Democrats For Mayor

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 31, 2001

The Democratic candidates for mayor are:

Eric Rawlings, 38, fitness instructor and former U.S. Marine.

Robert Major Walker, 57, three-term mayor, historian and history professor.

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The winner will advance to the June 5 general election to face independent candidates Eva Ford, 63; Laurence Leyens, 37; and Joe Loviza, 61.

Question 1. During the next four years, should Vicksburg use its annexation powers to add areas to the corporate limits? If so, what areas should be added?

Rawlings: Since the city has yet to adequately provide standard services for some of the previously annexed areas, I see no reason to annex any more areas into the corporate limits. I believe that the most recently annexed areas need to be addressed in such a manner that services and quality of living are equally distributed throughout all areas currently within the city limits before we take on the added responsibility of more areas to service.

Walker: I do not have current plans or intentions to pursue an annexation during the next four years. I will use my experience and knowledge of municipal government to continue improvements to Vicksburg’s infrastructure, enhance the quality of life, and work more aggressively with other elected officials and the community to provide more activities for youth, seniors and create jobs.

Question 2. Unlike many other governments, Vicksburg’s officials are empowered to raise their own compensation. Would you vote for or against an ordinance that makes any raises for elected officials approved in one administration not effective until the next administration?

Rawlings: I would simply say that it depends on the dollar amount. If only small pay raises are in question, then I would vote against such an ordinance, but if the pay raises are large, I would vote for this ordinance.

Walker: Elected officials, like other city employees, are entitled to a decent, liveable salaries for the work they do. I could support such an ordinance, provided the current salaries are competitive, in line with those of other employees, and reflect the responsibilities and work load of the respective elected officials. Also, I would support a mechanism or process to determine the salaries.

Question 3. Given what you know about the cost of living and the responsibilities of the offices you seek, what would you consider to be a fair salary for alderman? For mayor?

Rawlings: I have no specific dollar amount in mind; however, I believe that if the board of mayor and aldermen are going to serve as the decision-making body and leaders of our city, then they should be compensated for the weight of their responsibilities. The mayoral salary is currently seventh on the pay scale, followed by the aldermen. If the board of mayor and aldermen are to be the chairpersons of this city, then it should be clearly indicated by their leadership, as well as commendable pay.

Walker: The cost of living in Vicksburg is high and the responsibilities of the three elected officials in a commission form of government are great, if their jobs are taken seriously. These officials handle a budget in excess of $50 million each year, which is more than many private firms whose employees make much more. The mayor’s salary should range between $70,000-$80,000, and the salary of the aldermen should be in the $60,000 range, which is still less than some other city employees.

Question 4. Vicksburg now operates as a specially chartered municipal corporation with a mayor elected at large and two aldermen elected from wards as chief executive officers with specified duties including naming fire and police chiefs, among others, to four-year terms. What changes do you favor making in the form, structure or operations of Vicksburg government?

Rawlings: I would not make any changes to Vicksburg’s current form of government. I believe that the city can function properly and efficiently if responsible, hard-working people who are sincere in their will to serve our citizens are elected to office.

Walker: The current form of government serves the purposes of municipal government in our city. It requires dedicated public servants who commit themselves to full-time work. I would like to explore the possibility and feasibility of another appointed person who would work in the area of administration, perhaps in a chief operating officer capacity. However, we would need to research the legalities of this position, and strict guidelines would have to be imposed. The mayor and aldermen are elected to represent the people, and therefore, should be allowed to make decisions and have input into the operation of the city’s business.

Sometimes, however, it is presumed that officials allow politics to get in the way of progress. Creating a position such a chief operating officer could alleviate some of those presumptions.

The commission form of government is one of the most effective, efficient forms of municipal government. With the present form of government, the mayor has only one vote, the same as an aldermen. I do believe that a strong-mayor form of government might be even more effective and efficient.

Question 5. Would you favor a countywide law enforcement agency through disbanding the Vicksburg Police Department or other means?

Rawlings: I do not believe that it is necessary to form a countywide law enforcement agency through disbanding the city police department or the county sheriff’s department. I think that as the city and county build a more cohesive relationship, the two departments will continue to build on what is in my view an already good working relationship.

Walker: No. I feel that the City of Vicksburg needs a separate law enforcement agency. However, this agency needs to work cooperatively in some matters with other law-enforcement agencies, including county law enforcement, as it does now.

Question 6. Would you favor a countywide public recreation agency through combining separate operations?

Rawlings: In light of current relations between city and county government, forming a countywide public recreation agency would probably do more harm to our youth programs than good. Once the city and county have reached some common ground and have developed a better working relationship, I would fully endorse centralizing public recreation in Warren County. I believe it is feasible, and I believe such a move would serve our children and our entire community well, so long as senseless politics are left aside.

Walker: I feel that a planned, properly funded and administered countywide public recreation agency is something we need to work toward. Currently, the City of Vicksburg is limited in its recreational offerings because it practically carries the ball alone. A good place to start is for county government to cost share with the city and build from that.