More than 100 people attended the forum at the Bynum Community Center to hear Oxford’s municipal candidates discuss why they want to hold office. And though candidates mentioned various issues, the forum boiled down to a basic choice: Should voters either maintain the status quo with longtime Mayor Leon Smith, or should they try something new?
Each candidates had three minutes and thirty seconds to speak, and questions from the audience were not part of the program. All the candidates attended except mayoral candidate Russell Mullins, current Place 1 Councilman Phil Gardner and Gardner’s opponent, Freddie Hinton.
The first to speak was mayoral candidate Cristy Humphries. A longtime educator and current executive director of the Oxford Education Foundation, Humphries said change was needed to continue moving Oxford forward.
“With new leadership, we can build a better future,” Humphries said.
Humphries said she would bring new energy to the job of mayor and work to bring better-paying jobs to the area.
“We must proactively recruit high-tech industries so our children can stay here and build careers here,” Humphries said.
Humphries said she wants to make education a greater priority in the city and that her 25 years as an educator would help her improve the school system. She also said city government would be more open under her leadership.
“I will bring honesty, accountability and transparency to city government,” Humphries said.
Smith, who is currently in his 28th year as mayor, did not have much to say when asked after the forum to comment on Humphries’ assertion that the city needs new leadership.
“I don’t know what to say about that,” Smith said.
Smith said that during his time as mayor, the city’s school system has grown and improved.
“I’m very proud of our excellent school system,” Smith said.
Smith said the city now has one of the top bond ratings in the state, which has helped it recruit business to the area. Smith said many retail outlets have come to Oxford under his watch, including the Oxford Exchange and Oxford Commons, which is currently under construction. Smith said he would continue to recruit business if re-elected and continue heading up projects such as the ongoing construction of the city performing arts center.
“I’ll always put Oxford first and move forward,” Smith said.
Many of the city council candidates promoted change in one way or another. Several of them focused on desires to change and improve city police protection.
Place 2 candidate Charlotte Hubbard, who like Humphries is an educator, said she wanted to make Oxford’s streets safer.
“We need a larger trained police presence,” Hubbard said.
Hubbard also said she favored strategic street design planning to cut down on traffic accidents in the city. Hubbard said economic planning was also crucial.
“We need a well thought out economic and development plan and I’m prepared to lead the way,” she said.
Place 3 candidate Mike Henderson, a former councilman, said he also supported growing the police force.
“We need better police protection … people would like to see more patrols,” Henderson said.
Henderson said he would like the city to hire a city engineer and recruit jobs that pay more than minimum wage.
Place 3 candidate Terry Parker said the city would need more planning as it continued to grow during the next decade.
“I believe we should develop a long-term plan that addresses the city’s infrastructure,” Parker said.
Ken Rollins, a Place 2 candidate, focused on his qualifications for the council. Rollins said he served several years on the Calhoun County 911 Board and on the state board of Veterans Affairs.
“If you are serving on a city council or a board, you have to be able to work with each other,” Rollins said.
Like Smith, current Place 4 Councilman Chris Spurlin discussed the many accomplishments made while he has been in office. Spurlin mentioned various projects, including ongoing upgrades to the civic center and Oxford Lake and the construction of the performing arts center downtown. Spurlin also said city schools have improved.
“In the past four years our schools have been expanding and I think that is because of the government we have here,” Spurlin said.
Current Place 5 Councilman Steve Waits touted the city's accomplishments during his term, but also said changes were needed for the police department.
“We are at a critical point where our growth has started to exceed the protection our police department can provide,” Waits said.
Waits’ opponent, Kip Chappell, said he was a team player.
“I believe I can pull my weight and work with the city council and mayor,” Chappell said.
Chappell added that he would support the elderly in the community if elected.
Place 4 candidate Greg Thrower not only wants to expand the police department, but also remove the city’s 5 cent sales tax from purchases of groceries. Thrower said that without the tax, more consumers would be willing to purchase many other products that still have taxes on them.
Place 3 candidate Jimmy Sparks said he would support more recreation and education and would try to recruit more industry to the area.
“We have grown by leaps and bounds in the last 30 years and I want the chance to serve,” Sparks said.
Sean Perez, Place 2 candidate, bucked the trend for change however, saying he would prefer helping continue the city’s current method of progress.
“Oxford has come a long way … how much change do you want,” Perez asked. “If elected I will keep going and moving forward.”
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star