The candidates speakPublished 10:11pm Thursday, August 2, 2012
Atmore residents got a chance to hear directly from candidates for municipal and county offices Thursday night when the Leadership Atmore Alumni Association hosted their Candidates Forum at The Club.
Mayoral candidates Lloyd Albritton, Jim Staff and Bernard Bishop were the finale for the evening that included an array of candidates, each answering questions submitted by the general public.
Prior to the question and answer portion of the forum, each candidate was given three minutes to give the audience background information and ideas about their particular platforms.
“We desperately need change in this town,” Albritton told the crowd. “Jim Staff is the status quo candidate in this race. I am the candidate of change.”
Bishop also talked about changes in Atmore’s government, saying he felt the town is “on the cusp of a revolution.”
“We need new, fresh economic development,” he said. “Job creation is a top priority for me.”
Longtime city councilman Jim Staff was criticized by Albritton, who said Staff has become complacent. Staff himself said he is simply acknowledging what has been done right, while looking for new ways to move Atmore forward.
“There are great things happening,” Staff said. “I have been, and want to continue to, work to improve our city.”
Candidates for the offices on Atmore’s city council, as well as Escambia County’s circuit court, school board, District 7, county commissioner, District 4, and probate judge were also present at Thursday’s forum.
Neither incumbent Webb Nall, or challenger Chad Thrower was able to present at Thursdays forum to represent the race in District 1 and incumbent Cornell Torrence, in District 2, was also absent. District 2 challenger Theodore McNeal was present for the forum and said he feels the people should be more involved in Atmore’s government.
“The people’s voices need to be heard throughout the county,” McNeal said. “We will work towards what the people want.”
In response to a question concerning possible changes he might support concerning the size and salary of the municipal work force, McNeal said, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
Chris Walker, the sole candidate for District 3, expressed gratitude for his opportunity to spend the last four year’s on the council, and said he was excited for the chance to serve four more.
In District 4, candidates Susan Smith, Larry Houck and Phil Johnson were present to voice their plans for the city as they each vie to replace longtime councilman John Garrard, who chose not to run for re-election.
“As a community, we’re not going to get any better until we start working together,” Smith said in response to a question concerning Atmore’s relationship with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. “I was raised in a family that believed that you get involved with community,” she said. “I truly believe I can make a difference here.”
Houck, a retired businessman, veteran and native of Atmore, said he decided to run for city council because of his love for his home town and his desire to see it grow economically.
Houck also pointed to his success in both business and the military.
“I’ve made critical decisions in the boardroom and on the battlefield,” Houck said.
Johnson, who joined the race just before qualifying, said he has been told he does not have a chance to win. He said he does not believe that. In response to a question concerning crime, Johnson pointed to venues like the Greater Escambia Council for the Arts, which he directs, as a way to keep Atmore’s youth occupied and off the streets.
“Young people just need opportunities,” Johnson said. “We don’t just have to reduce crime. We have to reduce the motivation to commit crime.”
In District 5, the most contested race for city council, Michael Arnold, Gregg Akins, Sandra Gray and Chris Harrison took the stage.
Both Harrison and Akins pointed to their long time status as businesspeople as a check in the plus column.
“I have run a salon in Atmore for some 27 years,” Akins said.
Harrison said he has gained pertinent management skills as the 11-year transportation manager at Tigersul Industries.
Gray said she feels unity is the most important factor in improving Atmore, including reducing crimes such as the recent shooting death of her nephew.
Arnold, an employee of both the Alabama Department of Corrections and the Escambia County Sheriff’s Department said his background in law enforcement will bring strength to the city council, but also said there are positions on Atmore’s police force that should be cut to aid in budget issues.
“There are some positions in the police department where some people are holding them and that money could be going somewhere else,” he said.
Countywide seats up for election were also represented at Thursday’s forum. In the hunt of the seat on the Escmabia County Board of Education for District 7, incumbent Chuck Brooks and Coleman Wallace squared off on the stage.
Brooks, who voted last month to terminate the employment of long time band director John Lambert for having a handgun on campus, was questioned about the decision. Brooks did not address Lambert, who was present at the forum, by name, but said he feels the board made the correct decision. In the wake of the firing the board has come under significant fire from the public, many of which supported the former instructor.
“You have to look at various angles,” he said. “It creates a dangerous situation. The question I had was what if a child had gotten a hold of the gun. I will continue to support the zero tolerance policy.”
Wallace, a 20-year educator, said his vision for the school board is one of compassion.
“Every child needs to know they are loved,” Wallace said. “I will show compassion to the least, the last and the lost in this community. It’s all about the children.”
Representing the race for county commission, District 4 incumbent Brandon Smith and former District 4 commissioner Junior Hall took center stage and both candidates sounded off on the controversial situation surrounding a legal dispute between PCI and the commission.
“First of all,” Smith, who has fought the commission’s actions against PCI, said in response to a question concerning the economy, “leave PCI alone.”
Hall said he did not feel as if he had enough information to make a decision on the matter, but voiced his concern over tarnishing the county’s relationship with the tribe. Conversely, Hall said he has concerns about county workers losing their jobs should PCI be able to annex more land into trust in the future.
In the hunt for probate judge, incumbent Emilie Mims and Doug Agerton were on hand. Each candidate expressed a familiarity with the office. Mims, serving as the current probate judge, and Agerton, whose mother once held the office, both said they know the ins and outs of what must be done to be successful.
Finally, Becki Breckinridge and John David Fountain were present Thursday to voice their desire to replace Ken Taylor as Escambia County’s circuit clerk.
“This is a position where I can utilize my business skill and my education,” Breckinridge said.
Fountain said his current position as a juvenile probation officer gives him valuable experience in a job with similar responsibilities.
Fountain also said he is concerned over the current “budget crisis,” the county is facing and would make eliminating that problem priority number one.