Three of the six positions on the Columbus City Council will be decided in the May 5 primary, so some candidates used a Thursday night forum as a final chance to address voters before election day.
Nearly 45 local voters were at the Municipal Complex for the debate to hear from 12 of the 15 candidates for the Columbus municipal elections.
After May 5, council positions will be decided for wards 1, 3 and 6.
The forum, sponsored by the Lowndes County branch of the NAACP and moderated by East Oktibbeha Elementary School Principal Broderwick Cochran, covered several issues from city annexation to business recruiting.
Ward 3 incumbent Gene Coleman and candidate Charlie Box, both Republicans, squared off on the city”s population and what they felt are the biggest troubles facing the Friendly City.
“One way I think we could increase the city”s population would be to improve the city”s quality of life,” said Box. “We also have to do something about safety, because if your city is not safe, people move out. If you improve the quality of life, you start bringing people into the city.
“As far as problems, Columbus has a lot of them right now. But I want to be a problem solver,” said Box. “Some people in East Columbus are afraid to sit out on their porches, and we have extensive drainage problems in that part of the city. These things are not getting addressed, and I think they should be.”
Coleman proposed Columbus expand to increase its population and seemed to share some of Box”s thoughts on the issues facing the city.
“Annexation will help us get our census numbers up, and I think it”s something we have to do,” said Coleman. “Completing the sportsplex and all the other projects we have going on right now will really enhance Columbus and bring people into the city.
“Safety is definitely of primary importance. We, as parents, must become more involved with our children, because we can”t expect the schools or the police to raise our kids for us,” Coleman added. “Drainage and quality of life issues are also very important, and they are things we have been working towards for the past few years.”
Ward 6 candidates Jerry Kendall, incumbent, and Bill Gavin, also both Republicans, shared their stances on the city”s proposed annexation plans and on the city”s population trends.
“The city absolutely has to grow. In 1980, Columbus had over 30,000 people, and now we have barely more than 24,000,” said Gavin. “We have to expand to have more room for industry, but we also have to do it selectively. We have to make sure we can provide the services to those people and we have to evaluate the costs associated with that.
“There are many things you can do to increase the city”s population, but all of them involve quality of life issues,” Gavin added. “The people who move here to work in these large industries have a choice on where they want to live. We”ve got to do a better job of selling Columbus to those people.”
Kendall agreed annexation is “very important” to maintaining and increasing Columbus” population.
“There are seven areas we are looking to annex right now, and we”ve gotten the numbers from the state telling us how much tax revenue each area would bring in and what it would cost the city,” said Kendall. “We know that we have other projects going on too, but it”s very important that we annex soon.
“There are some projects that are coming that will help us to bring more people into the city,” Kendall added. “There are four hotels that are about to be built and four restaurants that are on their way too. Columbus will be a much better place four years from now.”
Although the Ward 1 section of the forum brought no debate between candidates, as Democratic candidate Anthony Sanders did not attend, Democratic incumbent Gene Taylor shared his thoughts on drainage issues in his ward.
“We”ve been told that it will cost about $100 million to fix the drainage problems in the city,” said Taylor. “We need to sit down together and come up with a real solution to fixing this problem.
“If we annex more areas, we will be able to increase our tax base and be able to generate some of the money needed to complete that project,” Taylor added.
Races going to general election
Although wards 2 and 5 will not be decided during the May 5 primary election, candidates shared their ideas for solutions to the city”s gang problem.
“I think building the sportsplex and supporting after-school programs would help to address that problem,” said Ward 2 Democratic candidate Troy Miller. “Children left with idle time usually find things to get into that they shouldn”t. We, as a city, must pull together as a whole to give these young people some hope for their future.”
“A lot of these young people are lacking love and good examples in their lives, and I think that”s were we can step in and help with that,” said Republican Ward 2 incumbent Susan Mackay. “The police department is working hard, and their narcotic and gang units are very informed. We have hired many more police officers in the past few years.”
Ward 2 Democratic candidate Joseph Mickens also suggested a more direct community involvement in children”s lives to keep them away from gang activities.
“We do have a serious gang problem in East Columbus,” said Mickens. “Everyone would not be able to travel to a sportsplex, so I think it”s important that we also support our neighborhood parks as a way to reach out to our kids.”
Ward 5 Republican incumbent Jay Jordan and Democratic candidate Kenneth McFarland also fielded questions about the city”s gang dilemma. Democratic Ward 5 candidate Kabir Karriem did not attend the forum.
“We definitely know there”s a gang problem, but I will tell you right now that I do not have the solution,” said Jordan. “Our police officers have gone to seminars and are experts on gang activity.
“As a council, all we can do is support the police and get the best people we can into the police department so they can correct the problem,” Jordan added.
McFarland proposed adding a slew of community and neighborhood activities to help curb teens” gang involvement.
“Even if they”re involved in gangs, we must always remember that we are still talking about our children,” said McFarland. “If we have activities available, we can make them so tired that they won”t want to gather and do illegal things.
“I would be in support of creating a water park in Columbus,” McFarland added. “I can”t think of one young man who wouldn”t want to work in a water park.”
Ward 4 Democratic incumbent Fred Stewart is running unopposed and did not attend the debate.
Mayoral candidates Thom Geiger, independent, and incumbent Mayor Robert Smith, Democrat likewise will not be on the primary ticket but will face each other in the June 2 general election.