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Meet your mayoral candidates!

Second ‘ Quality Community’ forum gives political hopefuls a platform to present their plans, answer quesions

news@theeveningtimes.com

Five candidates for the West Memphis Mayor convened last Thursday for the second in a series of community forums being put on by the Coalition for a Quality Crittenden County.

Mayor Bill Johnson has served the city in that capacity since 1999, faced opposition every time he has run, and will not seek reelection this November.

Candidates aspiring to fill the open office responded to questions from community representatives primarily centered on crime, education and economic development. Most of the mayoral hopefuls came with city council experience including, in the order of introduction at the event, Wayne Croom, Marco Mc-Clendon, Ramona Taylor, Herman Coleman. Local businessman Fred Leonard joined the panel as the only government “outsider” in the discussion.

Spectators at the First Missionary Baptist Church enjoyed the format which included each candidate briefly introducing themselves including their qualifications and hopes for the city, and a single question for each candidate from the community with a chance for any candidate to also answer and a rebuttal by the candidate who fielded the initial question. The crowd reacted positively to the lively exchange.

County Judge Woody Wheeless was an interested onlooker in the audience.

“I think it was great,” said Wheeless. “I commend anyone wanting to run for office. That is what its all about, if you don’t like the way things are going, be a part of the solution and run for office, and be elected and implement ideas. I love this concept.”

Retired school teacher and County NAACP officer Rubye Johnson noted all the candidates exuded love and concern for West Memphis.

“I loved the diversity of the crowd,” said Johnson.

“I think all the candidates love the city and are really concerned. They all had ideas, we need to decide who can actually produce.”

Candidates were called on for closing remarks in the reverse order of introduction. Insurance man Fred Leonard concluded saying education was the key to addressing poverty, crime, and economic growth.

“I care for and am committed to all the citizens of West Memphis,” said Leonard. “I want a better living environment for my, children and your children alike. We need to focus on education. We are doing a great job in our school system. We have to get better in education, community progress and economic development will follow.

There is a great correlation with education or the lack there of with poverty, gangs and crime. Twenty or thirty years down the road we will have needed something sustainable, not just feelgood ideas. Former City Councilman, insurance and real estate entrepreneur Rev. Herman Coleman said the planning and development office made it tough on citizens wanting to make home and building improvements in the city. He was frank with a personal assessment of a racially divided city and concluded with his solutions.

“In order to solve a problem, you need to realize you have one,” said Coleman. “As mayor the first thing I would do would be to call a coalition of eight people from each (race) all across the city to recognize we have a problem and bring solutions,” said Coleman. “People at city hall have to be customer/citizen oriented and not act like people already owe them something. We are paying their salaries. It’s as simple as that. We need a group of citizens to teach our people who they are, The ones not in school anymore, the ones shooting houses, we need to touch their lives and let them know they are important also.” Ramona Taylor saw vast opportunity and touted her experience as a key to procuring city grants, develop roads and public transit and promoted common sense approach to solving violent crime.

“We have lots of opportunity.” said Taylor. “I think my experience working with the Arkansas Department of Health and Crittenden Regional Hospital prepared me to look at health care as an economic development tool. It’s community development for us as well as it attracts other businesses into the community. The new mayor needs to be familiar with these opportunities and how to take advantage of them.

Crime is key. We need to do everything we can. It is up to us, if you see something, say something. We need to take advantage of grant opportunities. I know how to search them out and find other people’s money to grow and improve our community.”

Marco McClendon indicated the need to aim higher.

“It’s time to do something different,” said McClendon. “We have a most impressive economic development office already shooting for major industry here. We need to hold our head high as one city united, not one city divided. On crime I’m talking to everybody, talking to gang members, talking to young men getting truth. I don’t mind getting my hands dirty to end crime. Sky cops protect our community. I helped start the gun buy back program.” Wayne Croom shot at established politicians and pointed to a lack of a city development plan. He cited his business leadership experience. He said those in office for 16 years had had their chance to make improvements.

“As a new councilman, the first thing I asked the city for was to see the short term and long-term plan for the city,” said Croom. “We didn’t have one, we still don’t have one. Now there is the grow 2040 to set the plans for our city. Again, it’s 2018 and we don’t have plans for our city. I’m not running against anybody.

I’m running to make sure West Memphis delivers a spark to our community.

We have some good things, the port and rail being developed on Riceland Dr., and other development sites. We want our city to be a better city. To do that it will take more than the mayor and the city council.”

Judge Wheeless felt interest in local elections was building.

“I believe you’ll see more people out here talking to the candidates,” said Wheeless.

More meet the candidate opportunities were scheduled by the Coalition for a Quality Crittenden County and another group too.

The voters on hand took an online survey to help identify key issues for the next candidates forum and took a straw poll for the mayor race. Those results were set to be announced at the next panel discussion, August 30, at Victory Church.

The East Arkansas Realtors Association has two events for the public to meet and hear the candidates. A meet and greet for all county candidates was set for October 9, at ASUMid South. The Realtors also committed to moderate a mayoral debate right before the election with the particulars yet to be announced.

By John Rech

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