Two in running for South Ward alderman’s position|[6/0305]

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 3, 2005

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

They are one-term incumbent Sid Beauman, a Republican who had no primary opposition, and Democratic nominee Pam Ann Johnson, who advanced to the general election by defeating Da Von Grey in primary voting May 3.

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 that started Thursday. Today, Beauman and Johnson, who will be on South Ward ballots.

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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?

Beauman: I believe that the number of officers should be between 85 and 90. This estimate is based on my experience over the last four years as well as the cost of maintaining a force. There is no perfect number and no number is perfect. When all of the officers are doing their job as they should, the number becomes smaller and when all of the officers are not doing their job the number is larger. By educating the public and the police officers as to what is expected and, in some cases, demanded, of the officers, accountability becomes a known factor and old habits, traditions, and behavior becomes the norm. Retention will come by changing the habits, traditions, and behavior of the existing officers and those hired in the future. The biggest problem is that there are fewer people willing to become public safety officers because of problems in our society and judicial system. The answer to this last problem is not just to allow people to be officers because they want to; they still must have the qualities needed to do the job correctly.

Johnson: I believe there should be about 110 police officers to ensure adequate protection of all sectors of Vicksburg during all hours of the day. Before the current administration, we had about that number, which was about right for that time. Vicksburg will probably be growing in the coming years, so we need to plan for that expansion and be sure that every household or resident of the city enjoys the equal protection of the law. We can attain the suggested 110 uniformed officers by realistic budget planning by subscribing to the federal program set up under the Clinton administration to put 100,000 new policemen in communities all over the country. Or, based on an apparent need, we should fund the new policemen through our general budget provisions.

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

Beauman: Financial waste, spending funds that should not be spent, is getting better each day in our city. What one person calls waste another calls good and needed spending. The main thing that continues to need work is working smarter. Getting the job done more efficiently and with better equipment. The most costly part of doing any business is payroll. The demands on city government grow each day. Through technology, working smarter and educating our workforce, the return on investment in employees will grow without having to continue growing our workforce.

Johnson: I believe that there have been a number of wasteful programs begun here in recent years, but never completed after the initial outlay of city funds. Examples are the charrette programs, inflated payments for some of the properties purchased under the urban renewal program, the outright giveaway of the old police station (the B.B. Club) on Clay Street, a building recently valued at $1.8 million on the real estate market. Another recent wasted effort was the proposed establishment of a GPS and electronic communications system for all city departments. That program was scrapped after nearly a year of paying for it.

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

Beauman: The airport in Louisiana is becoming more self-funded each month. In order to continue growth in our community, I feel we need an airport in Vicksburg-Warren County. We came close to losing one major company when the “talk” of closing our airport arose. We cannot afford to lose any of our industry in Warren County. I support keeping “our” airport open and making it as good as we can.

Johnson: We should re-examine our present airport situation to determine what would be most beneficial for Vicksburg. To attract major businesses to Vicksburg, we may need to assure the top executives of the sought-after companies of convenient and efficient access to their local facilities. We should continue to provide adequate landing spaces for private business planes and helicopters, if needed.

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?

Beauman: Yes, I would like to see the recreation department become a unified department that would be funded by all of the citizens of this county.

Johnson: Certain functions such as E-911 dispatch, tax assessment and voter registration should continue as joint city-county activities. But the system of checks and balances that is inherent in the separation of county government from city government should be respected and continued, by all means. Local governments all over Mississippi have been found to be corrupt and often dysfunctional. The different agencies at the two levels can protect the public from some aspects of corruption and exploitation. I am not in favor of expansion of shared services except when for major projects that are necessary and beneficial to all taxpayers.

(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?

Beauman: Anytime you deal with more than one budget pool you are going to have disagreements. I am not sure our population will ever be able to agree to how or whom should be taxed to pay for what. The interlocal system that is now in place is not a bad system. The two government agencies just need to work closer with each other and not allow personalities to distort the outcome. These agreements are not done to prove who has the “power,” but for the betterment of the community as a whole.

Johnson: The responsible elected officials of both the county and city should have expert advisors – with experience at the state and local levels – who know what a fair balance of payments is for each of the two local governments. In some cases, the separation and duplication of services may prove to be more efficacious than a shared plan. Whatever agreements are arrived at should remain harmonious and free of unwarranted public disputation.

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.

Beauman: I will always think that the citizens have a right to know what is going on in their government. I also think privacy of employee matters should remain in executive session, unless the employee wants to make it public. Police and fire investigations should remain closed as long as the investigation is going on to help solve cases.

Johnson: The people’s right to know is a fundamental part of the federal and state constitutions. Our open records laws have not always been respected by our elected city officials. There is no requirement that personnel and financial matters be taken into “executive session,” as is so often the case. City government should be fully transparent. This includes the records of police and fire investigations after the legal aspects have been completed. And any elected official caught interfering with the spirit of the open-records, open-meetings law should be severely punished.

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

Beauman: I agree that Vicksburg needs public transit. There are many people who could and would use public transportation. The study that is still under way by the Chamber of Commerce has still not gotten to the bottom line as far as cost. You cannot budget on guesses; we have to get solid numbers and then determine subsidy. We might need it in the worst way but if we cannot afford it we must look for another way or other means. The federal government is probably going to start reducing the funding they now make available, so in order to proceed we still have to get real numbers. I can only hope for those who are in need of this service we can come up with a realistic solution. I think we can.

Johnson: Vicksburg definitely needs a better system of transporting its people. We can develop a multifaceted system of public and private means of doing so. The U. S. Department of Transportation has a number of funding programs for development of bus systems, requiring only a minimal amount of money from the local government (about 20 percent of the costs, I believe). We could start a bus system using mini-buses for the slow times of the day and perhaps add larger buses as the demand grows. If our city is to grow to its optimum capacity as a center of business, government, entertainment and tourism, we are obligated to have on hand adequate taxi service, buses and other forms of transportation to satisfy all levels of demand.

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?

Beauman: I would definitely continue to push toward this goal. However, we will never reach it as long as there is a person in need. We must work to get to the best level we can. I would never vote to subsidize, for example, cable television. It is not something someone must have to live. Water, gas, sewer, and trash collection are necessities and government has to help to get those services to all of its citizens who are in need. I am not including those who just do not pay in this group.

Johnson: Since we already pay high property and sales taxes for public services, there should be minimum increases in the billing of water, gas, sewage and garbage collections. What happened to the promised revenue from the casinos? Consider the free water and gas services provided to the residents of Tunica County, where the casino tax revenues are being used to benefit everyone there. We were promised the same before we voted the casinos in. Let’s reflect this in lower public service bills and guarantee taxpayers the freedom of choice for the garbage containers they wish to use.

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

Beauman: TIF has become a cost of doing business. If a community wants to grow it must utilize TIF. Once you reach a level where businesses have to be competitive to get into your community, the trend reverses. Casinos are an example of this. They want to come to our community because of its location. Therefore, TIF is not needed nor necessary.

Johnson: We should provide all the reasonable incentives we can to attract new development in Vicksburg. But the Tax Incentive Finance is very chancy. Under such a measure, future tax revenues from recipient companies are locked into a fixed payment instead of being available for the city’s general fund. Tax rebates to large companies like LeTourneau and Northrop-Grumman should not be continued beyond a fixed start-up period.

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

Beauman: We have just about caught up. Again, there will always be areas to address. The main thing to stress here is that code enforcement is to protect the people who live in an area from the people in their area who are not taking care of their property. It is also to make sure that when a person pays for a job to be done on their property that it is done properly.

Johnson: Everyone deserves to live in a decent environment, but strict and rigid application of a set of codes should not be the means used to provide such. Many state and federal programs for housing rehabilitation, preservation and development exist, but they are overlooked by Vicksburg’s elected officials, either out of unawareness or self-interest. There is very little public accounting for the federal subsidies sent in to help poverty-level homeowners with home repairs. Where does that money, averaging about $400,000 per annum for the past 10 years, go? It goes into the hands of private interests, to be distributed by some plan that the taxpaying public never has access to.

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

Beauman: I have spent 12 years of my life working for the citizens of this city because I love Vicksburg. The day I moved from here I was trying to find a way to come back. I want to serve this community because of the people who live and work in Vicksburg. I feel I bring experience, sincerity, work ethic, and common sense to this job.

Johnson: When I was a student at Vicksburg Junior High School, I was inspired by the late Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm the first African-American woman to run for president. Her bold approach to public issues and the representation of those who elected her captivated me. I realized at that time that I, too, could serve peers and community through holding a public office. I decided four years ago that it was a good time for me to act upon my long-held desire. It is that same spirit that is motivating me to run again in 2005.

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

Beauman: To see where we have been, to see where we are now, and to see where we can go in the future. To dream is good, to fulfill your dreams is better. We must not allow someone who just dreams to lead this city, but one who has a real plan to fulfill our dreams.

Johnson: The development of a city government that truly reflects the needs and desires of the members of this community. We skirt many fundamental issues such as the lack of attention to black cultural institutions, racial discrimination in city employment and a disdain for black entertainment centers downtown. Race relations should be a core concern for those holding the public trust in Vicksburg. Instead of an honest approach to this issue, we see evasion and the trivialization of the problem. The current situation is all right, if you’re white. But Vicksburg is not a majority-white community and the race issue should be brought to the table and dealt with in an honest and intelligent manner with the goal of correcting the errors of the past and the prevention of the same in the future.