Councill, McLemore debate as election looms

Published 10:34 am Wednesday, April 25, 2012

FRANKLIN—Councilman Greg McLemore said if he is elected mayor on May 1, he would like to see Franklin cut ties with Franklin-Southampton Economic Development Inc.

The Ward 3 councilman during a mayoral debate Tuesday said the organization hasn’t done enough to justify the city’s investment.

“I don’t think it’s a good investment,” McLemore said during the debate hosted by Suffolk-based My Vote newspaper.

He added that economic development decisions should be put in the hands of the city’s leadership.

Mayor Jim Councill disagreed, noting that FSEDI has been “very successful” and is used as a way to leverage the resources of the city as well as Southampton and Isle of Wight counties and market the area.

“We need that alliance to expand our resources and attract business here,” Councill said.

McLemore said the city should study a proposal he introduced through the Virginia Solar City Initiative. He said the feasibility of the plan, which would fit solar panels to every building in the city, should be studied further as a way to attract business and tourism.

Councill said the city doesn’t need a gimmick but does need a marketing plan to attract wood-related industries.

He also said Franklin, with facilities like the James L. Camp Jr. YMCA, Southampton Memorial Hospital and Cypress Cove Country Club, could market itself as a retirement community.

The candidates disagreed on ways to improve downtown business when it was suggested that shops’ hours of operation aren’t convenient.

Councill said the hours of downtown shops do seem to cater to those who are unemployed or retired, noting that the business community hasn’t cooperated.

“We’ve got to not only cater to the unemployed or retired, but to those who are working,” he said.

McLemore said the city needs to give people a reason to come downtown. He promoted tourism again and the solar-city idea as a way to achieve this.

“If we don’t have a reason for people to come into Franklin then downtown shops have to compete with shops on Armory Drive,” he said.

Both candidates said they support Smart Beginnings, a pre-kindergarten program that Councill pushed for in 2003 to help students prepare before they enter school.

“It’s a model across the state,” Councill said. “We are currently mentoring six localities on the program.”

McLemore said he supports the program, but fears adolescent students are being left out and would like to see programs that focus older children as well.

Mayoral candidate Raystine Johnson was absent.

Johnson, a city councilwoman and vice mayor, released a statement explaining her absence.

“It appears that the other mayoral candidates were informed of a possible debate on Tuesday, April 24. As of Friday, April 20, I have not officially been contacted by anyone about participating in this debate or forum,” Johnson said. “Based on my work schedule and other campaign commitments, I would not have been able to participate with this short of notice. Also as with any debate, the format, the rules, and other specifics should be reviewed and agreed upon by the candidates and their committees well in advance.”