Candidates talk issues facing city at political forum

Josh Presley

Election Day for West Point for the will be the May 2 primary, and citizens got a chance to see what their candidates were all about during Thursday evening’s meet and greet political forum. The forum, which took place in Sally Kate Winters Park, was hosted by the Clay County Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
Candidates for mayor and city selectmen were on hand to present their viewpoints and goals for West Point in the next four years. Each candidate was given 10 minutes to speak, with some taking longer than others to present their platform.
Mayoral candidates Homer Ryland and incumbent Mayor Robbie Robinson both stressed the need for jobs and education.
Robinson said that one of his primary goals when first running for mayor in 2013 was the create jobs, and that he would continue to try to provide work for those who wanted it. He cited the opening of Yokohama Tire and Plum Creek, as well as the various other businesses that have popped up on Highway 45, as evidence of his and the current board’s success.
Ryland agreed that jobs for West Point residents was a key issue, but stressed that they needed to be the right kind of jobs.
“We need the kind of jobs where people can go in, take a drug test and start to work without all the red tape,” Ryland said.
He also said that education was an important issue in light of the West Point Consolidated School District’s D rating.
“There’s no reason our kids should have a D rating for the school district and an F rating at (Fifth Street) Junior High,” Ryland said.
Robinson said there were projects put in place and needed infrastructure improvements in the city that he would like to see through to the end.
“Our greatest challenge is that we have a very antiquated sewer system,” Robinson said. “We’re getting ready to start a project on Churchill Road within the next 12 months. We don’t have an exact cost but it will probably cost up to $200,000.”
In the race for Ward 1 Selectman, Jimmy Davidson, Leta Turner and incumbent Linda Hannah were on hand for the forum. Hannah discussed the reduced unemployment in the city since four years ago, and said she wished to establish some sort of facility for youth in the community.
Turner also said she wished for a youth enrichment program, as well as a program for the elderly. She also said she wished to bring about a sense of urgency to economic development in West Point.
Another issue Turner mentioned was utility rates. She said there was a unanimous decision in September 2016 to increase utility rates in the city.
Davidson said street improvements were a big issue in Ward 1, and that he would work to bring new jobs and industry to the city. He also said he would oppose any new unnecessary taxes.
In the Ward 3 Selectman race, incumbent Jimmy Clark said the city needed to be operated like a business.
“When you do something, you’ve got to have money,” Clark said. “You’ve got to run the city like a business, and you’ve got to bring in more than you spend.”
Clark’s opponent, Ken Poole, was not present for the meet and greet, but a representative for Poole said that he believed there was a need for the people’s voice to be heard, but that Poole was not content to simply be the voice of the people.
In the race for Ward 5 Selectman, Latrenda Fenton, Jasper Pittman and incumbent Gary Dedeaux provided the most variety of topics for the meet and greet.
Fenton discussed the need for economic development, an upgrade in utility pipes, lowering utility rates and community enhancement.
“Your needs and concerns are my needs and concerns,” Fenton said. “It’s not about me. It’s about the city of West Point.”
Pittman said that the city’s recent economic growth was a positive, but questioned the benefit to the taxpayers. He also said taxpayers should see benefits all year long, and not just around election time.
Dedeaux praised the current board, citing the board’s decision to cut it’s own salaries and insurance benefits due to selectman being a part time position. He also said the city’s utility rates were reasonable, and comparable to those of Columbus, while being lower than 4-County.
Each of the candidates discussed education in some form or fashion, and Dedeaux said the State of Mississippi cut school funding in recent years.
“The industry we’ve brought in has more than made up for that budget cut,” he said.
Ward 2 Selectman William Binder and Ward 4 Selectman Keith McBrayer will be unopposed on Election Day, but both were on hand for the forum. Binder and McBrayer both said they looked forward to serving West Point for four more years.
For anyone who missed Thursday’s forum, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority will host a candidate forum beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday in the upstairs conference room at City Hall.
A link to a survey gathering questions for this forum can be found on the unofficial City of West Point Facebook page.
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