Mayoral candidates prepare to answer questions at Monday's debate at Union Missionary Baptist Church.
Albany The four people who have publicly announced desires to be the city’s next mayor explained their platforms to some church members Monday in the first public debate of the 2011 race.
Business owner B.J. Fletcher, Commissioner Dorothy Hubbard, Entrepreneur Kirk Smith and former state representative John White each fielded questions related to the four largest facets of city government: public works, public safety, recreation and finance during the two-hour long event Monday at Union Missionary Baptist Church.
For most of the night, the candidates each answered the same question and their answers often weren’t far apart.
Fletcher pitched recreational programs that would do more to increase parental involvement, as did Hubbard.
White urged renewed focus on keeping police officers employed and well trained with the Albany Police Department, as did Smith, who advocated more police in what he called a “military-type” task force to focus on violent crimes and drug activity.
Here’s the breakdown:
When it comes to recreation, Fletcher said that the city needed programs that would connect youth with community organizations, religious groups and their parents.
She said the city needs to “use it or lose it” when it comes to the civic center through having more events or letting a private developer operate it.
Fletcher said that the city needs to support its police and fire chiefs and to work to build cooperation among city and county public safety officials. She also supported the formation and operation of neighborhood watch groups.
On Albany Water, Gas & Light issues, Fletcher said that she would be a watchdog of the utility, but asked the public to help with issues like where best to place streetlights and security lights by calling 311.
On public works issues, Fletcher said she would keep issues like SPLOST funding for storm water drainage improvements and sidewalk repairs and installation on the agenda “until it gets done.”
In talking about her support of Albany State University, Fletcher made her first gaff of the night, saying that after she went to homecoming one year she was “covered in purple,” which drew reactions from the crowd. ASU’s colors are royal blue and old gold.
Fletcher pledged to focus on reinvigorating the retail and tourism sectors of the economy along with manufacturing and industrial recruitment and working with businesses to offer “good jobs” so that people don’t have to have multiple jobs to put food on the table.
The last question of the night for Fletcher came from former city commissioner Henry Mathis, who was one of two people asking questions, who asked about Fletcher’s recent speech to a Tea Party group in Lee County and how she could balance her affiliation with the group and still be mayor of a predominantly black town.
Fletcher said she wasn’t a member of the Tea Party and had merely been asked to come speak to the group, just as she had been asked to participate in Monday’s debate.
“The topic of that event was “Why should we care about Albany?” and so the first thing I asked them how many worked in Albany or Dougherty County and 50 percent raised their hands,” she said. “That right there is why they should care.”
Fletcher said that she wasn’t a member of any party, and said that she wouldn’t stand for racism in any form.
Hubbard said that recreational programs could be improved through better communication with community agencies and organizations and said she would work to better publicize programs to groups like churches.
To make the civic center better, Hubbard said that she would take a look at how other cities like Tallahassee and Columbus operate their civic centers and consider modeling a program after cities that have enjoyed success.
On the sports park question, Hubbard said that state laws strictly govern how SPLOST dollars are spent and that the major question is where to put the center — a question she said she would pose to the citizens.
On public safety, Hubbard said that the city needs to make sure its pay scale is competitive to prevent losing officers and to continue improving technology for officers and training. She also referenced her votes as a commissioner in support of the formation of the city’s gang task force, increased funding for code enforcement and the purchase of new technology to make police more efficient.
Regarding street lights, Hubbard said that the city’s traffic and engineering department makes suggestions on those to WG&L.
When it comes to infrastructure improvements like sidewalks and storm drainage, Hubbard said that as soon as the sales tax funds were collected, they should be spent on those projects.
Hubbard said she’d continue to work with ASU President Everette Freeman to ensure he’s doing everything to properly promote ASU within the business community.
When it comes to spending federal dollars, Hubbard said there are existing restrictions on how that money is to be spent and that she would continue to ensure its spent as required on low and moderate income families.
On the topic of jobs, Hubbard said the mayor needs to open a dialogue with P&G, MillerCoors and other existing industries to see if it it possible to expand locally.
Hubbard also said that she believes her time on the commission has provided her with knowledge and expertise to be able to transition into the mayor’s office without a learning curve and that she was “ordained by God to be in this race.”
Smith said there needs to be more recreational activities for youth, and that he’d meet with parents to get them involved.
Smith stuck to his “military-style” approach to law enforcement to clean up the community and said frequently that, as mayor, he wouldn’t focus on attracting small businesses to the area, but a major industry like a car manufacturer that’ll bring 5,000 to 10,000 jobs.
While he didn’t speak on WG&L issues, Smith did say that lighting is part of security and that he’d ride the city to make sure it’s well lit.
Smith said he was skeptical of how federal dollars were being spent and would like to see them spent more on things like roads and police.
Finally, Smith said that we shouldn’t rely on Phoebe or Palmyra to provide jobs, but that the mayor should constantly work to recruit Fortune 500 executives into Albany to promote the city for job creation.
White said Albany should cultivate the recreational programs and resources we already have and improve them.
When it came to the civic center, he disagreed with Hubbard, saying we can’t compare ourselves to Tallahassee or Columbus because they are larger cities. Instead, he said the civic center must be used more wisely. As to the sports complex, he said the city should work closely with the county on SPLOST projects to make sure they have the proper funding, despite the fact that the county abdicated responsibility to the city for recreation years ago.
For public safety, White said job retention for police was key to providing better trained officers and said that he would be in favor of moving police precincts into the most widely populated neighborhoods to increase police presence.
When it comes to proper street lighting, White questioned why Northwest Albany is well lit while east and west Albany is not. He vowed to make sure all parts of the city receive proper lighting.
White pledged to hold public meetings with community groups and neighborhood watches and to provide a report every 100 days.
White said the city needed a storm drainage plan and the plan should be followed to ensure there is proper drainage and that the city should keep trying to get stimulus funding or consider bonds to pay for some of the more expensive public works projects.
Finally White said he wants to create the world’s first Ray Charles Museum here to attract tourists, as well as put a pecan on top of the civic center for New Year’s Eve, similar to the crystal ball in New York and the peach in Atlanta.
He also wants to invite envoys from the 16 other cities named Albany in the country to town and develop trade agreements that would put people work.