April 15, 2009
STARKVILLE -- Residents of Starkville got a glimpse of their future leader Tuesday night as all four candidates in the race for mayor gathered for a public forum at the Hilton Garden Inn.
The Starkville Young Professionals hosted the forum to give city residents a chance to question the candidates. The group of candidates, which was comprised of incumbent Mayor Dan Camp and his challengers -- Matt Cox, Marnita Henderson and Parker Wiseman -- agreed on several issues, such as the need for a new municipal complex, improved infrastructure in the city and continued economic development throughout the region, but took different stances on other topics, such as Sunday alcohol sales.
Camp said he would not veto the sale of alcohol on Sundays if it is approved by the Board of Aldermen. Sunday alcohol sales currently are not allowed in the city, though some residents are pushing for a change in policy.
While Camp doesn''t necessarily oppose Sunday alcohol sales, Marnita Henderson, the lone Republican in the race, said she is against it. Henderson acknowledged alcohol sales on Sundays would benefit local restaurants and businesses, but she spoke out against the issue on moral grounds.
"You hear revenue, revenue, revenue, but you don''t hear about values," Henderson said.
Although businesses might benefit, local churches could see a drop in attendance, which would mean fewer donations and less funds for charitable organizations in the city, she said. A change in policy also could lead to more drunken driving, she said, and would strain the city''s police department.
Cox said he hasn''t seen much support in his ward for a change in policy. He estimated 75-80 percent of people he''s talked to on the campaign trail are opposed to Sunday alcohol sales.
"My current feeling is this is not something the community is ready for," Cox said.
Wiseman acknowledged how divisive an issue it has become in the city. But he warned people the city already has plenty of other stuff on its plate right now.
"We have a lot of stuff going on in this city," Wiseman said. "This is the most important election in my lifetime. I don''t want this to turn into a referendum on Sunday alcohol sales."
Highways and byways
On infrastructure improvements in the city, Camp said he would urge the Board of Aldermen to think long term when planning for road and sewer projects. He already pushed for aldermen to pass during his first term a $12 million bond issue for citywide improvements, but the board ultimately passed a revised $3 million plan with an option for $3 million more next year.
He hopes the new board, when it takes office in July, will think long term, noting the city could have up to $9 million in infrastructure improvements over the next few years.
Henderson also said she supports an infrastructure plan that wouldn''t obligate future Board of Aldermen members to pay off bond debt. She believes the revised $3 million bond issue was a better option than the $12 million plan.
"Why borrow money and pay interest on it when you''re not going to be able to use it for five years?" Henderson said.
Cox, who serves as Ward 5 alderman but decided to forgo re-election to run for mayor, has been an opponent of the long-term $12 million infrastructure plan, saying he doesn''t want to obligate future boards to pay off the debt. The $3 million plan, which Cox strongly supported, will be added to more than $1 million aldermen already budgeted for infrastructure work, so the city will see more than $4 million worth of planning and improvements this year.
"That''s more than eight times the amount of work we usually see," Cox said, then added smooth streets are a sign of a high quality of life. Cox repeatedly said he wants to improve the quality of life for city residents as a whole, whether it means improved roads and sidewalks to strong schools and recreation opportunities.
Camp in the past has pushed for a new municipal complex and did so again Tuesday when an audience member asked the candidates to give their opinions on the matter. Camp called the existing City Hall building "inadequate" and said a new facility could be built in the area of Lafayette and Franklin streets, adjacent to the new Starkville Electric Department building, which is now under construction.
Cox also wants to see a new municipal complex within the next four years.
Wiseman vowed to push for a 10-year capital improvement plan that would outline where the city wants to go and how it''s going to get there.
"I just think it''s astounding that we don''t have a 10-year capital improvement plan," Wiseman said. "Every single capital improvement project needs to be in that 10-year plan."
He also said he would push for more efficient spending in City Hall and wants to get a new municipal complex built.
The forum was the third in a series put on by the Starkville Young Professionals. The first two forums featured candidates in the race for seats on the Board of Aldermen.
Primary elections will take place May 5 with the general election scheduled for June 2.