Photo by Curt Yeomans: Former Jonesboro mayor, Joy Day (right), announced during an election candidates forum on Friday, that she would “restore professionalism and dignity to the office.” Seated next to her is the city’s current mayor, Luther Maddox.
Candidates for Jonesboro’s municipal elections offered up a host of suggestions for how they could improve community offerings in the city, ranging from a skateboard park, to more youth-and senior-citizen-oriented programs, during a candidate’s forum, on Friday.
The forum, held at the Jonesboro Fire House Museum and Community Center, drew 11 of the 12 people seeking political office in the city. All three mayoral candidates, and eight out of nine city council candidates attended.
City Councilman Wallace Norrington, who is seeking re-election, was the only candidate who was not present. Forum organizer, Sonja Sleeper, said he had a prior engagement that he had to attend.
The forum saw some candidates focusing heavily on the past, including some of their past accomplishments, while a few laid out plans for where want to see the city go over the next four years. “We’ve got great people, a great location, great history, and I believe a great future,” said city council candidate, Jack Bruce.
Jonesboro Mayor Luther Maddox, however, waxed nostalgic about the Jonesboro of days past. “I’ve lived in Jonesboro all my life,” he said. “I’ve seen the good times. I’ve seen it when we had three grocery stores on Main Street, a furniture store, two drug stores, a restaurant, a barber shop, post office, and library right on that little Main Street, and I sure would like to see it again.”
The forum was the only opportunity residents have had to hear the candidates outline their visions for the city, ahead of the municipal election on Tuesday. In the mayoral race, voters will be choosing Maddox, former mayor, Joy Day, or political newcomer, John Templeman.
The voters will also choose three at-large city councilmembers from a field of nine candidates, including Bruce, Norrington, Bobby Wiggins, Roger Grider, Billy Powell, Rick Yonce, Randy Segner, Wayne Day, and Suzanne Igler.
The format for the forum was originally intended to be more of a meet-and-greet, where candidates had five minutes to explain their plans for the city. Residents were to then have an opportunity to meet one-on-one with candidates.
Maddox and Grider focused mainly on what they had done in the past, rather than talking about their plans for the future. “I think we’ve done an excellent job of curtailing expenses,” Grider said. He later added, “I’ve tried to do my best.”
There was some talk of budgets, and taxes, by candidates, some of whom have made those topics key issues in their campaigns. “Taxes are needed, when they’re needed,” Templeman said. “We need to make a true effort to cut our budgets first [before implementing taxes], by tightening our belts.”
After all of the candidates answered the initial question, however, they agreed to a format change, so residents could pose questions to all at the same time. Sleeper explained that several of the approximately 30 audience members at the forum had requested the format change.
The residents then began pressing candidates about quality-of-life issues, and their plans to attract new businesses, permanent residents and community activities to the city, rather than questioning them about budgets and taxes. At one point, Segner brought up the idea of building a skate park for local youths. He said an acquaintance of his, in Duluth, built such a park, and has found success with it. “It’s been the biggest draw up there,” he said. He has also called for the city to use the fire house museum to host programs for senior citizens and children.
Joy Day and Igler, a former member of the now-defunct Jonesboro Downtown Development Authority, said the city also has to promote itself, to attract new citizens and businesses. “It’s how you market us,” said Igler, about attracting new residents to the city. “We have to market that we value children, that we have facilities for children.”
Joy Day later quipped: “We’ve got to sell the city like a vacuum cleaner.”
Several candidates said better communication was needed to make people aware of the city’s offerings, and features. “Communication is a big key to what’s going on here,” said Wayne Day.
Igler criticized the city’s decision to disband the Jonesboro Downtown Development Authority in 2006, but Yonce, who was on the city council at the time, said it was a necessary decision because of funding issues. “We weren’t a thriving city,” he said. “Our funds were limited.”
Yonce suggested the city should focus more on the far north and far south ends of Main Street, where more businesses are located, rather than on the historic downtown portion of the street. Wiggins said he would like to see the city offer tax incentives to attract new businesses to the city. He also said he would like to see the town’s borders expanded in the next few years, to increase the tax base.
“I would like some selective annexation, but I would rather have the owners come to us, to be annexed, because this is such a great place to do business,” Wiggins said.
Powell, on the other hand, said the city could address its issue of attracting new businesses by addressing the permanent residents issue. “If we get good people living in our neighborhoods, then what comes?” he asked. “Businesses! Business owners will be attracted to invest in your city when you have property owners.”
Several residents said, after the forum ended, that it proved to be informative for them, as they try to decide who they will vote for next week.
“I think everyone made a good effort to answer the questions truthfully,” said Jonesboro resident, Beverly Lester. “ I think it’s been helpful to me, to kind of sort everything out, because there are so many candidates, and hearing some of their responses really helped me finalize my selections.”