Ward 4 candidate Pierre Beard Sr. answers a question at Sunday's candidate forum at Genesis Church. Pat Fisher Douglas, Kegdra Gray-Gibbs and Dorothy McClung Lewis all attended the forum hosted by Tiffany Turner. The Ward 4 special election is Tuesday. Photo by: Mary Pollitz/Dispatch Staff
August 19, 2019 9:40:47 AM
Cleaning up Ward 4 will likely start with helping the younger generation, Ward 4 candidates agreed during a forum Sunday night.
Four of the six candidates whose names will be on the ballot Tuesday for the open city council position gathered at Genesis Church Sunday to meet their voters and discuss issues facing the ward.
Pierre Beard Sr., Pat Fisher Douglas, Kegdra Gibbs-Gray and Dorothy McClung Lewis answered a series of audience-written questions during a two-hour forum that about 50 people attended. Each candidate had one minute to answer with an additional minute given to those who had rebuttals.
Two Ward 4 candidates, Lavonne Latham Harris and Andrita Leigh Brown were not present Sunday. The candidates are running to replace former councilman Fred Jackson, who resigned after two years on the council. His term expires in 2021.
Tiffany Turner, Ward 4 resident, hosted the forum sponsored by The Columbus Lowndes Federation of Democratic Women in an effort to bridge the gap between elected officials and their constituents. Audience members submitted questions in writing for the candidates and Dispatch Managing Editor Zack Plair moderated the event.
Though only a few questions honed in on the youth, all candidates focused answers on reaching out and helping the younger generation.
"The first thing they need is love," Beard said. "They need someone to love and care for them like we had when we were growing up. We all have pasts, we all need to approach these kids. These kids are crying out for someone to love them. ... Someone to be a voice for them. We have the Boys and Girls Clubs and different activities present. We will have to get a center in this area. We have to get something."
Lewis, a former school teacher, agreed with Beard that the younger generation needs a place to go in order to curb crime in the area.
"I would love to see a gym, I would love to see a garden that people can use to plant food and grow things," Lewis said. "We have these seniors who know how to do stuff like that (who) can help the younger generation. There's a bunch of things that can be done, but we need to find a place to do it. They need recreation and they need to learn how to respect and do things for folks."
Douglas suggested the community come together and identify children's underlying struggles.
"I think we need to give them skills," she said. "I'm retired, so I have a lot of time on my hands. We need to meet them where they are. If they need help, if they need to be tutored, if they need food, if they need clothes we need to clothe them. Once you meet what that issue is, then they can build."
Gibbs-Gray said if elected, she hopes to create a partnership within the community, creating a place for children to go.
"I would get with something like this -- (Genesis) is a part of this neighborhood -- and putting basketball goals in here," she said. "That way kids have somewhere to go. If you ride the community, they are all hanging out because they don't have anywhere to go. ... Putting something in the community, there's nowhere in this ward right now. We need to partner with Genesis or other community-based (places)."
Audience questions primarily focused on general clean-up in the ward, including crime, drug use, tornado clean-up and general beautification. Each candidate agreed the success will follow if community members start working together.
Lewis grew up in Ward 4, moved away and when she arrived back home she was astonished with how everything changed.
"We had clean streets," Lewis said. "Everybody cleaned their yard. We need to go back to that, that old-fashioned feel of helping each other."
Both Gibbs-Gray and Beard suggested organizing committees to help with general clean-up. Specifically, Beard suggested getting the youth involved in helping.
After candidates answered submitted questions, audience members were given the floor to ask further queries. One in particular, focused on the city's financial status.
Columbus operated at an $881,000 deficit in Fiscal Year 2018, which ended Sept. 30. This spring, certified public accountant Mike Crowder, who was hired as a consultant for the city, reported to the council that at current spending rates, the city would be more than $338,000 in debt at the end of the fiscal year. Finances have been an ongoing concern for city councilmen ever since.
Audience member John Davis asked those running for the council seat how, if elected, they will help the citizens stay informed with the city's finances.
"Once I'm elected and get a chance to know about the money they have, then I can share with them the ideas I have," Lewis said. "... We have an abundance of wealthy people in Columbus, maybe they can give their fair share."
Beard, who earlier in the forum suggested creating a live-stream for the city council meetings, said he would focus on the budget and see what can be cut.
"We would have to get the budget, go over the budget," Beard said. "We have to make sure that everything is being spent wisely. ... We will have to look at the budget, see what we can cut. We've got all these people raising money for campaigns. If we can raise money for ourselves we can raise money for our people."
Gibbs-Gray, owner of K-Gray Financial Services, said with her experience in accounting she will help the city manage its finances.
"That's a good subject for me, numbers is one of the best things I'm good at," Gibbs-Gray said. "We'll go through that budget, line by line and see what we can do. I'll make sure that that budget is out there. ... (The budget hearing) is open to the public, but I will make sure the ward knows when that hearing is."
Douglas added the budget needs to be simplified for the general public, so each citizen knows where the city is.
"We need to have honesty and we need to be earnest with ourselves," Douglas said. "We need to be truthful. ...We need the budget in black and white. We are paying these people to do the job."
After the forum, Turner said she felt the event had been a success. She said her primary goal was to give voters an insight to those on the ballot on Tuesday.
"I feel so hopeful, and elated that people are taking interest in getting to know who is going to be representing them," Turner said. "We have so many registered voters in Lowndes County, but less than half vote. ... We can complain about all the things that happen after election day but the only way that we will make our city what we want it to be is if we become informed on who is representing us."
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