City debt, possible taxes dominate forum

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Candidates for Greenville’s City Council were given the opportunity to state their intentions to the voting public at a political forum hosted by the Greenville Advocate Monday night.

The forum was held at the Greenville High School auditorium with each candidate from each district fielding two questions prepared by The Advocate.

Incumbent District 1 Councilwoman Susan Murphy and hopeful Jean Thompson began the forum by saying what they would do to keep the downtown area of Greenville an important area of business.

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Thompson said she would rely on public input for ideas on how to keep Commerce Street the heart of the city.

&uot;If elected to the District 1 seat one of the things I would like to do is form a committee,&uot; said Thompson. &uot;I would never know all the answers and by getting input from the people in the district you could get a broader idea of some of the answers.&uot;

Thompson also said she would encourage citizens to shop in their hometown rather than travelling to Montgomery or Birmingham.

&uot;I have always encouraged citizens to shop at home,&uot; said Thompson. &uot;I’m a supporter of shopping at home. I do that and encourage everyone else to do it too.&uot;

Murphy said she is already a member of organizations that strive to keep downtown alive and well.

&uot;I am a member of Main Street and support their efforts,&uot; said Murphy. &uot;Main Street’s work is to enhance the city of Greenville and the surrounding area. They have done a good job of that.&uot;

Murphy said while she has been on the council and through the years the city has allotted funds that help to make the revitalization of downtown much easier.

&uot;The City of Greenville currently gives Main Street $10,000 a year,&uot; said Murphy. &uot;With grants we have also gotten over $1 million in grants for downtown in the last 10 years. You can really see the difference that has made.&uot;

Murphy and Thompson were also asked what plans should be put into place to deal with the excess traffic that is building up.

Thompson said a long-term plan would help keep the problem at bay and stop future issues before they began.

&uot;I think the City of Greenville should have a five year and a 10-year plan and develop plans through the city council and input you receive,&uot; said Thompson. &uot;Traffic will come when people will come. When it does you just have to do something to move it.&uot;

Murphy said the council alone could not cure the traffic ills of the Bypass. Murphy said help from the state and Department of Transportation were needed.

&uot;The bypass is a state highway therefore the city alone can’t do anything,&uot; said Murphy. &uot;But I am aware that the mayor and Rep. Charles Newton have met with the DOT to make the bypass a four lane.&uot;

Murphy said though the traffic could be an annoyance it was also a sign of progress for the city.

&uot;I think it is exciting that we are seeing the type of growth to even be discussing it,&uot; said Murphy. &uot;It’s a sign of how this administration has worked hard to bring the city around and bring growth to our community.&uot;

Current District 2 Councilman Ed Sims and hopeful Percy Nixon were also given the chance to address the public.

Sims and Nixon were asked about the city’s current need for more affordable housing.

Nixon said this was a problem every thriving community faced and usually things worked themselves out.

&uot;I know every community needs affordable housing,&uot; said Nixon. &uot;The real estate people tell me the demand is increasing. Hopefully, our economic progress will generate enough income people so the housing problem will be taken care of by supply and demand.&uot;

Sims said it took people from all ends of the spectrum to solve this problem.

&uot;To develop housing you have to have people that own the land willing to turn it loose,&uot; said Sims. &uot;You also have to have developers come in that want to develop the land and build. The problem is not so much with the city and what they want to do as with the landowners and developers and what they are willing to do.&uot;

Sims and Nixon were also asked their opinions of the city’s services and what could be done to support them more. Both agreed they did an excellent job, but could always use more support.

&uot;I think the people that provide the services do an excellent job,&uot; said Nixon. &uot;They seem to be a little shy of having the capability of maintaining the level that was established a few years ago. As the population rises we will have to do what it takes to increase the capabilities of the departments.&uot;

Sims also felt the city services were second to none.

&uot;I think the city services for a town this size are outstanding,&uot; said Sims. &uot;Every time I have called a department head and asked for something it has gotten done. The only change I would make is to get them more help. But what we have for a city our size is outstanding.&uot;

District 3 candidates were asked about the possibility of increasing economic diversity. Each candidate was asked what could be done to accomplish this goal.

Current councilman Otto Duke said it all began with funding.

&uot;If you have the funds available that’s great,&uot; said Duke. &uot;If you don’t have the funds you can’t do anything. I think everyone knows that. The funds have to be there first.&uot;

District 3 hopeful Phillip Graham said population played a large role.

&uot;It all depends on the population and the employment the population has,&uot; said Graham. &uot;If a city is an inviting place for business they will come. I never thought it was the duty of the city to try to increase the economic diversity. The city is responsible for providing a police department, water, fire department and city services. There is nothing wrong with the city inviting businesses to come, but it is more prudent for the city to work on things like affordable housing.&uot;

Tommy Ryan, another District 3 hopeful, said the incoming industry could provide an excellent opportunity to accomplish diversity.

&uot;I always thought the area that is going to be developed at Wal-Mart from exit to exit would be a good opportunity,&uot; said Ryan. &uot;I think it is an outstanding opportunity to move us forward economically.&uot;

The candidates were also asked what they would do to reach out to the residents of the city.

Duke said he preferred a personal approach.

&uot;You can do it by word of mouth or by newspaper or radio ads,&uot; said Duke. &uot;To me the word of mouth is the best because you can look them in the face and get their ideas. If you look at them and talk to them they will tell you more in person than any other way.&uot;

Graham said he was very familiar with the people of his district and hoped they felt they could depend on him.

&uot;Everybody in my district knows me and they don’t mind telling me what they want,&uot; said Graham. &uot;They call me at home and see me at my place of business. If people know you and they are comfortable with you they have no trouble telling you what they want. I’m sure the people of Greenville will be happy to tell me and I will ask them questions.&uot;

Ryan said he would like to meet with the people of his district to allow them input.

&uot;I’ve always thought a quarterly meeting with the people of my district to discuss the needs of the community would be good,&uot; said Ryan. &uot;That would be one way to reach out. Also, the public needs to know they have obligations to their community to do their part. I would certainly be available to anyone anytime to address issues.&uot;

With elections less than a week away the forum was geared toward giving the public a better idea of where each candidate stood.

However, Moderator Ralph Stacy let the audience know they could make a difference themselves.

Stacey said it all began by showing up at the polls Aug. 24.

&uot;If you don’t vote you can’t complain,&uot; said Stacy. &uot;It’s your responsibility to go to the polls and make your decision.&uot;