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Some candidates take sides in Jonesboro election

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Seven candidates will compete for three, at-large positions on the Jonesboro City Council during the Tuesday, Nov. 3 election. Differences in opinion among some of the candidates concerning the firing of former Police Chief Brad Johnson -- as well as the firing of an administrative assistant Johnson hired -- have resulted in two distinct factions of candidates, and two candidates running independently.

Incumbent Councilmen Clarence Mann and Rick Yonce are running as a team, while incumbent Councilman Billy Powell, former Police Chief Johnson, and political newcomer Joe Compton are aligned as an opposing slate. Second-time candidate Pat Sebo and first-time candidate Shawn Wooten say they are aligned with neither camp.

The top three vote-getters will win the election.

Clarence Mann, 68, the "semi-retired" owner of Mann Termite and Pest Control, was born in Jonesboro and has lived in the city for 47 years. Having served one, four-year term on the council, Mann said he was inspired to run for a second term based on recent tensions in the city surrounding Johnson's firing in May of this year.

"People in the election who were supporting me last time have turned against me based on that decision alone [to uphold Johnson's firing by Mayor Luther Maddox]," Mann said. "He [Johnson] said the only way he would stay police chief is if the mayor resigned. When you have someone who thinks like that, you can't work with them. I couldn't just walk away in good conscious, knowing what would happen if these people were elected to office."

Mann said he has been pivotal in restoring city-run garbage service, which is scheduled to begin Jan. 1, 2010; maintaining the strength of the police department; working to secure new property for the Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County, Inc., preservation society, and supporting the city's "streetscape" downtown development plan. Mann said he believes he can help the city remain fiscally stable.

"I feel like with the economy the way it is, we have harder times ahead of us," Mann said. "We need to keep a tight hold on our money and make sure it is being spent properly on the residents' primary needs ... police, public works, and administration. When the streetscape program comes into fruition, hopefully businesses will take a second look at us."

Rick Yonce, 50, a former ramp agent at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, was born and raised in Jonesboro. His father, B.L. Yonce, was a two-term mayor of Jonesboro in the late 1980s and early 1990s and the younger Yonce, himself, has served on the city council for 10 years.

If reelected, Yonce will enter his third, full term on the council. Yonce said he would like to see the city's current projects come to fruition.

"I'm concerned about the state the city is in right now," Yonce said. "We are getting started with our streetscape phase one. We are starting our garbage service in 2010. There will be some bugs we have to work out, but we can do it," with the right candidates, he said.

Yonce said he prides himself on being "fair," "level-headed," and accessible to citizens. He said that several of his accomplishments on the council include helping establish a "fire fund committee" for the now-defunct Jonesboro Volunteer Fire Department, being involved with the city's streetscape plans, and helping the city avoid employee layoffs and tax increases.

"We still have a pretty good amount of reserves, but that could be wiped out with one major catastrophe," Yonce said. "We [Yonce and Mann] try to trim things as much as we can because the money is getting harder to hold onto."

Billy Powell, 57, a retired gas station and convenience store owner, has lived in the Jonesboro area for 20 years, six of those years within the city limits. In 2007, Powell won in a special election to the replace the vacated council seat of Maddox, who became the city's mayor in 2008.

Powell said he believes some members of the council are out of touch with the Jonesboro citizenry and that he can better serve them.

"I believe the biggest difference that Yonce and Mann have demonstrated is that they have lost touch with the citizens in terms of listening to their needs," Powell said. "Joe Compton and Brad [Johnson] see it that way as well. I'm not going to be voting [on] what Billy Powell wants. I am going to be voting for what the people want and what's best for the city. I've got a proven record that I will listen to the citizens."

Powell said he will continue to support the streetscape program, and that he has been a fervent supporter of Historical Jonesboro, the Jonesboro Police Department and the Jonesboro Firehouse Museum and Community Center. He said that during his time on the council, he has coordinated and grown the city's "Jonesboro Days" celebration and taken a key roll in drafting the city's current golf cart ordinance.

In June, Powell's live-in girlfriend, Patricia Straight, was fired by the city council. Straight was hired by Johnson to work in the police department as an administrative assistant, prior to Johnson's firing as police chief, according to city officials.

Brad Johnson, 48, has lived in Jonesboro since 2005 and currently works as a professional farrier. Prior to that, Johnson spent five-and-a-half years working as a Jonesboro police officer. Johnson served as a police major for two years and as police chief for five months, prior to being fired by the city's mayor in May.

Johnson said he is currently involved in litigation against the city over his firing. He said he is running to end what he views as bickering among the council members.

"What I am interested in is to see the fussing and fighting stop," Johnson said. "I would just like to see a council elected that can get along and get something done for the citizens, finally."

Johnson said he believes the current Jonesboro city government is heavy-handed with its employees. He also criticized some members of the current council for not reinvesting the city's money back into its citizens.

"Right now, Mr. Mann and Mr. Yonce just get along and go along with the mayor. [At] just about every meeting, they table or postpone something," he said.

"As far as economic development, you want to encourage businesses into the city," he said. "Any businessman will tell you that you have to spend some money to make some money."

"Everything should be looked at for the benefit of the citizens," Johnson added. "I'll just try to do the right thing with the decisions that they put in front of me."

Joe Compton, 52, a professional plumber, has lived in Jonesboro for 20 years. He said he believes a lack of empathy among some members of the current council and the city's citizens has led to discord, and that he would provide an open ear to citizens.

"I feel like the majority of our citizens are not being listened to," Compton said. "Although I'm not a good speaker, I'm a good listener and I can change that. I'm also concerned about the amount of lawsuits the city is accruing. I believe a little common sense could have kept us from being sued at all."

Compton said that if elected, he would "stand on his principles" and "represent the people's views." He also said that he would explore finding ways to alleviate downtown Jonesboro traffic and cut down on what he believes is "micro-managing" of city employees by the current council.

"The employees should be able to do their jobs without having to worry about getting fired," Compton said. "I think if the councilmen back off and let the employees do their jobs, then the City of Jonesboro will work just fine."

Pat Sebo, 56, a human resources specialist with Clayton County Public Schools and a member of the Jonesboro Housing Authority, has lived in the City of Jonesboro for three years. For 30 years, until three years ago, Sebo managed Photos by Sebo, a photography business which was one located on Jonesboro's North Main Street.

Sebo, who ran in the 2007 city election, missed being on the council by six votes, she said. In favor of progressive development, beautification, and leveraging the city's diversity, Sebo said she believes she is a strong candidate.

"This time, I've been active in the city for the past two years ... I think the citizens have gotten to know me and what I stand for," Sebo said. "I want to see a revitalization of the city. I want to see the city progress, bring in more businesses, and have our Main Street look like some of the other Main Streets around here that people flock to. There is no reason that we can't have what other cities have.

"We have a lot of events and there is only a handful of our black constituents there," she continued. "It's their city too. I love the diversity of [the city] and I would like to see more people involved in the activities in the city."

Sebo said she is hoping to "bring some more stability to the council." She added that as business owner in Jonesboro for 30 years, she is knowledgeable about how to attract and retain businesses within the city.

Shawn Wooten, 33, a guardian ad litem and Clayton County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) supervisor, was born and raised in Jonesboro. Having moved back to Jonesboro two years ago after living in Stockbridge for several years, Wooten said he would like to get Jonesboro back to "where it was" several years ago, in terms of status and transparency.

"When I was growing up, people used to be proud of living in Jonesboro," Wooten said. "I want to improve public image, [and] bring some businesses back into Jonesboro, because a lot of them have left ... [I want to] just be open and honest about everything. We can't hide things from the citizens, because they are the people we're here to represent."

Wooten said he is disturbed by what he believes is "buddying up" among the candidates, as well as members of the current council. He said he would listen to citizens and make decisions based on their desires.

"We elect friends and all their friends tend to vote the same way, and that's what got us to where we're at," Wooten said. "When the citizens tell you something, you should listen. It's OK to have a common purpose, but it's not OK to use that common purpose to get what you and your friends want."

Wooten, a member of the School Council at Jonesboro High School, said he would support strong law enforcement and creating more incentives for people to live in the city limits. He also said that he would use his experience researching grants for CASA to finds grants to help the city pay for projects.