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Stockbridge candidates voice opinions in forum

 

By Alex Welch
Assistant Editor   

  Candidates running for office in Stockbridge convened for a public forum last week at Merle Manders Conference Center, tackling issues from the implementation of a new police department to finding ways to stimulate economic development in the city.

  Eight of the 11 candidates who will appear on the November ballot were present for the forum. The evening opened with a question regarding the biggest challenge Stockbridge faces today. Mayoral candidate Vanessa Holiday started the round of answers by addressing transparency from the current city administration, a subject several others raised concerns about as well.

The panel of Stockbridge mayoral and city council candidates answer questions from media members and citizens during a public forum at Merle Manders Conference Center.

Photo by Alex Welch

  “The biggest challenge is the lack of transparency and the lack of community involvement,” said Holiday.

  Several mentions of a “lack of transparency” led straight into the next question about Stockbridge’s new police department, which proved to be the hot topic of the night. The entire panel, aside from Mayor Mark Alarcon, expressed concerns about taxes needed for a police department. The majority contented that the city had not discussed the topic enough with the public.

  When asked if the city should create a new police department, city council candidate Bruce Smith said, “No, because no public input was put into this decision. There are other issues that need to be addressed right now.”

  Mayoral candidate Houston Nelson thought Stockbridge citizens didn’t “know the depth of this direction” Alarcon was taking with the proposed department.

  “There is absolutely no way that we as citizens can afford this police department without paying a city tax,” said Nelson.

  Alarcon provided some statistics to the cost of the $3.2 million department, explaining that the city already pays for these services and could afford it through SPLOST grants, forfeitures and revenues, and several other outlets.

  “We need to put our police services back in our hands. It’s going to deliver better accountability and better response times,” said Alarcon.

  Employee morale became another topic with resounding concern. The panel of candidates in large agreed the morale has dropped among Stockbridge’s employees.

  “I was a city employee, and I can tell you morale is down,” said Lakeisha Gantt, a former solicitor and chairperson for the city’s Board of Ethics.

  Discussion of city spending provided a tense moment between Alarcon and mayoral candidate Tim Thompson toward the end of the night. Alarcon posed a question to the audience after several candidates spoke about overspending.

  “If we are overspending, then tell my why the year end budget had a $1.2 million surplus, and explain to me how we were able to cut this year’s budget by 3.3 percent while increasing services?” said Alarcon.

  “Mark, the simple truth is you’re dead wrong,” said Thompson.

  As the audience started to laugh at Thompson’s comment, Alar-con replied by asking, “Excuse me, are we going to keep on point? I’m going to call a point of order.”

  Thompson said spending has increased 49 percent over the last few years, but information about the budget hasn’t been published on the city’s website in months.

  “You need to make sure the citizens understand what their money’s being spent for ahead of time,” said city council candidate Anthony Ford, addressing a question about whether spending is an issue in Stockbridge.

  The forum from Oct. 10 can be viewed on the city’s website.

 

 

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