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Candidates vying for office face off in forum

Candidates for Warren County supervisor discussed a wide range of topics Thursday as they participated in a forum sponsored by Vicksburg Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., Blacks in Government and the Vicksburg Branch of the NAACP.

The questions, covering Vicksburg Warren School District’s Leader In Me Program, attracting more retail business and improving the quality of life, were asked and answered before a crowd of more than 60 at the Warren County Courthouse.

The 10 supervisor candidates attending the forum said they supported Leader In Me, which is a program conducted by the Vicksburg Warren School District to improve the character of students to help them learn.

The Legislature was expected to provide $100,000 a year for the program for four years but later decided in the 2019 session to fund the program for two years, forcing school district officials to seek help from the Board of Supervisors.

The board is prohibited by state law from donating money to private programs, and in March voted 3-2 to seek a special bill from the Legislature that would allow the supervisors to provide the money. District 1 Supervisor John Arnold and District 2 Supervisor William Banks opposed the bill.

The 3-2 vote, however, killed the proposal, because of an unwritten rule in the Legislature opposing special local bills that do not have unanimous support by the local boards.

While Arnold said he supported the program, he voted against the bill because “I did not feel like we needed to put a burden on the citizens of Warren County (by) raising taxes to give them (the school district) $100,000.

“We go to the schools and volunteer and work with these kids; there is an open door invitation at the schools. We don’t need to raise taxes to do that.”

Banks said the board already passed its budget when the school district asked for the money. If the school district brought the request in August while the board was preparing its budget, he said, the board could have possibly included the money on the county budget.

“The school board is an elected board from the same districts we are elected from,” District 5 Supervisor Richard George said of the school board. “They are the ones who make the determination how much money they want to implement or maintain [in programs like Leader In Me.]”

“We encourage and support it, but by law we have stayed out of it,” George said.

Edward Herring, Arnold’s opponent in the Nov. 5 election, said every type of program the community can provide students is important.

“We are the leaders. The Leader In Me is a great program. It is a great process in the school district,” he said, adding people need to get involved and work in the school system with the students.

The candidates offered different solutions to increase retail activity in the area.

Arnold said people need to shop locally and support local businesses. He said the board can provide tax incentives to encourage businesses, but if people don’t show interest, businesses won’t come.

Herring said the area needs a qualified workforce, adding local businesses needed to hire local teens and train them about customer service and provide job experience.

Banks said the key is improving the county’s road and bridge infrastructure. He also criticized city of Vicksburg officials for having strict regulations, and business and building fees that he believes slows the growth of new business.

Stan Collins, who is challenging Banks, said more jobs is the answer.

District 3 candidate Shawn Jackson recommended a concerted effort to go out and visit other areas to see what they are doing to attract new business and work to apply the examples of successful programs to recruit businesses.

David Sharp, who is running against Jackson for the District 3 seat, said new industry needs to be recruited to the area to create jobs.

District 4 candidate Marty Crevitt suggested more job skills training to bring jobs in, while Jeff Holland, who is also running for the seat, said the business community and local officials need to develop the area into a shopping experience by offering events, attractions and activities besides retail shopping.

George discussed tax incentives. His opponent, Kelle Barfield said officials and retailers need to listen to customers and residents to get a better idea of what people want in terms of businesses.

Concerning quality of life, the candidates discussed road improvements, opening the Old Mississippi River bridge to pedestrian traffic, improving recreation facilities and projects such as walking trails.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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