March 29, 2013 11:22:25 AM
Candidates for Ward 6 Councilman spoke to members of the Columbus Exchange Club on Thursday at Lion Hills Golf Club in hopes to educate voters about how they could best serve the city of Columbus if elected.
Republican candidates Incumbent Bill Gavin and challenger Whirllie Byrd each had 10 minutes to present their platform.
An active community volunteer and Columbus native, Byrd explained how she ended up running for council.
"There was a path to this volunteer-ism," she said.
Byrd explained that as a military wife, she traveled all over the world, including a stay in Berlin, Germany where she worked for a colonel who had a tremendous impact on her and her work ethic. Ever since, Byrd said she has had a heart for serving the community. When she and her husband, Willie, moved back to Columbus 26 years ago, she became active in her church and began volunteering on various boards including the American Red Cross and, most recently, as a board member on the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau.
She also spoke of perhaps her proudest accomplishment, which was the completion of the Northhaven Woods Park. Running against her councilman, Byrd noted that Gavin was there when the park was completed and thanked him for his involvement.
She then asked Exchange Club members two questions. "How many of you want enhanced retail development? How many of you want to support and promote local business?"
Seeing hands raise all around the room, Byrd smiled and said "Great. We're good together."
"What can we do to prepare our community for the next generation?" she asked. "This is my biggest concern."
Referring to Ward 6, Byrd called it "The gateway to this city" and added that she wanted local shopping to be a "contagious experience."
"I want to be able to go downtown, somewhere locally and buy my goods," she said. "We need to keep our dollars here. I think it's important to promote what you have here."
Byrd added that, if elected, she plans to work diligently with LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins to bring industry to Columbus.
"I will work diligently with economic development to secure more industry," she promised.
Byrd also said she hoped to create more community parks like the one in Northhaven Woods. "It worries me to see a basketball goal in the street, children trying to play," she said. "We need structured activities for young people, younger families
"We need to put the 'friendly' back in the Friendly City."
Gavin then took the opportunity to speak and immediately noted his involvement with the Northhaven Woods community park.
"If it wasn't for her (Byrd) it wouldn't be there. But I got the money for it," he said with a wink.
A self-proclaimed "hometown boy" Gavin said he grew up on Third Avenue, the current location of the city's new soccer complex.
Gavin disagreed with Byrd on the subject of industry.
"Industry isn't coming to Columbus," he said. " We were lucky to get KiOR," noting the biofuel plant is located within the city limits.
"The city's coffers have got to be filled with retail development," he said.
Pointing to a campaign poster with his accomplishments from the last four years, Gavin said, "Four years ago we had none of this. We have experienced tremendous economic growth in four years in bad economic times."
Gavin then showed the Exchange Club members a detailed map of his "overlay plan," a long-term plan for improvements to the Highway 45 area that will include underground power lines, more landscaping and sidewalks.
"Highway 45 is the cash cow for the city," he said. " It's where all the other wards get their money."
Gavin made an impassioned plea to the crowd asking them to vote in the upcoming election.
"This election is critical," he said. Gavin said even those who live in the county are affected by city politics.
"Most of you come to this city every blooming day of your life."
The city elections are May 7.
Sarah Fowler covers crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.
1. Child dies in morning blaze COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
2. Four have qualified for Dist. 17 seat COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
3. Columbus man arrested for Friday shooting COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
4. West Nile case confirmed in Lowndes COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
5. Wal-Mart Markets opening in Miss. BUSINESS