Tuesday, September 30, 2014

EDITORIAL >> Questions for debate

Pat O’Brien will moderate the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce’s debate between Mayor Gary Fletcher and former Police Chief Gary Sipes at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 14 at the Jacksonville Community Center.

O’Brien is a Jacksonville native, an attorney, a former Pulaski County Clerk and school board member. There’s no better choice for the job — he is respected in the community and is not seen as too close to the chamber or the candidates.

In 2012, when several aldermen were running for re-election in contested races, the chamber held a candidates forum that focused almost exclusively on the city’s out-of-state economic developer.

Many of the candidates then seemed caught off guard, and even uninterested by the subject. One memorably struggled to get a word in about street lights, a bread-and-butter issue of municipal government.

At the time, the chamber, which lost some of its funding when the city hired Rickey Hayes’ Retail Attractions of Owasso, Okla., to recruit businesses, felt it was brushed aside.

But, after five years with Hayes, whose accomplishments have been limited and who has been paid about $250,000, the chamber is probably feeling less threatened by him. (We’ve suggested many times Hayes should be fired and the community should unite on more ambitious pursuits.)

The chamber hasn’t recently recruited many major businesses to the area either. But its most prominent members did successfully work to have Jacksonville break away from the Pulaski County Special School District.

It’s a major accomplishment. A local school district will boost Jacksonville’s community in a way that dozens of big-box stores wouldn’t.

O’Brien won’t make the mistake of focusing too much on Hayes v. Chamber. He also understands most residents aren’t too concerned about that divide and there are other issues that should be explored.

So, while he is focused on writing his questions, here are a few of our own to help him brainstorm.

For Mayor Fletcher:

You’ve asked the community to give Rickey Hayes more time to allow him to close a variety of deals he’s working on. What is a reasonable timeline for him to produce tangible results before the city should cancel his contract?

For Sipes:

You’ve complained about the noise problems coming from the city’s $3.2 million shooting range. Are your neighbors planning to file a lawsuit against the city related to that problem? If so, would you also be a plaintiff? How would a suit like that affect the city’s finances?

For both candidates:

Describe the state of the city’s budget problems and how you will improve them.

With the city’s budget stretched to the limits, how can you accomplish goals like fixing roads, demolishing dilapidated buildings and improving parks?

Hwy. 67/167 seems to be the sole target of business development plans. How can the city help improve downtown and other areas?

As mayor, how will you help inject some community pride, enthusiasm and a sense of fun into civic life?

We will leave it at that for now.