Candidate forum probably will not feature incumbents

Published 1:50 am Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Picayune Chamber of Commerce will host a municipal candidate forum, but most, if not all, incumbents seeking re-election will not be present.

A recessed council meeting was scheduled for the same time as the forum during the council’s last meeting on Tuesday. Even after being made aware of the scheduling conflict, the council made no efforts to reschedule.

So far only three candidates running for mayor and some council candidates have indicated they will be at the forum. Chamber of Commerce Director April Parsons said those candidates are precinct 1 candidate Jeff Lossett, precinct 3 candidate Jason Todd Lane, precinct 5 candidate Wayne Gouget and mayoral candidates Mark Thorman, Ed Pinero and Frank Eggar. Precinct 1 incumbent Larry Watkins had indicated to Parson’s office that he would be present, but later called to cancel after the recessed council meeting was set.

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Watkins said the recessed council meeting will discuss road paving work to be funded with economic stimulus, STP and bond funds. He and Interim City Manager Harvey Miller said the matter was moved from Tuesday’s meeting to the recessed meeting Monday so issues could be worked concerning which streets will be paved.

Miller said the discussions are to ensure paving money is distributed evenly across districts. When asked if another time for the meeting could have been scheduled, Watkins and Miller said the issue is on a fast track to get things done. Watkins said he hopes to get most of the paving issues worked out before Monday so the council meeting will be short and he can make the forum.

When asked if the scheduling of the recessed meeting was a way to get out of going to the forum, Watkins said he will go to the forum and the council meeting — if he can. He will try make the council meeting as short as possible. He said he didn’t have a problem with going to the forum or answering the public’s questions.

“I’m going to tell you good, bad or ugly,” Watkins said.

Council member Leavern Guy said he did not consider the forum and blamed Miller as the one who set the day and time of the recessed meeting. Yet at Tuesday’s meeting the Picayune Item made the council aware that the recessed meeting conflicted with the forum. Still, no council member, Guy included, made a motion to change the time of the recessed meeting. Guy said the meeting could not be set at another time because of scheduling conflicts. He said the timing of the recessed meeting conflicting with the forum has nothing to do with avoiding attending the forum.

“Why would we want to do that,” Guy asked. “I would love to debate my opponent one on one.”

Guy said that to him, the council has a lot of important things on which it needs to make decisions and while he said the forum is important to the public, the paving topic is important as well.

“We can’t shut the city down to attend a forum,” Guy said.

Miller said he suggested that day and time because if the council did not move on the project soon the money could be lost.

“We got to make a decision and we got to do it now,” Miller said.

Miller said he never thought about the forum when he suggested the recessed council meeting time and date. When the Picayune Item said other council members who are running for reelection could have suggested a different time and date, Miller insisted he was the one who suggested the day and time of the meeting.

Council member Anna Turnage said she did not plan to attend the forum whether there was recessed meeting or not. She said she is running for re-election based on what she has achieved during her term, such as standing up for citizen concerns, delivering meals and taking tours of flooded areas of the city in canoes. She said she does not intend to lie to get votes.

“Sometimes telling the truth instead of telling people things they want to hear is not the most popular thing to do,” Turnage said.

Turnage said she does not believe going to a forum and answering three or four questions will give voters an accurate opinion of her.

“They’re going to base their opinion on what you’ve done for them,” Turnage said.

Council member Donald Parker did not return a phone call from the Picayune Item.

At the forum, each attending candidate will have three minutes for an introductory statement, Parsons said. After the introductions, the public will have an opportunity to ask one question.

“No follow up questions at all are allowed and your one question can not be (multiple) questions in one,” Parsons said.

If a member of the public would like to ask another question, he or she will have to go to the back of the line to do so, Parsons said. Each candidate will have one minute to answer the question. A bell ringer will be employed to ensure time limits are followed.

The forum run from 6 to 10 p.m. at the high school auditorium on Goodyear Boulevard. Local CPA Ray Scott will act as the evening’s moderator.