More than 100 people showed up to hear six council candidates and three mayoral candidates answer questions about street repair, business development and beautification. Voters will choose a mayor and council members Aug. 28.
Mayor Garry Bearden and challengers Philip Smith and Wayne Willis agreed that the city needs more revenue and better roads, but a difference between their leadership styles surfaced early in the discussion.
Bearden stressed that he is only one of six voting members on the Weaver City Council, saying that he can’t effect change alone. Willis stressed the importance of a mayor’s leadership.
“I disagree with Bearden,” Willis said. “The mayor is the big toe on the foot of Weaver.”
Smith stressed the importance of unity in governance.
“We need unity in our city government and in order to develop that, we need a vision,” Smith said.
Bearden said the city must change.
“We have got to clean up our act,” Bearden said. “We are perceived differently than how we perceive ourselves to be.”
Jacksonville State University faculty member Mike Stedham moderated the event, which was held at Weaver High School’s cafeteria. Stedham read questions posed by the audience on notecards.
The first question concerned roads, which the moderator said was the most common topic of audience questions. Council candidates agreed that road development and repair needed to be a priority during the next council’s term but they had different ideas about how to get the work done.
Place 1 Councilman Michael Warren said the city would have to cooperate with other municipalities and focus on developing a strong plan for road repair.
“It’s going to have to be a five-, six-, ten year plan,” Warren said of road repair projects.
Place 4 candidate Les Hill, an Anniston police investigator, is a first-time council candidate with experience in grant writing. Hill said he would write grants to petition the state and federal governments for money to pay for road projects.
He said the city has already missed out on too much money because officials have not been successful in writing grants.
“We can’t continue to miss these grant opportunities,” Hill said.
Candidates were also questioned about what they would do to recruit business. The current council has worked on recruiting a physician to the small city, and Bearden established a grocery store in the heart of town. But the business district in the small city is still characterized by vacant buildings.
Place 3 candidate Natalie Stephens said if elected, she’d recruit business to the town by building relationships.
“If you don’t ask for it, it won’t come,” Stephens said.
Candidates were also questioned about how they would improve the appearance of the city. Several residents have reportedly complained that the city’s welcome sign is overgrown with weeds, the Chief Ladiga Trail is unkempt, and homes are falling apart not far from the city’s entrance.
Place 3 Councilwoman Ellen Cole said she supports improving the town’s “curb appeal” and capitalizing on the development associated with the Chief Ladiga Trail.
“If anyone rides bicycles on the trail, beware because the roots are coming up through the pavement and the limbs are hitting you in the face,” Cole said.
Place 4 council candidate Keith Campbell said he supports developing a committee of people who are involved in real estate development. He also promised to be a dependable municipal representative.
He supports attracting business to the city and wants to do that by capitalizing on the trail, he said.
Place 1 council candidate Warren Dempsey mentioned that he particularly wants to have food providers along the trail to generate revenue for the city.
“It’s pathetic out there,” Dempsey said.
Residents Kenneth Bentley and Ann Bentley attended the forum to hear the candidates.
“We wanted to get to know the candidates and we want to take pride in the community that we’re in,” Kenneth Bentley said. “We want to make sure the right people are in office.”
Weaver Resident Greg Pierce began trying to organize the forum about six months ago. Over time, Pierce encountered some setbacks in the planning process.
The forum planning moved forward when he handed the planning process over to the city’s Lions Club and to the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce. He was pleased, he said, to see the forum come to fruition.
“I liked the specificity in the discussion about the Anniston-Jacksonville street project,” said Pierce, who began attending council meetings two years ago over concerns about the project. “It’s high time to get his finished.”
Place 4 Councilman Odis Pippin, who is seeking re-election, could not attend the forum because of a complication in his work schedule, said Pippin’s wife, Debbie Pippin.
Staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter@LJohnson_star.