Tuesday, September 25, 2012

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville’s council races taking shape

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville’s aldermen candidates are gearing up for this week’s chamber of commerce-sponsored forum.

Jamie Gates, senior vice president of the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce, will moderate the forum. It will be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the community center, 5 Municipal Drive.

Two longtime aldermen — Marshall Smith (Ward 1, Position 2) and Bob Stroud (Ward 2, Position 2) — have retired and a third, Linda Rinker (Ward 3, Position 2) chose not to run again.

The five openings initially attracted two candidates each until Derek Evans dropped out of the race for Rinker’s seat against Barbara Mashburn, who is now running unopposed.

Evans did not return a call from The Leader by press time.

Two aldermen, Terry San-sing and Bill Howard, are hoping to be re-elected.

Most of the candidates who will square off in the November election said they plan to participate and take questions from the audience.

Amy Mattison, CEO of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, said, “Come and find out about your candidate and where they stand. I am hoping everyone will come out and get educated.”

The candidates received the rules for the forum in the mail a few days ago, according to Roger Sundermeier Jr. He is running for Ward 5, Position 2 against Howard, the incumbent.

“It’s going to be real hard to tell my story in two minutes. The biggest thing I want to convey is my passion for the community of Jacksonville,” Sundermeier said.

“I want us to be the community we’re capable of being,” he continued.

Sundermeier said he is campaigning by putting out signs and speaking with residents.

“When you have a town of this size it’s impossible to meet every single person, but I want to,” he said.

Howard said, “I feel like I’ve done a good job, and we’re losing 50 years of experience from the council. We’re going to need stability on the council. The next four years will be critical for Jacksonville, and I want to be a part of that.

Howard said he has a lot of time to devote to the position because he has been retired for 15 years.

James Bolden, who is running against Jim Moore for Ward 1, Position 2, said, “My vision is to assist the city in going to another level. We need more opportunities and more businesses.”

Moore said the issues he expects to come up are whether he supports an independent school district and why the city hired an out-of-state consultant to get businesses to come into Jacksonville.

“Jacksonville needs their own school district. It will be really good for the city and the kids,” he pointed out.

Moore said he’d spoken with several residents along the campaign trail.

“They were quite concerned that the city hired some guy out of Tulsa to get businesses and it really hasn’t paid off. We have a chamber of commerce. They’re very effective in other cities. I haven’t seen any businesses or industry come in as a result of that (consultant). We really need to develop businesses in town,” he said.

Moore continued, “Infra-structure is what I want to look at. The other thing I want to look at is I think we need to increase our police and fire protection.”

He also said, “I love this town and the people. I want to be an advocate for them. That’s my goal.”

Rizelle Aaron is running for Ward 2, Position 2 against Alderman Sansing.

He said, “The main things we need to address are the things that were at the first forum — economic and industrial development, criminal justice as in a drug court, education and code enforcement. And I believe eminent domain should also be talked about.”

Sansing said, “The No. 1 issue has to do with economic development in Jacksonville. We have been shackled with the Pulaski County school district. We can see the end of that, the light at the end of the tunnel. The city council will not control the school district, but we will be ready to assist it. Some people have said, ‘why are we continuing with infrastructure construction?’ Even though the economy is deflated it’s a great time for the city to invest in its future. The interest rates are very low.”

Sansing said he has experience on the council and knows the city’s history, including what problems it has had in the past.

Mashburn said, “I just want everybody to know I’m there for them. I’m just a regular person like they are.”

Mary Twitty is running against Freddie Booker for Ward 4, Position 2.

She said, “My point is that I’m there for the people. I’m available. I’ll work not just for my ward, but for the whole city.”

Twitty said her husband describes her as a professional volunteer. She has been volunteering for 26 years.

Booker said she is going door-to-door during the campaign.

“I’ve got a feel for the issues people have. That’s the issue that I want to get across. I am their servant and they’re my customers. I’ll try to be their voice,” Booker said.

The chamber’s military and government affairs committee organized the forum.