October 10, 2012 10:01:25 AM
Sarah Fowler - [email protected]
It was standing room only Tuesday as citizens crowded into the upstairs courtroom at City Hall to voice their concerns, opinions and ideas to Mississippi Speaker of the House Philip Gunn.
Columbus was one of the stops on Gunn's nine-city "Mississippi Solutions --An Ideas Tour." The tour kicked off in Jackson on Monday and will end Friday in Brookhaven.
Both Gunn and his staff members said they have been impressed with the turnout at each stop and are looking forward to taking some of the ideas back to Jackson.
"We're directing our attention to the area of most concern," said Gunn, who noted that that most common issues that have been raised on the tour deal with health and education, as well as how tax dollars are being spent.
The speaker also added that some of the ideas they've heard echo what legislators are already doing in the capitol.
"They've reaffirmed we're on the right track," he said.
While some praised the speaker and encouraged his efforts, others had very strong opinions on what legislators could do to make Mississippi a better place to live.
Vicky Rose, who brought her two children with her to the event, urged Gunn to consider changing Mississippi law regarding parental choice about their children's vaccinations.
"Mississippi is not always a state of freedom when it comes to parental rights," she said.
Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin and Columbus Municipal School Board member Jason Spears voiced questions pertaining to taxes.
Gavin noted the "crumbling infrastructure" in Columbus and said that it would cost approximately $80-100 million to fix the drainage issues plaguing the streets. He asked if there was a sales tax that that cities could impose instead of raising taxes.
Spears asked a similar question but instead pertaining to funding to insure public schools are not at a disadvantage when and if charter schools are approved.
Municipal Court Judge Nicole Clinkscales asked the speaker to consider appointing a guardian ad litemedum to juveniles charged with criminal acts.
In addition to the local elected officials, 25 high school sophomores from the Lowndes Young Leaders group attended the event.
Breland Starr, a student at Heritage Academy, said she appreciated the speaker coming to Columbus and giving local citizens a forum to voice their ideas.
"I like the fact that people get to express their opinions," she said.
After listening to the hour long discussion, Starr said she was more interested in politics.
"I'm going to pay attention to politics more," she said. "I'd like to keep it up with it more."
In addition to the speaker, state representatives Esther Harrison, Gary Chism, Tyrone Ellis, Chris Brown and Joey Hood all traveled to Columbus for the meeting.
Gunn, who is paying for the tour from his own funds, said the week-long tour has been worth the expense.
"It was a great opportunity to hear from the people and hear a lot of great ideas," he said.
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.