint good board members.”

J.B. Warren asked what the top priorities of the Council candidates was.

Moore said, “We need to be fiscally sound.” Dial said that he would have to do some studying, and mentioned that the existing projects should be seen to fruition. Yelverton said that the priorities would have to be put in order. “We have the fire department making ambulance calls,” he said. Congress said he would like to see the city have a crew that would cut back grass and weeds where it has overgrown, and to see enforcement of rules regarding abandoned houses.

Charles Jones Jr. said that he would like to see a municipal complex built, improve fire and rescue and repair the storm sewer system. Byrd said he would like to see drug rehabilitation centers and remodel abandoned houses like they do in larger cities. Dexter Jones said that the drainage on the south side of District 1 needed to be taken care of “right now.” Grayson said that the mayor’s job is to work with the Council and effect the changes they deem fit.

Harriet Smith asked how the candidates felt about recycling.

Moore said that private enterprise was currently handling that, but agreed that the landfills were filling up. “If private enterprise isn’t handling it, then the government should be involved,” he said. Grayson agreed that recycling would benefit the city, but did not want to interfere with someone making a living in private enterprise. “It could be more efficient,” he said, adding that he would examine every opportunity for the city to “go green,” saying any savings in energy costs would be money spent on other civic projects.

Shepherd asked the candidates that if the Congressmen could visit their constituents in Demopolis, would the Demopolis candidates provide periodic reports to their districts.

Grayson replied that he would like to take some Council meetings on the road, visiting a different district every other month. “If this is the ‘City of the People,’ then the people need to be involved,” he said.

Dexter Jones said that, as it is now, he would not want Congressmen to visit District 1, but he agreed with Grayson about having different locations for the Council meetings. Byrd said that he would be glad to have Congressmen come to his district.

Charles Jones Jr. said that at times, a suggestion box can become a garbage can, and would like to keep his constituents informed in any way possible, including the Internet. Congress also agreed with Grayson’s idea. “It’s important to find out what the people want,” he said. Yelverton said that the meetings are held in the middle of town, easily accessible from all parts of town, and that people can call City Hall. Dial said that the citizens would make his decisions, and should decide how that is done. Moore said that he attempted to host district meetings, but they were not well attended. “That is not to say that they should be discontinued.”

The election for mayor and city council seats for both Demopolis and Linden will be held this Tuesday.