Tuesday, October 26, 2010

TOP STORY > >Cabot mayor hopefuls cite their qualifications

By joan mccoy
Leader staff writer

As expected, many of the 175 or so people who attended the forum at the community center for Cabot mayoral candidates Monday night were friends, family and supporters of the candidates. But there were others there as well, many of them elderly women like Dorothy Priddy, who moved to Cabot in 1999. She came with a notebook and pen and took notes as the candidates spoke. It was for people like Priddy that the forum was held, and it’s because people like her came that the Cabot Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the event, is calling it a great success.

“We were very pleased,” said Angie Basinger, chamber office manager.

The candidates drew lots to see who spoke first at the Veterans Park Community Center. By chance, the order was the same as their order on the ballot: Stubby Stumbaugh, Bill Cypert and Eddie Cook.

The six questions they answered came from chamber members and the general public, and the answers to some were repeated in others.

The candidates were asked about their top priority as mayor, their qualifications to lead a city with 160 employees and a $9.7 million budget, their plans for economic development, their plan to manage traffic, future annexations and their vision for Cabot.

Traffic will be his priority, Stumbaugh said. All the work done in the past four years hasn’t relieved the traffic congestion in the downtown area, he said.

Cypert said his priority would be to help the city transition into the larger city it’s becoming with an infrastructure to suit its size.

Cook agreed that traffic is a problem but the answer is to take the traffic load off the downtown and continue working toward projects like the north interchange.

Cypert, the spokesman and secretary for Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission, said his experience in corporate management which included strategic planning as well as his experience on the commission, which has given him a broad understanding of how the city runs, qualifies him for mayor.

Cook, who has been on the city council for six years, owns a printing business but said he has worked as a supervisor in quality control for a major industry. He’s the chairman of the council’s budget committee and he is the budget coordinator for the city advertising and promotion commission. But just as important, Cook said, “I have the knowledge and experience to put the team together.”

Teamwork, Cook had said in answering the first question, would be a priority if he is elected mayor.

Stumbaugh, who was mayor four years ago, said he grew up in Cabot and worked as a police officer in Little Rock for 16 years. He was elected in 2002 with 61 percent of the vote. He currently works with large accounts for IESI, a national waste-removal company.

Alluding to the fact that his administration was plagued with financial and other problems, Stumbaugh said some of the people he put over the city departments didn’t do good jobs but he takes responsibility for that, he said.

When answering the question about plans for economic development, Cook also alluded to Stumbaugh’s administration, saying the city had overcome the budget crunch of four years ago. The debt is paid and the city is in a position to hire a person to work in economic development, someone who will know what stores are available now in strip malls and what is available for businesses that need more than an empty store.

Cook said economic development doesn’t mean Cabot alone. It must be viewed and worked from a regional level.

Stumbaugh said promoting the city is the job of the mayor and the chamber of commerce. Alluding to problems with the chamber when he was mayor, Stumbaugh said his good relationship was spoiled by talk of an impact fee.

Cypert said what Cabot needs is to develop a model for economic development much like in Searcy and Conway. Economic development should be funded by the private sector and by the existing tax that is overseen by the Cabot Advertising and Promotion Commission.

“I would not raise taxes,” Cypert said, adding that adjustments do need to be made in how existing taxes are spent.

Although the candidates had covered traffic in the first question, they covered it again in the fourth.

Stumbaugh said in the short term, he would retime the traffic signals. In the long term, he would work for grants to improve current roads and build new ones.

Cypert said in the short term, he would continue doing what Mayor Eddie Joe Williams has done over the past four years, working on small projects with the most impact for the least cost, like turn lanes and traffic signals.

The city currently has a traffic-control plan that calls for projects costing $297 million, he said. What is needed is a realistic traffic plan, a highway looping the city and more interchanges.

Cook said the goal must be to take traffic off Highway 89 and to improve existing roads. Since the roads leading into Cabot don’t belong to the city, the city must keep working with the county judge as well as state and federal officials to improve traffic, he said. A frontage road on the east side of the freeway is currently being discussed, he said.

All the candidates said annexation should be voluntary. Stumbaugh added that if annexation would create a financial burden on the city or take away from existing residents, he would oppose it.

Cook said his vision for the future includes teamwork and enough money in savings to match grants for infrastructure when they become available.

Stumbaugh said his vision is for the city as a safe place to bring up children with sidewalks linking all the schools where traffic flows quickly.

Cypert said he sees a wholesome, family-oriented city with opportunities to work because everyone involved has worked together toward a model for economic development.

In closing, Stumbaugh said he loves Cabot. It is where he grew up and went to school. He is the only mayor of Cabot who graduated from Cabot High School, he said.

Cypert said if elected, everyone will know where Cabot is. They will come to Cabot to invest, he said.

Cook talked about the numerous council and committee meetings he has attended in the past four years. Once-a-month meetings were not enough to tend to the city business, he said, so the council has met as often as needed.

“We will have an open-door policy up there at the mayor’s office. Feel free to come see us anytime,” Cook said.