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Light turnout for Columbus candidate debate


Neal Wagner



Thirteen of the 15 candidates for city elections discussed their qualifications and stances on a variety of issues Monday night at the Columbus Municipal Complex. And only about 30 residents were seated in the Municipal Complex Court — about .16 percent of the city’s 18,497 registered voters. 


Democratic incumbent Mayor Robert Smith, independent mayoral candidate Thom Geiger, Democratic Ward 1 City Council incumbent Gene Taylor, Republican Ward 2 incumbent Susan Mackay and Ward 2 Democratic candidates Joseph Mickens and Troy Miller attended the forum, sponsored by the Columbus-Lowndes County League of Voters. 


Republican Ward 3 incumbent Gene Coleman, Republican Ward 3 candidate Charlie Box, Republican Ward 5 incumbent Jay Jordan, Democratic Ward 5 candidates Kabir Karriem and Kenneth McFarland, Ward 6 Republican incumbent Jerry Kendall and Republican Ward 6 candidate Bill Gavin also were in attendance. 


The candidates each had an opportunity to explain their qualifications and reasons for running and their feelings on the city’s problems as they fielded questions from moderator Glenda Buckhalter, a radio commentator with the 1050 AM radio station. 




Speaking on service 


“As your mayor for the past 2 1/2 years, I have worked to be a nonpartisan leader,” said Robert Smith. “I feel I have worked to pro-actively deal with city issues and worked to achieve some major goals, like improving infrastructure, helping the city be financially stable, working for economic development and reducing crime.” 


Several candidates echoed Smith’s thoughts as they attempted to convince voters to vote for them in the May 5 primary and the June 2 general elections. 


“I came to Columbus to serve people, not to serve Gene Taylor,” Taylor said. “The past few years has been a trying time for us, and I think it has really prepared me to continue to hold this seat.” 


“My experience is my qualification, and if I am re-elected, I will continue to serve with the utmost respect and love that this city deserves,” Taylor added. “Drainage is one of the core problems our city faces right now, along with parks and recreation, getting our kids off the streets and putting more into education.” 




Flooding concerns 


Many candidates mentioned the city’s frequent flooding woes as they named what they believed were Columbus’ biggest problems. 


“I’ve been flooded three times since ’95. It’s not just a problem, it’s a major problem,” said Joseph Mickens. “I believe that you have to work with many different people to get things done, even if you don’t agree with them on some issues. We can see the problem and sit here looking at it all day, but I will get out there and actually do something to help solve it.” 


Troy Miller said, if elected, he hopes to help Columbus reach its “full potential” and work to identify the city’s “common goals.” 


“Financial responsibility, infrastructure and preparing the city for after the recession are my goals,” said Miller. “If we allow our infrastructure to decline, it will have a negative impact on our overall tax base. That can create a big problem for the city.” 


Susan Mackay also referenced Columbus’ flooding problem, saying the problem has been around for a “long time.” 


“It’s going to take a bond issue or some other kind of city action to fix this $60-$80 million drainage problem,” said Mackay. “Serving you is my top priority, and the job I have started is not yet done. I have a great love for Columbus, and I believe that to prosper, we have to work together.” 




Problem solving 


Thom Geiger presented an alternative method of solving the problems mentioned by the other candidates. 


“I can’t pick one problem out as the most important one, because everyone in the city has different problems that affect them in some way,” said Geiger. “I am a big advocate of government openness and everyone being involved in their government. If the government told you what it was doing, most of the city’s problems would be going away.” 


Charlie Box named safety as the top problem facing residents of Columbus, particularly those living in Ward 3. 


“I’ve put some thought into this, and I believe a lot of people are concerned about safety in many of the neighborhoods in East Columbus,” said Box. “I was the executive director of the YMCA for many years, and I believe that position perfectly prepared me to hold this position. I want to serve the people, and now that I’m retired, I have full time to devote to that job.” 


Gene Coleman touted the city’s “progress during the past few years” and praised Columbus’ current administration for “working very well together.” 


“In times like these, you have to set priorities. That’s what this mayor and City Council has done for the past few years,” said Coleman. “We’ve cut back on some things, hired about 13 or 15 new police officers to address the safety concerns and we’ve been working to address the drainage problems facing much of the city.” 




Problems specific to wards 


Kabir Karriem seemed to agree with Geiger, explaining residents have different problems depending on where they live. 


“The problems people face really depends a lot on the area they live in,” said Karriem. “In Ward 5, many people are worried about the roads and the safety of their neighborhoods. I believe Ward 5 has suffered from sheer neglect during the past few years. I don’t think Jay (Jordan) has properly represented Ward 5.” 


Jordan responded by explaining he has worked in the past to address several issues in Ward 5 and throughout the city. 


“I try to look at things on a citywide basis. I will say, though, that there have been more streets paved in Ward 5 than in any other ward in the past few years,” Jordan said. “I am the most qualified for this position because I’ve been doing it. Ward 5 is a needy ward, and I have worked to get it more attention than any other ward in the city.” 


Kenneth McFarland said he plans to focus on education and job training if elected. 


“I believe that it is important to prepare people for the future through education and also through job readiness programs,” said McFarland. “I want to work with young people in the city to get them to invest themselves into this community.” 


Bill Gavin said he planned to take a financially based approach to solving the city’s problems.  


“Most of the problems mentioned tonight can be solved with money, so I believe we need to look at innovative ways to bring money into the city,” said Gavin. “We need to invest in things that will bring good returns to the city. I am a worker, and I will be responsible and accessible to the people who elect me.” 


Jerry Kendall touted his experience on the City Council, and said his track record should stand as testament to his abilities. 


“I have a lot of experience in supervising projects in my political, business and personal life.” Kendall said. “I believe that is necessary to be able to take on this position and be successful.” 




Weighing in on annexation 


Each of the candidates also weighed in on the idea of city annexation. Although all candidates said they were in favor of expanding the city, they shared different plans for accomplishing it. 


“We’ve already done a study of seven areas that we are looking to annex into the city,” said Kendall. “After we annexed them, we would have five years to provide services like fire and police protection, and we’ve also already got a plan to get them those services as quickly as possible. We decided we were going to save that plan for the next council, so it’s just waiting until after the election.” 


While all the candidates agreed the city needed to annex land to increase its tax base, Mickens, Miller, Geiger, Coleman, McFarland, Karriem and Gavin said the city should take time to carefully consider the land it annexes. 


“Don’t just go out and annex 200 people who don’t want to be annexed,” said Geiger. “We’ve got to make absolutely sure that we will be able to provide city services after




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Reader Comments

Article Comment FUdemocrats commented at 5/26/2009 12:25:00 PM:

Robert Smith... Theif, evil, and a dirty politician. He has so many people of columbus fooled and scared and they will not even vote for anyone else for the fear of something he will do to southside! look at starkville, and tupelo look at the expansion they have had in the past 10 years. Columbus hasn't moved out of the seventies yet. Please columbus vote for someone different this year get these thugs out of columbus!


Article Comment kristina commented at 5/11/2010 9:11:00 AM:

I am writing you this letter in hope that maybe you will respond via US Postal Service. I don't know what is going on, but I think it is very unfair of you to refuse me a chance to know if you are my father or not. I have been waiting for 13 years at the end of this month to know the truth. I want a blood test. You said before that you wanted it too, but you have made me wait over a month for a response, and I am wondering if I am ever going to get one.
I want you to know something, I am SICK and TIRED of being treated like a stray dog that just showed up outside someone's door step. My entire family treats me like that, and now you too. Let me tell you something Mr. Geiger, it is not MY fault that I was conceived or that I was born. It was not MY fault that my mother did what she did or made the choices that she did. It was not MY fault you and my mother could not make your relationship work. I did not ASK to be born, did I? So how is it that I am the only hone suffering from this whole mess?
You keep saying how you and your wife have suffered, and how people have treated you. How about the way you have treated me? You slept with my mother, got her pregnant, married her, and then just tossed me out like yesterday's garbage. To this day you treat me like I am some nuisance filled stray dog that keeps scratching at your door for some reason. I want answers and it is YOUR responsibility to give them to me.
If you would have tried to find me... you would have found me. I have been in Mississippi for over 10 years now, when have I heard anything from you? I have tried to contact you several times, and all I have heard back is "if you contact us again, we will press charges for harassment" You are the epitome of hypocrisy Thom. You preach about truth, and facts to all of the people on your forums, but you have no idea what that word means do you?
If you were so interested in "facts" or so interested in the truth, you would be getting the blood test wouldn't you? But no, you are afraid that I am going to cause problems with your wife. YOU won't even tell me if I have brothers and sisters somewhere I don't know about. I know I do. Why won't you at least grant me that? I want to know Thom. I guess my first impression of you was wrong... you are not a smart and reasonable person, because if you were, you would be trying to resolve this issue, or at least paying some attention to it.
I am so tired of being treated this way by someone I don't even know, but I will not stop until I have the answers that I am looking for. What are you afraid of? That you neglected a part of you for 25 years? That you acted like she didn't exist and you knew where she was the entire time? I already told you what I want... when you so blatantly told me supposedly that I can not get money from you because you put in the divorce papers I couldn't have any money unless there was a blood test performed.
My opinions on that are that I don't care who a man thinks he is or isn't.... if there is a possibility that he fathers a child, he should step up and take care of that responsibility. It takes two people to have a child, not just one. My mother definitely did not impregnate herself. You came looking for me when you were running for office for some reason last year.
You told the people you talked to that you knew I was your daughter, and I looked just like your sister. There really isn't any question in your mind about it but let me quote you from your last email "my conscience is clear" can not be true because if it is you are a heartless man. I have been an outcast my entire life because my "father" left me. I was never dales real daughter and no one saw it that way, my mother's family didn't accept me because they never accepted you.
Point being Thom, I want my chance. I DESERVE to know if you are my father or not!! I have tried and tried to get in contact with you and get this solved, but you keep dodging me. Especially after I told you that I was rh- antibody. You know that affects less than 15 percent of the population worldwide. So there is very little possibilities of someone that either of you knew being rh- as well that could have been my father. It would have been a freak occurrence. I am going to keep sending this letter, I am going to keep trying to get in contact with you until you get what you wanted... a blood test... I know now that you will never let me in your life, or in your heart, or share any kind of emotional attachment to me.
You make known publically your views on other races.... But all the things that you claim to be upheld in other communities...and trademarks of what you think they are like "dead beat dads" you need to go look in the mirror at yourself. I am tired of you and your holier than thou attitude, I am tired of you thinking that you decide when things happen like you are some kind of ruler over my life.
You slept with my mother, you married her... you are on my birth certificate... you have an obligation to me whether you like it or not. I am not some poor uneducated person you can persuade to believe anything that you want. You do have an obligation to me.... You owe me not only an explanation but the truth. My mother didn't make you stay away... my mother did not put a gun to your head and stay away from your daughter.... And even then most GOOD parents would have still pursued the issue...I guess that's just not something you will ever be is it?
I have four children and you have met and spent time with two of them.... When are you going to meet the other two? You can go and listen to my life from everyone I know, and not hear the truth from me? How is that right? Right now, I think that you came looking for me last year while you were running for office just because you wanted to keep drama down and you didn't want me to ruin things for you. Looks like I didn't have to do that, because from what people say, you do that on your own. You are no better than me, in fact I am a product of you. So in that sense, I am the best parts of you, at least that is how I see having children.
I will await your response....... You know how to get in contact with me!!



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