If you missed last night’s candidate forum hosted by the League of Women Voters and the Opelika Chamber of Commerce, you missed some very important things. Even if you came and left after the mayoral candidates discussed the issues, you missed something. Even if your ward didn’t have a contested race, two of the candidates running in Wards 1 and 2 will be representatives on the City Council and their decisions will affect you. It was interesting to hear what they had to say (well, most of them, anyway).
Working for the City and for the City Attorney particularly, I may have an unusual perspective because I have some knowledge of what’s going on in each of the wards and what the City Council has to make decisions about. Some of these decisions are not easy. The City Council does not have a simple job and the members of the Council should be knowledgeable about what it involves. Some of the candidates last night did, while others just did not.
First, the mayoral candidates took the stage. Mayor Gary Fuller’s position is very clear. His track record speaks for itself. During the 12 years that Gary Fuller has been Mayor, he has brought a substantial amount of businesses and industry to Opelika which, in turn, brought many needed jobs. If you look around Opelika, you will see vast improvements in our roads, bridges, landscaping and especially the renovation of downtown. While many of these things were brought about by others, the Mayor was instrumental in getting people on board who knew how to make things happen and helped get them approved.
Lee County Commissioner John Andrew Harris didn’t or couldn’t say how he would improve Opelika other than discussing burning garbage to create cheap electricity or helping people get solar panels to lower the cost of electricity. Granted, he wants to look after the citizens, but most of the things he suggested would ultimately hurt the City. I’m all for lowering my utility bill, but not to the detriment of Opelika Power Services and the City. Instead, why doesn’t he want to institute a plan to educate the citizens about how to lower their monthly budget by making wise choices about their use of electricity and water?
Ward 1 candidates Patricia (Patsy) Jones (Incumbent) and Greg Jones was the most frustrating discussion of the night. Patsy did an excellent job stating what she has done for the past 21 years and what she will continue to do and wants to begin over the next four. Greg Jones, on the other hand, ridiculed and mocked Ms. Jones during the course of his discussion. He left me with the impression that the only reason he is running for City Council in Ward 1 is because the City has taken something away from him and this is his way of getting it back. Does the City of Opelika really want a critical person serving on the City Council? It seems Mr. Jones would do well to continue using his non-profit to help the citizens in Ward 1.
Ward 2 candidates came ready to impress. Larry Gray (Incumbent), Tiffany Gibson-Pitts, Nelson Marsh and Oscar Penn answered question after question about what they believed they could do for the City of Opelika as Council person in Ward 2. Let’s just say that the discussion among the four of them was the most informative of the night. Some minds may have been changed last night. I was surprisingly impressed by a couple of the candidates. What they had to say might work. They may not win the election, but I believe that whether they do or they don’t, they should work on their ideas together with the City Council, if possible.
Opelika has done well over the past 12 years. It has great leadership made possible by the people the citizens of Opelika have elected. Wards 1 and 2 have some issues and, unless you are living with your head in the sand, you are well aware of them. Something needs to be done, but I’m not sure the City Council has the teeth to do it, meaning that the problems may not be able to be handled at the government level. The candidates were right. We need to train parents. Children need to have supervision. Something needs to be put in place to get kids off the street. The City, as a whole, needs to be concerned about this issue, not just the citizens in Wards 1 and 2.
Opelika is a great place to live, work and play. New jobs are created all the time. Contrary to what some believe, the Opelika School System is the best in East Alabama, and your child can get an excellent education here. It’s not perfect, but it’s an incredible place for our children to learn. If you have a child in one of the Opelika City schools, tell others about it. The Opelika Sportsplex and a number of City parks offer a place for children to play and have a good time. Granted, there’s always a way to improve.
Also, if you don’t know what the City Council is doing, go to a City Council meeting. They take place on the first and third Tuesday of each month beginning at 7:00 p.m. (best to arrive by 6:30). Be a part of citizen communications.
Each citizen has the opportunity and the right to be heard by the leadership of the City. You will be hard-pressed to find a better group of leaders who listen to the needs of the citizens and respond accordingly. You may have heard complaints from people who didn’t get what they wanted; however, we must all keep in mind that there are some problems government can’t fix.
We live in a great community. Vote your conscience and keep it that way.
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