Five participate in West Point City Council forum
Published 2:25 pm Tuesday, October 31, 2023
Five of the six candidates for West Point City Council participated in a forum Wednesday night organized by the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce.
The forum, which took place at the West Point Depot, was streamed exclusively by The LaGrange Daily News on its Facebook page. The full forum can be viewed on the LDN’s Facebook page or on www.lagrangenews.com.
Incumbents Gerald Ledbetter and Sandra Thornton participated, along with challengers Kevin Patrick, Aaron Lewis and Andra Haynes. Sean Moore was not able to make the forum, as he is still recovering from injuries sustained in a wreck that took place a few weeks ago.
Here’s a look at some of the highlights from the forum:
HANDLING THE BUDGET
The candidates were asked what makes them qualified to handle a budget of $23 million.
Ledbetter said he’s qualified because he’s been working with a budget that large for the last 12 years. He also said you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand revenue and expense.
“When it comes to the city, we’re bound by law to run a balanced budget,” Ledbetter said. “We don’t get to operate like they do in Washington where you can decide to print money and pay for your pet projects. In the city, we have to pay for the projects as we go or you have to go into debt.”
Lewis said he’s worked with a lot of financial institutions as an account manager over many years.
“I think if we were to look at a $23 million budget, I think the impact that I won’t be able to have on that could be even greater in terms of being able to find savings,” Lewis said.
Patrick said the key is using the money wisely.
“When it comes to a budget that size, you want to make sure that you’re very strategic, and move in and work with the council and everybody involved to see what’s the best thing to do with those funds and not just move hastily, even if it’s something that we all want work to happen,” Patrick said. “It has to make sense for the betterment of our entire community.”
Thornton said she was an account manager in her past and handled a budget. She also spoke to her master’s degree from Troy State University and her time as Jones School of Law.
“I also have 276 hours of classes with GMA. So they train you on those classes on how to handle budgets and anything that has to do with the city.”
Haynes said she handles the payroll for her husband’s dry cleaning business, Tillie’s Dry Cleaners, in Valley, as well as work at Intercall in the finance department.
“You will have to determine what the needs are of the city and make sure that you’re putting the important needs at the very top and then working your way down, making sure that the monies are distributed how they need to be to make sure that our city is ran as efficiently and as effectively as possible,” Haynes said.
AT LARGE VOTING
West Point is set up with an at-large voting system, meaning city council members represent the entire city and not just a specific district. That means the top three vote getters will be elected to the council seat.
Four of the five candidates believe at-large voting is the way to go.
“We’re not a very large city. I think if you’re a much bigger city, you could probably benefit from having districts, but since we’re a much smaller city the at-large thing kind of works for us,” Lewis said.
“I like the at-large approach. I can see either/or, being a benefit. At large to me means that all the entire council has come to agreement on what’s the best for the entire city,” Patrick said. “At large to me, I like it, just because I don’t have to focus just on my district, I can help a big change across the entire community.”
“At one time, there was a group that wanted the districts, and their purpose was to make sure that there were African Americans that was representing on the council,” Thornton said. “And at that time, there was actually four. So I didn’t agree with it. And I think the at large gives us a community connection.”
“We have to be responsible to every voter, not just to the few that might be in our district,” Ledbetter said. “In West Point, the districts would be tiny. We have 3700 people. If you had six districts, the districts would be very small. You could argue that representation would be very great. You can also see that it might be difficult to get people to run for office.”
Haynes is in support of a change to districts, mainly because she’s in favor of change.
“I think district would be good, a different change for us, because that’s what I’m about is change, or something that we’ve never tried here in the city of West Point,” she said. “So I think it would be good to maybe try to do it based on your district.”
The candidates were asked about the importance of developing downtown in the growth and sustainability of West Point.
“I’m very impressed with all the new addition to the stores and all that we have. But I want West Point to get back to what we had,” Haynes said. “We had everything right here in West Point that we needed before the textile industry crashed.”
Ledbetter said the key is empowering the people in the roles of economic development so that they can do their job and recruit new business.
“Elected officials need to make sure that the bounds are set correctly. That that code is in place, that boards that are in charge of economic and downtown development are empowered and are able to do their job and are able to recruit, and are able to promote the properties that are in downtown and are available for development,” Ledbetter said. “But the city doesn’t have much of a more proactive role than that. The city cannot make a chain restaurant come to West Point. The city cannot make a chain grocery store come to West Point. We have tried for years to get other businesses like that come to West Point. It takes time it takes effort and it takes empowering the committees that are in place, the people that are in place representing the city to do the work that we charged them to do, and then being patient with them as they do the work.”
Lewis said downtown West Point has a charm you can’t recreate and that having a thriving downtown is vital to the city.
“I think the city council’s role in that would just be talking with the business owners hearing what it is that they need,” Lewis said. “What’s important to them? How can we assist them in any way possible to help with their growth, and then taking those taking that feedback, and then putting it into action of for our business owners.”
Patrick talked about how downtown West Point went from a ghost town to an area where you have to circle the block several times to find a parking spot.
“I think we have to market our downtown even better,” Patrick said. “… Point University is downtown. How do we retain some of the students who come here from all over the world?”
Thornton said the city is thankful for all of the resources available.
“We are blessed in West Point that we have the development authority that offers resources and different things for to help the businesses that are downtown,” she said. “We are also very blessed that downtown has grown so much that we are always going toward the interstate.”