Pelham candidates talk issues at debate

Pelham’s runoff candidates faced questions from the city’s electorate at a town hall debate Tuesday at Valley Intermediate School.

The debate drew more than 300 people, according to coordinator David Ladewig.

Prior to the debate, the candidates were sent a list of 54 questions touching on a variety of issues. However, the candidates did not know which questions would be asked of them. Each candidate was alloted 60 seconds to respond.

Ron Scott of the Economic Development Association of Alabama served as moderator while a three-person panel questioned the candidates. Panelists were Bill “Bubba” Bussey of the “Rick and Bubba Show,” Alabama State Representative Mary Sue McClurkin and Brian Peters of ABC 33/40.

The candidates’ responses are outlined below:

Mayoral candidates

If elected, Don Murphy said his first order of duty would be an audit of city funds.

“My immediate priority is making sure there’s sound financial footing and keep it that way because without sound financial footing there’s nothing, everything goes down,” Murphy said.

Murphy also addressed the city’s floodplain management, saying it takes a coordinated effort among city, county and army corps engineers to insure adequate flood drainage in residential areas.

Murphy was asked whether it would be a good idea to move City Council meetings outside City Hall to boost citizen participation.

“I’d like to make it a welcoming place for you to come because it is your City Hall,” Murphy said, “but our business needs to be transacted at City Hall.”

Murphy’s opponent, Gary Waters, talked of his business recruitment goals.

“Retaining the businesses we have should be priority number one,” Waters said.

Waters then introduced the idea of a business council — a community of business leaders whose mission would be to create economic growth and strong community.

Waters was asked how he would partner with the city of Helena to alleviate traffic congestion at the Highway 31/Highway 52 junction.

“You can partner with anybody but it’s not going to change the fact that we don’t have the funding,” Waters said. “When we are presented with in the spring of 2010 with the Shelby County Traffic Initiative, I’m going to try to use my influence any way I can to get everyone to support that initiative.

Waters later opposed the idea of term limits for elected officials.

“I believe every time you have the opportunity to go to the polls, that’s your way of conveying who you want in office and when you want them in office and when you want them to leave office,” Waters said. “We’ve always had a choice.”

Place 1 candidates

Incumbent Rosemary Metcalf’s first question concerned a review of road usage. Metcalf said the city has no control over some roads because they’re state-owned. However, she is in favor of conducting a feasibility study to examine thoroughfares.

On luring a two-year of four-year college to Pelham, Metcalf said, “We have so many [colleges] surrounding us, I don’t think we need that. I’m not sure that’s something Pelham needs at this time.”

On reviewing employee salaries and benefits, Metcalf said she’s in favor of a review every four to six years.

“We need to look at other cities and keep ourselves one notch above other cities to keep our employees because we have wonderful employees,” Metcalf said.

Metcalf’s opponent, Teresa Nichols, is in favor of hiring a grant specialist for the city, but the position must be filled by a well-seasoned candidate.

“Hire someone with experience and a proven record,” Nichols said. “Someone who has written grants and been awarded grants.”

If elected, Nichols plans to launch an extensive marketing campaign by building a strong portfolio for Pelham outsiders.

“We need to put ads in national magazines. We need to get the word out about the good things going on,” Nichols said.

On community unity, Nichols suggested the city expand its July 4 celebration to include more family activities and fireworks.

Place 2 candidates

Incumbent Mike Dickens was unable to attend the debate due to a prior business engagement in Charlotte, N.C.

Dickens’ wife, Jody, apologized on her husband’s behalf and urged the audience to contact Dickens if they have any questions.

Incumbent Willard Payne was asked what he would do to ease traffic on Highway 31. Payne said he would garner suggestions from colleagues and citizens and meet with the Alabama Department of Transportation to forge solutions.

Payne also expressed his support for school-based programs like DARE, and talked about what the city has done to secure water sources for the future. Payne noted the drilling of new wells, the construction of excessive water storage facilities and the city’s ability to transfer water from one well to another.

Place 3 candidates

Beth McMillan, was asked what she would do to further promote the “Shop Pelham” campaign. She said she would promote the campaign in the city’s newsletter and post a link on the city’s Web site so visitors will “find a company that offers what you are looking for.”

McMillan said she opposes city treasury rebates, and would use those monies to lower city debt and assist needed programs.

On a lighter note, Bussey asked McMillan what her favorite song is. She responded, “I really don’t have a favorite song, but I listen to WZZK.” The audience roared with laughter.

McMillan’s opponent, Bill Meadows, wants to create more recreational opportunities.

“There’s a plan called the state comprehensive outdoor recreation plan and when this plan comes out, I would hope the city of Pelham will do a city comprehensive outdoor recreation plan. That way we can identify those needs,” Meadows said.

Meadows also described how he would evaluate school requests for funding. He referenced The Pelham Education Foundation, a non-profit organization in Pelham, N.Y. that funds educational programs that are outside of the annual school budget and awards grants for projects that enriches the academic curriculum.

“I want to see an education foundation go outside the state to big companies and obtain matching grants,” Meadows said.

Place 5 candidates

On city-to-city relationships, Incumbent Karyl Rice said Pelham’s relationship with neighboring cities “are very good.” She referred to the now-defunct Shelby County Roundtable, a coming together of Shelby County leaders to foster camraderie.

“I think it would be a good idea to start that back,” Rice said.

Incumbent Karyl Rice was asked whether she would call for regular reviews of city ordinances. She said, “We’ve done it since I’ve been in office and it’s been done fairly regularly.”

On the city’s recreational facilities, Rice said the economic impact from Ballantrae Golf Club, Pelham Civic Complex and Pelham Racquet Club amounts to millions of dollars. Rice said the facilities’ future is strong and would see to their funding as needed.

Rice’s opponent, incumbent Bob Sullivan, was asked whether he would make the city budget transparent to citizens by posting it on the city’s Web site. He said, “I think it’s a great idea. It’d be great to have up on our computers to keep you involved.”

On regular evaluations of the city’s police and fire departments, Sullivan said both agencies are in tip-top shape and commended them for a job well done.

On illegal immigrant policy, Sullivan said, “We cannot do a whole lot about that. The best thing we can do now is what we are doing.”

Following the debate, audience members had mixed reviews.

Robin Wilkinson, a city employee, thought the debate went well.

“I was interested in what the candidates had to say about employee benefits, and as a city employee, it is a concern,” Wilkinson said.

Jason Holsomback lives in Alabaster, but attended the debate out of curiosity. He enjoyed the debate’s drama-free format.

“It was really organized and really controlled and [the candidates] weren’t yelling over each other,” Holsomback said.

Pelham resident Jim Lewis thought the candidates’ answers were more of the same.

“A lot of them didn’t answer the question they were asked,” Lewis said. “It’s a typical, political maneuver.”