April 5, 2013 11:29:36 AM
Nathan Gregory - firstname.lastname@example.org
The three candidates for Ward 4 Councilman appeared at the Columbus Exchange Club Thursday at Lion Hills Golf Club to inform voters on how they would serve their ward and the city of Columbus if elected.
Four-term incumbent Fred Stewart and challengers Marty Turner and Maurice Webber, all running as Democrats, spoke briefly and fielded questions about issues the city faces and how they would work to correct problems.
Stewart said the city has made great strides during his 16 years on the council and would like the opportunity to continue to build on the progress. Notable examples included building two new fire stations, a municipal complex and the soccer complex, the latter through collaboration with the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors and Columbus Lowndes Recreation Authority.
Still, there are shortcoming, ,not only in Ward 4 but in Columbus as a whole that require attention, Stewart said.
"I know we do have serious problems," he said. "Drainage problems have been in my area for years, but in order for us to solve them we're going to have to get a grant to make sure we accommodate these people. These are not overnight fixes."
Turner emphasized the need for direct communication with constituents as a means of pinpointing issues in Ward 4 and citywide that need addressing.
"My neighbors keep complaining about the road conditions (and) complain about the drainage system not working, and I'm willing to work with the mayor and the city council to see how we can fix these problems because these are things that must be fixed," Turner said.
Turner also discussed the need for making the city more attractive for developers who are looking for areas to locate and create jobs.
"We must get new jobs here, but we've got to make sure there are citizens qualified for those jobs. The job creators that are here, we've got to stay behind them," Turner said. "We have to rally around our home city, (Mississippi University for Women) and (East Mississippi Community College) because most of the new jobs that are coming come through EMCC. We have to devise a plan where we can get the people that need jobs qualified to get these good jobs."
Webber said he would work to bring more fiscal responsibility to the council. He said he was recently approached by someone who asked if he was serious about running for the Ward 4 seat. When Webber answered that he was serious about running, he was told he could not win "because this election is won on popularity, not issues.
"The council did not raise taxes this year -- and they needed to -- because it's an election year and it's not popular," Webber said. "Let me say that if this election is about popularity, then vote for one of these two fellows, but if it's about issues, vote for me."
When asked what the biggest problem is for the city and how to address it, Turner cited a lack of unity.
"I think the number one problem is division between black and white, rich and poor, employee and employer. We need diversity to make this city move forward," Turner said. "It's time to put our resources together. Human resources are (some) of the greatest resources we have and work together to draw business back here."
Webber again discussed the need for fiscal responsibility.
"We've spent too much money. We've got to allow the (chief financial officer) to do his job," Webber said. "This guy should be the one to tell you whether you can or can't afford it. We need to rein in spending."
Stewart said more communication must be had between governing entities in the city and county for the city to move forward.
"The board of supervisors, city council and all organizations need to come together ... We have our differences but we need to sit at the table and compromise and do what's best for Columbus," Stewart said.
The primary election will be held May 7.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.