Opelika council candidates tout credentials, ideas
Aug 14, 2012 (Opelika-Auburn News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
The four candidates vying for two seats on the Opelika City Council touched on issues such as crime, education and economic development during a forum Monday evening at Opelika Middle School.
Ward 1 candidates Greg Jones and Patsy Jones, who are unrelated, and Ward 2 candidates Larry Gray and Oscar Penn fielded questions from the Rev. Clifford Jones, who served as the forum's moderator, and also answered written questions from the audience.
Incumbents Gray and Patsy Jones both highlighted their records as members of the council. Gray, who has served on the council since 2008, stressed that the council has obtained funding for the widening of Frederick Road and the redevelopment of Opelika High School, while the city is also building a fiber-optic network to offer telecommunications and smart-grid services.
In addition, Opelika has added 956 jobs at the Northeast Opelika Industrial Park over the past four years, he said.
Patsy Jones, the council's most tenured member, said her support of economic development, education and safety is clear through her voting record since she was first elected in 1995.
Challengers Greg Jones and Penn said they feel their wards are lagging behind other parts of the city and that little has been accomplished over the past few years.
Bringing in more recreational and educational activities for residents of all ages will help keep crime low, Greg Jones said. Penn said he has tried to organize neighborhood watches and deter crime that way.
Enhanced cooperation between the community and police is one key way to reduce crime, Gray said.
"That way we can deter crime," he said. "That way we can catch criminals. That way we can solve unsolved murders."
As a councilwoman, Patsy Jones said it's not her job to catch criminals, but she listens to residents' concerns and welcomes the police department into Ward 1.
In terms of economic development, Gray noted the jobs brought to the Northeast Opelika Industrial Park, while Patsy Jones said there are job fairs held throughout the city quite frequently.
Penn said he would advocate for more job fairs, especially ones that could cater to those who lack transportation or may not be able to fill out an application.
Greg Jones said he believes city contractors should be required to hire unemployed people from within Opelika to perform work.
To help improve Wards 1 and 2, Gray said he believed the city's new weed abatement ordinance will allow officials to tackle blighted areas more quickly. Patsy Jones also noted that council members work with the mayor and other city officials to make sure these areas are addressed.
Greg Jones and Penn both said there were drainage concerns in their wards that have yet to be addressed.
Residents in Wards 1 and 2 will vote on the candidates during the city's Aug. 28 municipal election. Those seats will be the only contested races after Mayor Gary Fuller and councilmen Joey Motley (Ward 3), Eddie Smith (Ward 4) and David Canon (Ward 5) were automatically re-elected without opposition in July.
Monday's forum was organized by the Opelika Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters.
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