Mayoral, council candidates discuss Chelsea’s future
By KATIE MCDOWELL/Lifestyles Editor
Economic and residential development dominated Chelsea’s election forum Aug. 14 at the Chelsea High School auditorium.
Incumbent Mayor Earl Niven and challenger Kirk Pownall shared their vision for growth for the city to the crowd at the forum, which was sponsored by the South Shelby Chamber of Commerce and the Shelby County Reporter. SSCC President Donna Smelcer posed the same eight questions to each candidate, including commercial development, Highway 280 traffic and the city’s role in helping local business.
Niven, who has served as mayor for 16 years, highlighted the growth Chelsea has experienced during his tenure, including the installation of a $2.5 million water line, the development of the Chelsea Fire Department and the addition of numerous businesses.
“If you want to know what a person will do in the future, look at what he has done for you in the past,” he said.
Pownall said he would make economic development his top priority. He said he would rely on his experience and businesses connections developed as a realtor to promote the city to businesses and new residents.
“We have got to get economic development to get the tax dollars we need,” he said.
Pownall said commercial growth is necessary to address other needs, including residential growth and the creation of new recreational facilities and programs for youth and adults.
Niven also said he would make economic development his priority and said the city works with the South Shelby Chamber of Commerce and holds quarterly luncheons to support existing businesses.
“If you say that economic development in Chelsea has not been working, your eyes are closed,” he said.
Pownall said he would make the city of Chelsea more accessible to the public by improving the website, creating Facebook and Twitter accounts and livestreaming council meetings and planning sessions.
“We’ve got to be more proactive with the communication with the citizens,” he said.
Niven said the city updates the website regularly with council minutes, public notices and more.
When asked about the city’s new comprehensive plan, Pownall said he was unfamiliar with it, which he said was indicative of the city’s communication problems. He said he would have put the comprehensive plan online and streamed council discussions about it live on the city’s website.
Niven said the plan, which he called a “road map” to zoning in Chelsea, has been in development for some time and has been regularly discussed at public meetings.
“The way that you know about what’s going on in Chelsea is you come to the council meetings,” he said.
Following the mayoral session, the council candidates took the stage. The candidates were given two minutes each to share how they have served Chelsea in the past and their vision for the city in the future.
- Brian Horton said he served on the Chelsea Youth Club basketball board for two years and coached youth club baseball and basketball for seven years. He said he wants to serve on the council to help direct future growth and support youth sports programs.
- Incumbent Dale Neuendorf said he served as the director of the Chelsea COP program for three years. He said Chelsea needs to attract new businesses and build new facilities, including a community center for people of all ages.
- Will Lantrip said he has no political experience, but he loves people and the city of Chelsea. He said he would like to see some growth in the city, but he doesn’t want to go into debt for it.
- Incumbent Tony Picklesimer said he is a proponent of a “bond issue for capital improvements” to fulfill promises made to the public over the last eight years.
- Scott Weygand, a local business owner, said he helped write the city’s zoning plan and is a member of the Kiwanis Club. He said he would like to help “organize the growth of the city” by working with commercial property owners and land developers. “With a comprehensive plan for our commercial property, we can design a look that’s not so scattered,” he said, adding that national corporations should be recruited to locate in the city to “help broaden our tax base.”
- Incumbent Robert Barnes was a member of Chelsea’s volunteer fire department, coached softball in the youth leagues and sat on athletics board at high school. “I want to see Chelsea grow in the right ways,” he said. “I’m conservative … We want to have the best; we all do, but we need to do it in a way that keeps our city healthy.”
- David Ingram said he’s served as the commissioner of Chelsea baseball for three years and the treasurer of Chelsea youth club for the last two and a half years. “I’m running because I want to make a difference in the community that’s made a difference in my life,” he said.
- David Birdsong said he has worked with local youth sports teams and has a strong business background as the leader of a pharmaceutical sales team. “The most important thing is to serve you and to decide what are our wants and what are our needs,” he said.
- Incumbent Mike Denton said he would like to bring a business or commercial development complex to the city to generate more revenue.
- Alison Moore Nichols said her job as a school bus driver has made her knowledgeable about the area and its infrastructure needs. She said she wants to be a proactive member of the council.
- Incumbent Juanita Champion said during her terms she has spearheaded the city’s curbside and electronics recycling programs, annexed 105 houses, co-founded the Chelsea museum and worked on the city’s comprehensive plan and zoning regulations. “I have been very, very busy these last eight years, and I hope to continue to be busy … the next four years,” she said.
- Scott Weldon said he has lived in Chelsea since 2005 and has coached basketball, football and baseball. He said he decided to run because he wanted to see “representation from my generation” and he wants to see better communication from the local government.