McLemore discusses solar city, jobs

Published 10:52 am Wednesday, April 18, 2012

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in a series of interviews with Franklin’s three mayoral candidates in the May 1 election. Click here to download the full audio interview.

FRANKLIN—Mayoral challenger Greg McLemore discussed job creation, education, a $1 million shortfall in the city’s Power and Light Department and turning Franklin into a solar city during an interview with The Tidewater News.

A city councilman, McLemore and Councilwoman Raystine Johnson are running against incumbent Jim Councill for the two-year term on May 1.

McLemore, 53, said the city needs to “think outside the box” when it comes to economic development and questioned Franklin Southampton Economic Development Inc.’s success at attracting new industry.

“We are so far off the mark by waiting for some company to save us by opening up and bringing us a bunch of jobs,” he said. “If we continue to pursue the same direction and do the same things we’ve been doing, then we will get same results.”

If elected, McLemore said the city would come up with a 10-year plan and target businesses that fit into that vision.

The city in the meantime should work to attract residents from the Hampton Roads to Western Tidewater.

“I’d like to see designer outlet stores, like in Williamsburg,” McLemore said.

Franklin also could take advantage of regional tourism by developing attractions.

“The only difference between the city of Franklin and the city of Las Vegas, geographically, is the gimmick,” he said. “Both are approximately nine square miles… they have a gimmick. All we need is the right gimmick.”

One such gimmick could be his proposal to fit solar panels to every building in the city through the Virginia Solar City Initiative. He said the plan is feasible because the city has about 4,000 structures.

“Once we make the announcement that it is the direction the city is taking, businesses will start to want to come here to get in on the ground level because they see where we are trying to go,” McLemore said.

The plan would help increase enrollment at Paul D. Camp Community College because it could become “the best school in the nation for teaching solar energy.”

McLemore said his solar city plan was largely ignored by council. He said the council’s decision to pass the plan on to FSEDI was only to “save face.”

McLemore said another area of job growth could come from the retirement of city department heads, who are “near retirement age,” and the promotion of those second in command.

“Several of these people are near retirement age, so by freeing up those positions we can promote from within and create new jobs to put younger people to work,” McLemore said. “Franklin people need work.”

McLemore said Franklin City Public Schools needs to be upgraded. He said the system needs goals that focus on academics.

“We need to start picking some goals and mapping plans to reach those goals,” he said.

McLemore, who is running his second mayoral campaign bid after finishing third to Councill and Ellis Crum in 2010, said he also has a plan to replenish the $1 million shortfall in the Franklin Power and Light department’s reserve fund.

His plan would call for across the board 2.5 percent cuts to department budgets for this year’s budget.

“This is less than three percent of a department’s operating budget and it translates into a little over $1 million,” said McLemore, noting it would immediately address the problem in the reserve fund.

His plan would also involve taking a look at the 2013 budget as well and taking another 2.5 percent cut to refill the reserve coffers.

“I will say now and in the future that I refuse to vote for a tax increase, or a utility rate increase under any circumstances that I can possibly think,” he said.