Three seek North Ward alderman’s post|[6/02/05]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 2, 2005

Three people are seeking election as North Ward alderman for the City of Vicksburg for a four-year term starting July 1.

They are independent Vickie Bailey, Democratic nominee Michael Mayfield, who advanced to the general election by defeating incumbent Gertrude Young and Rodney Dillamar in primary voting on May 3, and independent Tommie F. Rawlings.

To assist voters in preparing for Tuesday voting, The Vicksburg Post mailed written questions to all 16 candidates for municipal posts and is presenting the responses, as written, in a three-day series starting today with Bailey, Mayfield and Rawlings:

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1. How many sworn officers should be employed by the Vicksburg Police Department? On what do you base that number? How do you plan to achieve/maintain that number?

Bailey: In a municipality of this size with approximately 26,407 residents, my opinion is that we should average between 80 to 95 officers to efficiently and effectively address the needs of the community. Currently, the City of Vicksburg has approximately 87 police officer positions, but only occupies about 74 of those allocated positions.

Thus far in this election, a lot of rhetoric and fear has arisen among the community regarding the adequacy of officer availability and professionalism of the police department as they carry out their day-to-day operations. In this administration, with Chief Moffett as police chief, we have experienced our strongest police organization ever, in my opinion. He has done a tremendous amount of positive work during this administration, not only by establishing accountability among the officers, but eliminating those who were not “team players.” Although I may not agree with every decision he has made, I do applaud his overall accomplishments.

Given the opportunity to represent the North Ward, the first order of business will be to investigate the validity of the community’s concerns regarding fair and impartial treatment by our current administration for all officers. I will work closely with the police chief in my efforts, and if necessary, we can seek recommendations from the Justice Department regarding the present policies, regulations and operations of the Vicksburg Police Department. Our main objective is to maintain an effective and efficient police department and put to rest the rhetoric and fears of the general public. I believe that this can be accomplished easily with consistent strong leadership.

Mayfield: Vicksburg needs at least 100 well-trained and experienced officers to maintain the safety of this community. This number is based on the population of Vicksburg. In order to achieve/maintain this number we will need to recruit good officers and enforce/support continued education for our present officers.

Rawlings: One hundred officers. The fact we have four casinos. Would achieve by keeping the standards not too high and let reserve count the same as active duty in the military. Will respect all police officers.

2. Have you spotted any financial waste in city government? Identify any specific savings you believe can be achieved.

Bailey: I do not see financial waste in city government, because everything that has been done thus far, in my opinion, should have been done long ago and is in the best interest of the city as a whole. However, I believe that there are other projects that should be regarded as equally important and addressed in a timely manner as well. I am speaking in particular about the annexed North Ward. Most of the residents in this particular area do not have the basic amenities that they were promised 12 years ago, and that they are entitled to. Residents in the annexed area have expressed their concerns about open running sewage flowing through the Kings community, development and maintenance of sidewalks throughout the whole community, assistance with adequate and affordable housing, planned and scheduled activities and programs at the Sherman Avenue Park for youth, and visible community policing within the community, not just on the outskirts. The people and merchants affiliated with downtown (those who have a vested interest in the area) voiced their concerns and needs about the decay and condition of downtown and their voices were heard. Just look at downtown now. Look at the annexed Kings community and the communities within the North Ward. Not much has changed since annexation.

Mayfield: In order for me to answer that question I would need to analyze the finances. In order to do this I would request that an audit of the books be done so that we can pinpoint exactly where each dollar is allocated.

Rawlings: Community Service and I think that is the people’s fault countywide. I am going to go door-to-door and ask the people to follow my lead and adopt their street or streets like I’ve done with Pemberton and Zollinger Hill by picking up trash. If that happens, we have no need for Community Service. So I guess that financial waste is part all our fault.

3. Taxpayers now support two airports to serve the Vicksburg area. Should this continue?

Bailey: My answer to the question is yes, at this time. However, if it comes down to economic development in that particular area versus the existence of the Vicksburg Airport, then my answer to the question will be no. My job as alderwoman will consist of serving and protecting the best interest of all the residents in the City of Vicksburg. All of my decisions will be based on that which is in the best interest of the city as a whole, and not a select few. Let me justify/qualify my last statement. I support the interest of the businessmen affiliated with the Vicksburg Airport. To me, it’s just like funding a playground/ park in a local neighborhood to address the lack of recreational activities for youth. All residents in Vicksburg do not have a child/children or grandchildren; therefore, they will not benefit nor do they desire to spend tax dollars on such a project. The airport may not serve a need to all residents; however, its major interest/desire to some of the local businessmen and their needs/desires should be addressed as well. However, when it comes to the growth and progress of the city, as a whole, the impact of economic development far outweighs the convenience of having two airports.

Mayfield: Both airports are operating and I feel as long as they don’t hinder the growth of Vicksburg, then we should continue to support them.

Rawlings: Yes, if it truly serves the Vicksburg area, but I am just one person. That’s why I think this may be another case that may need to go to a public vote. Why? Because government should be about the people for the people.

4. Many local government functions – voter registration, tax assessment and collection, 911 dispatch, ambulance and rescue services, as examples – are now operated in partnerships between city officials and the Warren County Board of Supervisors.

(A) Do you favor this consolidation of services and would you seek to combine more functions? If so, what?

Bailey: I support the established partnership with the Warren County Board of Supervisors to an extent, as long as it is fair and reasonable. Together, we must decide what is fair and reasonable, as it relates to a cost analysis (the cost associated with the city establishing and maintaining voter registration, tax assessment and collection, 911 dispatch, ambulance and rescue services, etc). Duplication of services would not be an efficient and effective means of spending city tax dollars. These services are absolute necessities for community living, as well as a means of collecting and reporting important information.

Mayfield: Yes, I am in favor of the consolidation of services, especially in the areas of recreation.

Rawlings: Yes. Animal control and recreation. With animal control, I see us in this thing together. On recreation, I don’t think it’s right that a person outside the city limits can attend free, but not pay city taxes. Remember the city is the county. I’ve been advised by supporters not to touch this, but I guess I’m hard-headed. I think the city and county should be 100 percent combined.

(B) Each year, seemingly, there are contentious disagreements on how the costs of shared services should be borne. What would you suggest to resolve this situation?

Bailey: When referring to the “quality of life,” we are all in this together. My position is still the same; that which is fair and reasonable based upon a true cost analysis (nothing more, nothing less). In order to resolve the matters at hand, I suggest that the two boards meet with the residents (both city and county) to debate the effects that their ideas will have on the quality of life and overall character of Vicksburg, Warren County. Those meetings should be community meetings where the general public can speak and be heard (no voice is too small and no idea is too far-fetched).

Mayfield: Based on my past experiences, I would like to see more unity between city and county to benefit the citizens.

Rawlings: A public vote! Because government should be about the people for the people. It’s their tax dollars and remember again the city is the county.

5. Please state your intentions about citizen access to meetings of city officials and public records maintained by the city, including police and fire investigations.

Bailey: I would like to implement a true concept of a citizen-based government in Vicksburg. One is which ideas and recommendations actually come from the citizens themselves, and they are worked into the city’s master plan. I would also like to arrange hearings, proposed bond issues, community planning, zoning and rezoning, the creation and amendments of ordinances to be discussed/debated in the evening (around 6 p.m.). In my opinion, this is a more convenient time when a true cross-section of citizens can attend. Adequate notice and advertisement of when and where the meeting will take place is an absolute must. The general day-to-day business affairs of the city, such as opening bids, purchase orders and employee issues should and can be conducted during the regular 10 a.m. board meeting.

Mayfield: Citizens should have access to meetings, public records and investigations. It is crucial that citizens are knowledgeable of what is going on in and around their community, because it is their tax dollars that generate the maintenance of this city.

Rawlings: As far as meetings of city officials, I do think the present board is unapproachable, and if elected I plan to change that. That’s why if elected I’ll work to move city board meetings to nighttime. I think if a person is a victim of crime or fire and the investigations are complete and don’t jeopardize the case, they should have unlimited access.

6. A study says Vicksburg needs public buses. Do you agree? If so, to what extent would you allocate public funds as a subsidy?

Bailey: A study says one thing; however, the ultimate factor should be what the residents of Vicksburg really want as it relates to establishing and maintaining a public bus system here. A study merely states what other cities are doing and the factors they used to arrive at implementing their project or plan. In my opinion a true cross-section of residents in Vicksburg have not voiced their opinion or stance on the matter at hand. In the two public meetings that were held, approximately 15 citizens attended. The study that was done on Vicksburg entailed a questionnaire of about 300 citizens. There has been a lot of talk about a public bus system, however, the citizens of Vicksburg have not participated nor have they been inquiring. Could this be the answer to the public bus system in Vicksburg? I will always voice the will of the people, if the people want and support a public bus system, then I will to the best of my ability make it effective and efficient.

Mayfield: A study is currently under way to look at the feasibility of public transit and its usefulness.

Rawlings: First of all, when am I going to ever, as a taxpayer, a voter and citizen, take part in a so-called study. I did not as a citizen, taxpayer and voter take part in the so-called study, so I really can’t answer. But what I can answer is when it comes to public funds it should go to a public vote, because it’s the public’s money.

7. For at least eight years, it has been the policy of City Hall to move toward having city water, gas, sewage and garbage collection bills reflect the city’s costs of those services and reducing General Fund subsidies. Would you continue this practice? Why or why not?

Bailey: These services are absolute necessities for community living. However, there is information that I am not privileged to at this time. Nevertheless, I will do my best to lighten the burden off of the residents.

Mayfield: This issue will need to be looked at very closely.

Rawlings: Yes, as long as the city doesn’t profit from this and if they do, they need to put it back in the community.

8. What are your thoughts on Tax Increment Financing or other assistance for property developers?

Bailey: Tax increment financing will be assessed case by case. There are two means by which a decision will be based on and they are the impact that a business or development has on the local economy and the number of residents that is impacted as well.

Mayfield: TIF and other incentives for property developers are good for this community as long as the entire community shares in the overall outcome.

Rawlings: TIF is a good tool to bring business and I know if elected I’ll be faced with tough decisions everyday, but I want to also let every present business owner know he or she will have my 101 percent support. That’s why once again I think TIF may need to go to a public vote. Because government should be about the people, for the people.

9. Would you gauge Vicksburg’s ongoing process of enforcing residential code standards as too lax, too strict or just about right? Explain.

Bailey: Vicksburg’s process of enforcing residential codes is not fair in my opinion. I have personally seen and experienced firsthand the unfair practice that is being exhibited in Vicksburg. The principle “respecter of person” is clearly being practiced and enforced here in Vicksburg. In my opinion decisions are based on The Have and The Have Not, Those That Are Informed and Those That Are Not Informed, The Educated and Those That Are Not. I believe and stand on the principle, “no respecter of person.” If you do for one, you do for others. And, if you don’t do for one, you don’t do for another. Being consistent and fair across the board will alleviate the frustration and animosity among the citizens in Vicksburg.

Mayfield: Too strict. I believe every citizen wants what is best for this community, but you can’t make rules and regulations so stringent that you stifle your growth.

Rawlings: We don’t need abandoned houses or buildings in this town. It’s a haven for crime. But we as elective bodies need to go after federal and state dollars to rehab these pre-World War II housing or buildings.

10. What is the single most important factor motivating you to seek elective office?

Bailey: I am seeking office because far too many residents in Vicksburg do not enjoy nor do they have access to a quality life. I know and believe that Vicksburg can do better and it can truly be the ideal place where people can live, work, raise children and enjoy recreation and entertainment. My drive and focus is to 1. assist with economic development by being creative and innovative enough to lobby/recruit quality-paying jobs to Vicksburg, 2. provide adequate and affordable housing for all residents, 3. improve employee morale in the city’s work force, 4. increase recreation and entertainment in Vicksburg for youth and adults, 5. to the best of my ability no new taxes, 6. assist with the development/creation of a premier “family tourist destination” in Vicksburg, 7. make quality choices and decisions that protect our youth, who are our future. There are programs and activities out there that our youth can benefit and grow from. Federal dollars and programs are bypassing Vicksburg, and 8. by all means establish and maintain a true allegiance/partnership with the Vicksburg Warren School District. We fail to realize that our futures are intertwined. By combining resources we can assist each other by developing a strong labor force, the implementation of more recreational activities, as well as attract investments/businesses to Vicksburg. Given the opportunity, I will be that voice in the community that expresses the needs and concerns of all the people. I have the desire, experience, determination and the vision to see Vicksburg reach its full potential.

Mayfield: The people of Vicksburg is the single most important factor motivating me to seek the alderman position.

Rawlings: Illegal dump sites. It’s a mess with these sites and by golly if elected I’m going to clean them up and keep them clean. Will seek to double the fine and a mandatory 24-hour jail term for illegal dumping even if you plead guilty. In essence, no deals!

11. How would you complete the sentence, “Vicksburg’s most crucial challenge is …”

Bailey: Vicksburg’s most crucial challenge is unity. The key to Vicksburg moving to the next level or truly prospering is “Vicksburg residents” (all ethnic groups, no matter what social status, educational background) working together to achieve the same common goal we all share, which is adequate and affordable housing, rare crime/lack of crime, Main Street thriving, gainful employment, and schools that have a good academic record. To me, working together is just plain common sense.

Mayfield: Creating good-paying jobs that are stable, affordable housing, good infrastructure, and bringing branches of government together for the good of the entire community.

Rawlings: Taking advantage of Vicksburg’s best asset, the Mississippi River. History tells us that President Lincoln said during the Civil War that to control the Mississippi River at Vicksburg is to control the Civil War. I think with fishing tournaments and boat racing on weekends would be some, just some, good ways to bring in more sales tax for Vicksburg.