City council and mayoral candidates met in a forum at Quintard Mall Thursday to answer questions from residents in attendance. About 100 people showed up to hear about taxes, education and efforts to improve Oxford’s police and fire departments and to bring high-paying jobs to the area.
All the candidates attended except current Place 1 Councilman Phil Gardner, current Place 4 Councilman Chris Spurlin and long-time Mayor Leon Smith. A prepared statement from Smith indicated he could not attend because of an illness in the family.
When asked why Oxford needs new leadership, given that Smith has been mayor since 1984, mayoral candidate Russell Mullins said a new perspective is needed to move the city forward.
“Everything that’s been going on in the city is great, but I think we need a fresh set of eyes,” Mullins said.
Mayoral candidate Cristy Humphries said she would bring integrity to the office and new energy.
“I will treat all people and employees with respect and I believe I can bring new energy to help with economic development,” Humphries said.
Throughout the forum, candidates discussed city services they would like to improve and grow. However, none of them supported raising taxes for those ideas.
“The city should try to tighten its belt first,” said Steve Waits, current Place 5 councilman.
Place 4 candidate Greg Thrower agreed with Waits that money could be found elsewhere before raising taxes.
“I’m not for thinking we can tax ourselves into prosperity,” Thrower said. “First we have to look at ourselves and see if we are efficient.”
Both Place 2 candidate Charlotte Hubbard and Place 3 candidate Mike Henderson said recruiting more jobs would be better than raising taxes.
“The more people who are here, the more they can buy things and the more income they can bring in,” Henderson said.
Candidates repeatedly stated they mainly wanted to expand the police and fire departments to keep up with the city’s growth.
“We need our streets to be safer,” Hubbard said. “We need to know we have enough officers out on patrol and the same thing goes for firefighters.”
Place 3 candidate Jimmy Sparks said he wanted to expand the fire department and continue efforts with the street department.
“Our streets and roads are going in a great direction, we just need to make them better,” Sparks said.
The education system was a big topic at the forum.
“The schools are our future,” said Freddie Hinton, Place 1 candidate. “I want to give money to schools and we can always give more.”
Sean Perez and Ken Rollins, Place 2 council candidates, said they would like to see more technical and vocational training in the school system.
“I’d like to see some more specialized training in schools like what they do at Ayers,” Rollins said, referring to the Ayers campus of Gadsden State Community College in Anniston.
Humphries, who is an educator and the executive director of the Oxford Education Foundation, said her experience would help her make the best decisions for the school system if elected mayor. Humphries said she would like to see more computer technology in Oxford classrooms.
Terry Parker, Place 3 candidate, said education is important not just to help students improve their lives, but to also recruit industry to the area.
“We have a lot of service jobs in Oxford and there is nothing wrong with them,” Parker said. “But if we don’t provide schools with every dollar they need, we will never get any industry worth having in Oxford.”
Many of the candidates also said they would work hard to recruit high-paying jobs to the area.
To Rollins, providing incentives is key to luring industry to the area.
“We have to say that if you’ll come to Oxford, we will do A, B and C for you,” Rollins said.
Waits said one thing the city should not do is increase regulations.
“We cannot increase regulations that will drive people away,” Waits said.
Humphries said she would network and market Oxford to help recruit new industry.
“I think building relationships is vital and I think I have the contacts to do that,” Humphries said.
Mullins said communicating with area businesses was also important in creating jobs.
“Some of the smaller businesses can take some of the overflow from larger ones … but there needs to be more communication,” Mullins said.
Star staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star