Mayoral candidates make their final joint pitch

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 3, 2008

FRANKLIN—A mayoral candidate forum drew approximately 150 citizens to Paul D. Camp Community College’s Regional Workforce Development Center Wednesday night, the final time the three candidates will jointly address the issues before the election on Tuesday .

Sponsored by The Tidewater News, the event was primarily a question-and-answer session, with Steve Stewart, publisher of the newspaper, serving as moderator.

Questions were submitted in advance by the public and included topics ranging from the city’s electric department and budget to the police department and gangs in the area.

Challenger Ellis Crum, a resident of Queen’s Lane, whose platform includes providing more educational opportunities for youth, addressing the issue of homelessness, and making the city being more business-friendly, said during his opening statement, &uot;The city deserves a mayor who will champion our economic potential, who will be a great steward of the city’s resources … and who will restore faith that the city can maintain those resources.&uot;

Challenger Gregory McLemore, a resident of Madison Street, spoke of utility reform, being more eco-friendly, and the need for more government transparency.

He said, &uot;My issues are the citizens’ issues.&uot; He said he would work to &uot;outlaw secrecy and secret deals&uot; and &uot;to reduce these outrageous utility bills.&uot;

Jim Councill, incumbent mayor who has served for 12 years, touted his work creating the Early Childhood Commission and his involvement in seeking flooding solutions. He also said his service on the Opportunity Inc. Workforce Development Board is beneficial for the city.

He said he casts his votes on the City Council to &uot;make the city function as efficiently as possible and keep the cost for the taxpayers to a minimum,&uot; and he takes that responsibility &uot;very seriously.&uot;

The first question fielded by the candidates was &uot;Does Franklin have a gang problem, and if so, what should the city do to address it?&uot;

&uot;According to our police department, gang activity is a growing concern in the city,&uot; said Councill. &uot;The chief thought it was important enough to have a program (at the workforce center) for parents, students, teachers, and anyone who wanted to come, but the turnout was meager.

&uot;It’s a growing problem. We need to assist the police department in every possible way.&uot;

Councill said educating people on what to look for and not being afraid to call suspicious activity in to the police department are crucial steps in making progress on this issue.

Crum agreed that there is a gang problem in the city.

&uot;Many of us don’t realize how big of an issue this is,&uot; he said, &uot;…the kids (joining) gangs are getting younger and younger.&uot;

He said the youth steering committee that has just begun meeting will provide good feedback from the youth themselves, who recognize the situation in the city.

&uot;We need to provide opportunities for (the kids) to do productive after-school activities,&uot; he said.

&uot;There is not a lot for them to do. We need to give them options.&uot;

He said that working together with parents and teachers, city officials could come up with solutions &uot;we can live with for the young people.&uot;

He added, &uot;We need places for character development. We need to challenge them.&uot;

McLemore, speaking from experience, said he didn’t think that gang activity in Franklin was an issue.

When growing up in New York City, he said he was &uot;involved in a gang.&uot;

He said, &uot;I challenge you to recall the last time you experienced problems with gangs in Franklin.

&uot;We were also told there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.&uot;

He said that the other candidates had exaggerated the issue in order to solicit votes by promising to keep the public safe.

&uot;I walk the streets of Franklin, and I don’t feel threatened,&uot; he said. &uot;There are some bored kids out there, but I don’t see us as having a problem (with gang activity) as much as we have been diverted by politics of fear.&uot;

McLemore noted that the kids need more educational activities to keep them pre-occupied.

The candidates were also asked if they would support an independent authority or commission to govern Franklin Power & Light.

McLemore was supportive of the idea. He also said that the city had started utilizing the utility for profit, and he would like to see the electric department have enough money for emergencies.

&uot;There’s nothing wrong with not making a profit as long as you have a reserve,&uot; he said. &uot;I support an independent authority (so it) can make sure the city will stop taking money from the electric fund.&uot;

Councill, however, was not in support of an independent commission.

He quoted a letter from (now retired) judge Baird Cabell that touted the city’s electric department for generating enough revenue to keep taxes consistently low.

&uot;Nothing has changed,&uot; he said.

&uot;It’s not rocket science. It’s a balancing act.&uot; He noted that it was easy for someone who is not accountable to criticize the city’s conclusions.

Crum also supported an independent commission, saying that &uot;if we were good stewards (of city money) to begin with, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.&uot;

&uot;How is it the city said it is giving back $150,000 for five years but it took out $1.8 milion?&uot; he said. &uot;How is it we are not in debt, but the electric department is in debt?

&uot;In my house, if I don’t have the money for it, I don’t do it.

&uot;This is a stewardship issue.&uot;