March 12, 2009
Tim Pratt -
STARKVILLE -- Some of the newest faces on the Starkville political scene gathered for a public forum Tuesday night and gave city residents a brief glimpse into their plans for the future.
They were candidates vying for seats on the Starkville Board of Aldermen and they came together in a forum set up by the Starkville Young Professionals. Much of the talk centered on the need for continued economic growth and responsible development in the city, while some of the candidates also spelled out new projects and policies they''d like to implement.
In Ward 1, where five candidates are campaigning to fill the seat of outgoing Alderman Sumner Davis, Republican Ben Carver was in attendance, along with Democrats Mark Duncan and Juliette Weaver-Reese. Independent Helen Eaves also gave her views on the future of the city.
Carver said he wants to focus on improving infrastructure within the city and creating a pro-business setting for companies looking to set up shop. Carver, who received a master''s degree in public policy and administration from Mississippi State University, also said he would push for construction of a new justice complex.
"I just want to step up to the plate to better the city of Starkville, Miss.," Carver said of his decision to run for office.
Duncan said he wants to continue the revitalization effort in downtown Starkville to include the areas between Highway 182 and Lampkin Street, from Montgomery to Washington streets. The software engineer also said he wants to see more sidewalks and bicycle lanes in town, and wants public utility lines to be placed underground as part of a citywide beautification effort.
"I believe in the potential Starkville has as a city," Duncan said. "I think there are a lot of things we can do to improve the quality of life here in Starkville."
Eaves, who is the only Independent candidate to qualify, said she wants to see improvements made to the city''s infrastructure, including better roads, drainage and sewer systems and street lights, among other things. She also wants to see the board take steps toward attracting and retaining more businesses.
Weaver-Reese described herself as an entrepreneur and vowed to bring some of her "outside the box" thinking to the city. She also believes the city needs to focus on businesses, but should improve streets and sidewalks, as well.
"I think Starkville can be a landmark in the Southern region," Weaver-Reese said. "I think we can look at some ideas from an entrepreneurial standpoint and continue to make Starkville bigger and better."
The final candidate in Ward 1, Democrat Corey Bagwell, was unable to attend the forum.
In Ward 3, Democrat John Gaskin and Republican Eric Parker are the only two candidates running to fill the seat of Alderman P.C. "Mac" McLaurin, who also opted not to run for re-election. Both Gaskin and Parker were in attendance Tuesday night.
Gaskin is a big proponent of responsible planning and zoning, and wants to see more well-thought out development take place in the city''s future. He also is concerned with traffic problems in his ward, especially those on South Montgomery Street, where vehicles get backed-up every morning on the way to Highway 12.
"The main reason why I chose to run is that Starkville is at a very pivotal time in its history; we''re just about to become larger than Columbus," Gaskin said. "I''m not trying to throw that out there as a yard stick of measurement, but while we''re growing and are about to become the largest population center in the area, our government manages things more reactively than proactively. For over 10 years we''ve been looking at a new police department, throwing that political football out there, yet here we are at another election and absolutely nothing has been done."
Parker, a Starkville developer, said he would push to make the city as business friendly as possible.
"I feel like our board really needs to be the salesmen for Starkville," Parker said. "We need to be as good an influence as we can be. Being in the construction business, it''s such a competitive time out there right now recruiting new businesses. I feel like our board needs to work together and be a positive influence on our community."
In Ward 4, Alderman Richard Corey is running for re-election and will face one of the two Republicans in the race -- Nick Papas or John Michael VanHorn.
Corey said he has a number of issues he wants to tackle if re-elected, including work on the city''s comprehensive plan, the adoption of a sidewalk ordinance and use of tax increment financing for business projects.
"I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in office," Corey said. "It''s been a wonderful experience to be on the Board of Aldermen. I feel like I''ve learned a lot along the way. I love Starkville; I love Mississippi State University."
Corey is originally from Columbus but now lives in Starkville''s Cotton District.
"I''ve lived in the Golden Triangle my entire life; this really is my home," Corey said. "As someone who cares about their home, you want to see it taken care of."
Papas, who is originally from Macon but came to Starkville to attend MSU, said he has seen firsthand the toll a struggling economy can have on a town and its families. He wants to take a pro-business approach, but also wants to undertake beautification projects around the city and to strengthen ties between the city and MSU.
"Just like Richard (Corey), I want to make my home better," Papas said. "There are changes that need to be made to Starkville ... and I think I am the person to make those changes."
VanHorn, who is a junior at MSU, said he grew up in a household where education was key, so he wants to help the city work with MSU and the Starkville School District. He also said he sees more potential in the Cotton District to draw in businesses and tax dollars.
"I want to work with the Cotton District and the university, in that area, because I feel like it could be a hot spot for the city," VanHorn said. "I also want to work on city-university relations."
The next forum, which will feature candidates in wards 2, 5, 6 and 7, is scheduled for March 31 at the Hilton Garden Inn on Highway 12. The third and final forum is set for April 14, also at the Hilton Garden Inn, and will give mayoral candidates a chance to voice their plans.