Franklin candidates face the voters

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 9, 2008

FRANKLIN— Ward 1 and Ward 2 candidates for the Franklin City Council fielded questions Monday night on a variety of topics during a forum at the Paul D. Camp Community College Regional Workforce Development Center.

The event, sponsored by The Tidewater News, drew an audience of nearly 100. The newspaper received 100 e-mailed questions from citizens prior to the forum, and moderator Steve Stewart, publisher of the newspaper, posed about a dozen of them to the candidates.

Ward 1 candidates Barry Cheatham and Dan Hoctor are vying for a seat that will be vacated by Joe Scislowicz, who opted not to seek re-election.

Cheatham said his financial background as a certified public accountant would serve him well on the City Council. Hoctor, vice president of Southside Physical Therapy and a member of the Franklin Southampton Futures group, said he wants to give something back to the community in which he has so much invested.

Ward 2 incumbent Charles Wrenn, who will have served more than nine years come election time in May, is chairman of the Bronco Federal Credit Union Board and vice chairman of the Southeastern Public Service Authority Board.

Challenger Benny Burgess, also a certified public accountant and owner of Burgess & Co. in downtown Franklin, is past president of the Franklin City Educational Foundation.

Education was one of the topics of the evening. One of the questions dealt with the quality of the schools as compared to a few years ago, when it was &uot;perceived as one of the best in the area.&uot; Stewart also asked the candidates what they would do to support building new schools.

Cheatham said that he understands the quality of the schools has &uot;gone down&uot; since a few years ago.

He said, &uot;You’re not doing a student right by not giving them an opportunity to go to college,&uot; and giving them no vocational opportunities.

While he supports building new schools, he said he didn’t think the city could do it now, and that is something for which it should start saving.

Hoctor said people perceive that the quality of Franklin schools is below what Southampton’s is at this time, but that could change years down the road.

&uot;We have been ahead of Southampton’s at some point (in the past),&uot; he said.

He said the kids and the community deserve new buildings, but that the city needs to find creative ways to make that happen. He felt there was unnecessary spending of money that could be put toward building new schools.

Hoctor said that he would like to look into a possible merger of city and county public schools — noting that he feels &uot;there has not been enough dialog about the subject between officials of the city and county.&uot;

Burgess said he noticed a decline in education quality during the four years that his two daughters went through the school system, and believes that taxpayers are just not getting their &uot;bang for the buck.&uot;

&uot;We need to hold the teachers, principals and administrators accountable,&uot; he said. &uot;The money is there.&uot;

He believes that the schools need to create a vision as well. As far as building new schools, he was in favor, but acknowledged he didn’t know how they would be funded.

&uot;Going back to the first question,&uot; he said, &uot;dealing with the perception of the quality of the schools.

&uot;The building is secondary to the quality of education.&uot;

Wrenn feels the schools are not worse.

&uot;What matters is the type of education (the students) are getting,&uot; he said. &uot;I’d like to work toward two particular areas—to reintroduce the vocational opportunities and to continue with the early-start programs.&uot;

He also noted that the city has acquired land adjacent to the YMCA for a future school site. He said that before anything would be built, the residents who are going to be paying for it would have to &uot;agree to it.&uot;

Wrenn feels &uot;there is a lot of synergy between the schools in the city and the county&uot; that could be used to reduce costs.

Another question focused on how the candidates would oversee the city manager without micromanaging his activities.

Cheatham said that it’s the city manager’s job to look at the numbers— that he should be held accountable, as well as his department heads in their jobs. He emphasized that the city should be run like a business.

Hoctor, concerned about the indebtedness of the city, said that also is an issue with many people.

&uot;I think we need a city manager we don’t need to micromanage,&uot; he said.

Burgess agreed, saying citizens should have confidence in their

city manager.

&uot;We’ve got to hold people accountable,&uot; he said. &uot;If we have a need to micromanage, then a change needs to be made,&uot; he said.

Wrenn felt differently about the issue, saying that leadership was the key word.

&uot;I think it is City Council’s job to provide leadership for the city manager,&uot; he said, &uot;and to give him a sense of direction.&uot;

He said in reference to expectations and accountability, that an employee of the city would be considered accountable, &uot;but the idea of expectations sounds like we are setting a minimum goal to meet.&uot;

He said he preferred to set a maximum goal and that leadership for the council is the most successful relationship in terms of the manager.

In additional views, Cheatham wants Franklin to become more business-friendly, and wants to bring more businesses to town to reduce the number of commuters traveling out-of-town to work.

Hoctor said he supports higher-wage jobs, more recreation where feasible and preventing urban sprawl.

Burgess said he believes the city needs to reduce spending, and needs to be more transparent.

Wrenn, as chairman of the Franklin Business Incubator Board, is a proponent of the facility, and is in favor of managed city growth. While he does not support an independent electric commission, he believes the electric rates should be &uot;at or below Dominion&uot; Power’s.

Another forum for mayoral candidates will be held April 30 at 6:30 p.m. at the Workforce Center.