Mayoral, council candidates discuss city issues at forum
by Asia Ashley Staff Writer
Candidates for the LaGrange City Council and mayor took part in a candidate forum at Best Western Lafayette Garden Inn Tuesday, sponsored by the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce.
District 2 city council candidates Richard Kimbrough and Norma Tucker were unable to attend the forum. Tom Gore and Nick Woodson, candidates for district one, were in attendance and began the forum by answering questions prepared by the chamber.
Jeff Brown, the forum’s moderator, posed three questions to the council prospects, allowing them three minutes to respond to each question.
The questions included topics of qualifications, working with the county and increasing economic vitality.
“We truly believe the downtown hotel will help all of our downtown merchants,” said Woodson, who has served as councilman for 16 years. “There’s another project south in town that I’m hoping will be a big thing in LaGrange.”
Gore said he would like to see development in all parts of LaGrange.
“We need to bring things in all parts of the city, new businesses and industries to keep our tax base good so we can support services the city needs.,” said Gore, a former councilman from 2001-2009.
Mayoral candidates Jim McCamey, Mike Smith and Jim Thornton responded to questions pertaining to business recruitment.
“I’m going to focus on economic development to recruit retail development, especially to Hamilton Road and Whitesville Road projects,” said McCamey.
Thornton said his focus as mayor will be to bring all economic partners together.
“I want to bring all economic partners together and have coordinated marketing,” said Thornton. “I want to see diverse jobs. Not everyone wants to work in car manufacturing.”
Smith stated that a transportation system would benefit the city.
Brown mentioned that Columbus’ transportation system is currently going bankrupt, prompting a response from Smith.
Smith said with the $40 million that the city has in reserves, the city can afford transportation, and that cities smaller than LaGrange have successful transportation systems.
Smith also mentioned that the city is not being fair with the utility fees.
“The utility system is not fair to the poor people,” he said. “Poor people are the ones with the burden. We don’t treat people in different areas the same. The city should not be putting all those fines on them.”
McCamey said some of the $40 million the city has should be used to help reduce crime.
“We should be able to fight crime a lot better,” he said. “We should have more law enforcement. Our focus should be on fighting crime.”
Smith was asked if he supported the new downtown hotel project, as it had been previously learned that Smith wanted to use the old Mansour’s building as a central transportation station.
“We don’t need a fancy hotel on the square,” said Smith. “We already got about two dozen. It might be something that rich folks want, but I don’t think we need it. LaGrange has been addicted to ‘Callaway’ money for too long, we need to stop that. Instead of doing things on our own we run to the Callaway money. LaGrange is much more stronger than that.”
Thornton said a 2001 study by the city, LaGrange College and the Callaway Foundation showed that there was a need for a downtown hotel. The city will have a $1.5 million investment in the$ 20 million project. The Callaway Foundation has contributed $4 million toward the project. The hotel will bring in great revenue for the city, said Thornton.
McCamey agrees that the hotel will benefit the economy, but stated that city should have informed the citizens before making the decision. He said that the project’s effort should be put in other areas of the city.
“Why are we spending so much money downtown when we have city parks that are undeveloped,” McCamey said. “People, especially in District 2, have been telling me, ‘Why are we not seeing that development in our community?’”
One of the questions to the mayoral candidates entailed the rumored “behind closed door” decision making taking place in the city.
Thornton admitted that the city has been guilty of discussing matters behind the scenes, but said that he wants to encourage more discussion and debate. He said he has and would like to push towards having the meetings televised.
“Transparency in our government is about making an intentional effort to include them (citizens),” said Thornton.
The candidates discussed ways to keep LaGrange College students in the city after graduation.
“We can obviously talk about bringing jobs,” said Thornton. “We also need to have diverse mix of jobs and quality of life amenities such as arts and an urban core that we’re trying to bring to downtown. Civic engagement, getting them involved in projects is also important.”
McCamey said the main focus for students should be jobs.
“We have to offer employment opportunities,” he said. “They have bills to pay after graduating. We have to recruit people that hires the college graduates.”
Smith said decriminalizing marijuana would keep graduates from moving to other states where drug laws are not as strict.
“They look at us as 20 years behind,” said Smith. “The war against drugs is the most unfair thing our government has done. This drug war makes no sense.”
The candidates answered several questions from the audience before their closing statements.
Early voting will continue at the Troup County Government Center through Friday. Polls will be open on Tuesday, Nov. 5, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
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