Wednesday, October 22, 2014

TOP STORY >> Fletcher, Sipes: They both won

Leader staff writer

“My supporters think I won the debate,” said Jacksonville mayoral candidate Gary Sipes, the city’s former police chief, “And I’m sure the mayor’s supporters think he won.”

Both Sipes and Mayor Gary Fletcher were asked about their thoughts on the one and only debate between the two candidates held last week at the community center.

The mayor said that, overall, he was pleased. “I received really good feedback. People said I did better than I thought I did,” Fletcher said.

“Personally, I felt hampered by the time restraints. There just wasn’t time to respond back to claims made,” Fletcher said. “I would have liked it if we had had another minute each to respond. Time goes by quickly up there on stage. But we both agreed to the rules of the debate.”

Sipes agreed, saying there was a lot that didn’t get said. “But overall, the debate went well.”

The challenger said it was his first debate. “I’m not a politician, and I’m very critical of myself. I wish I had some prior training in debating.”

He went on to say that there were some distractions. “It’s a shame some acted like children,” Sipes, said, referring to certain audience members, not Fletcher. “The mayor and I are not arch enemies.”

Sipes continued, “I tried hard to stick to the points.”

Fletcher would have liked to have had more time to respond to Sipes’ claim that the city was $12 million in debt.

“The city is financially sound. Cities go into debt to accomplish projects and then pay off the debt.” The mayor likened it to most people who go into debt to buy a house and then pay it off. “Why is that OK for the individual, but not the city?”

Fletcher said part of the $12 million debt includes the library, which is being paid off by a tax voted on by the residents. And the cost of the new automated garbage trucks and containers are being paid off with the rates, he said.

Fletcher said that leaves the shooting range, the new radio system (required by the state) and the public safety building.

He added that the total indebtness of the city may be $12 million, but Cabot is at $39 million and Fort Smith is at $30 million. “I don’t know of a city that is trying to grow that is not in debt. We are investing in the city.”

One point Sipes has made that he didn’t make during the debate is that the mayor has been in city politics for 36 years. “It’s time for a change,” the former police chief said, adding, “We’ve got to be able to say no when we don’t have the money.”

Sipes said he wanted to make it clear that he would have public hearings to give citizens opportunities to voice their opinions.

With early voting starting, both candidates have supporters and signs out near the community center, the city’s site for early voting through Friday, Oct. 31. Residents may also early vote at the Pulaski County Administration Building in downtown Little Rock.

Sipes said there are still a number of events he will be attending and speaking at, plus he’s going door to door.

Fletcher is doing likewise. “Unfortunately, I’m not knocking on as many doors as I’d like. I don’t have the luxury of that time because I’ve got a job to do. I’ve been the mayor for five years now, and people know if I’m doing a good job.”