Tuesday, October 16, 2012

TOP STORY >> Forum held at senior center

Leader staff writer

All nine Jacksonville aldermen candidates fielded a few questions and introduced themselves to a packed room of elderly residents at Tuesday morning’s forum hosted by the city’s senior wellness and activity center.

The candidates were asked how they would create jobs in the city, improve public safety, what the biggest problem in their wards are and how they would address those.

Jacksonville NAACP president Ivory Tillman asked what the candidates would do about noncompete clauses like the one that some worry drove Feastros, a struggling restaurant, out of town, and how they could prevent discrimination against such businesses.

The candidates are James Bolden III and Jim Moore for Ward 1, Position 2; Rizelle Aaron and Alderman Terry Sansing for Ward 2, Position 2; Barbara Mashburn for Ward 3, Position 2; Freddie Booker and Mary Twittyfor Ward 4, Position 2, and Alderman Bill Howard and Roger Sundermeier Jr. for Ward 5, Position 2.

All of them endorsed neighborhood watches as a good way to improve pubic safety and said recruiting companies to locate in Jacksonville will create jobs. Flooding, parking and youth activities were highlighted as some of the biggest concerns.

Bolden said he would “get my fellow board members to look at the budget to see what we can do to recruit more jobs, even if they’re low-paying jobs, because at least we’d be keeping people employed.”

He also said the city needs more qualified police officers.

Bolden said he spoke with the landlord about the non-compete clause concerning Feastros and he spoke with the restaurant’s owner. He said the owner signed a contract with that clause and that ties the city’s hands.

He added that, “It was not racially motivated. It was business motivated.”

Bolden also said that he has always been an advocate for Jacksonville public schools.

Moore said, “One of the things we need to do is work closely with the chamber of commerce along with any other outside organization that would help bring jobs into the city. If we want to see it grow then we need to work very feverishly to increase the job market here in Jacksonville so that more people will move in and become citizens of our great community.”

Moore said, “Safety and security are two of the utmost things a city should provide to its residents.”

Both candidates said flooding is the biggest problem in their section of the city, which includes the Stonewall subdivision.

Moore said he would continue to work with the street department to resolve that issue and Bolden said he would get involved to make sure drainage projects get done.

Sansing said the city has to be attractive to businesses in order to create jobs.

“One of the ways you do that is that you have and enforce community standards so that when visitors come the city looks neat, tidy and receptive,” he said.

Sansing added that Jacksonville has recently acquired land off Hwy. 67/167 for companies. He said the chamber of commerce is being used for industrial development and a professional is helping with retail development.

He mentioned that the police and fire training facility will be completed in December. He said increasing the city’s sales tax would also pay additional police officers and firefighters.

Sansing said flooding is an issue in his ward. He said, “It is something that the city will have to continue working on. Drainage is some of the most extensive and expensive projects you can put in.”

Sansing also said, “I have served faithfully on city council for over 20 years. This experience is valuable on the city council. Some have said the city is not working for the people. What do you think of the new safe room that’s under construction here?

“I think that’s a very good sign of the city working for you. Jacksonville is a clean, safe, friendly and financially sound city that is uniquely positioned for positive change. This didn’t happen by accident. The future looks very bright. The city council’s ability to work constructively together has been very instrumental.”

According to Sansing and Howard, it is illegal for the city to get involved in a private landlord’s noncompete clause and that same landlord allegedly kept Chick-Fil-A from coming to Jacksonville.

Aaron said, about economic and industrial development, “It’s not a matter of just making the city look pretty. We have to give businesses incentives to come here. One thing we’re falling short on is education.

“We have to provide for the workforce that businesses can use to come here. There are too many businesses in town that are just fast food. And that’s fine. The problem with that is it doesn’t provide good pay or benefits.”

He also said Police Chief Gary Sipes is doing a great job training officers and bringing diversity to that department.

“We have to give the youth someone to look up to,” Aaron said.

Regarding the noncompete clause question, he said, “We need to be careful of saying what we can’t do. There’s nothing wrong with us having a conversation with landlords.”

In his ward, Aaron said, “Teenagers need something to do.”

He added that city transportation would help the youth get to the programs designed for them.

Aaron also mentioned that seniors need a safer way to get to Dollar General from the new apartments at Loop and Military Roads because they are crossing the street in wheelchairs and that is a blind spot for many drivers.

He also said Jacksonville needs more than one accomplishment every four years and the council has to be transparent.

Mashburn, who is unopposed, said, “We as citizens have to take responsibility.”

She said the city has to be clean and safe.

She said, “I think every resident in Jacksonville needs to take responsibility and start a neighborhood watch. That’s how we can take care of each other.”

Booker said, “Working with the chamber and bringing new people in with new ideas would be a great way to bring in jobs.”

She said, “We need to be better neighbors” to improve public safety.

Booker also said, “I’m fully for the education here for all our children. I am fully for the safety of the elderly people here because I am now a senior citizen and I would like more things in this city for our senior citizens.”

Twitty said, “We need to continue doing what we’re doing right now, keeping Jacksonville beautiful.”

She said residents could help improve public safety. “If you see something that doesn’t belong, call the local police. That’s what they’re here for,” Twitty said.

She said parking has been a concern in her ward, but after talking to code enforcement officers, she has learned that parking on the street is a safety issue as it can prevent emergency vehicles from getting where they need to be.

Howard said, “Education is a very important thing. You need a workforce.”

He also mentioned the police and fire training facility and that the city’s administration has cut $1 million out of the budget for that building.

Howard said traffic has been a problem and the new turning signal going in a Vandenberg Boulevard will help alleviate that.

He also said, “Jacksonville has always been home to me. I’ve been retired 15 years and I think that has given me an advantage. I’ve been able to spend a lot of that time on city business. A lot of people have to do this as a part-time job.”

Sundermeier said about creating more jobs, “It’s not as easy as it seems. We need to make sure we’re getting the right fit, not just the first fit.”

He explained that Jackson-ville is landlocked and the city has to make sure it is providing businesses what they need to locate here.

Sundermeier pointed to his grandmother in the back of the room as an example of how to improve public safety.

He said, “It’s that sense of community. She has a close group of friends that looks out for one another. We have a phenomenal police department.”

Sundermeier said the city could help business owners find better locations in Jacksonville if landlords or noncompete clauses force them to move.

He also said, “I’ve got huge ideas, but I can’t do anything about them without your support. New ideas, new approaches and people questioning things are a good thing. That’s when the best solutions come to pass.”