“It all comes down to the mechanism by which it will happen,” he said in the forum at the Jacksonville Community Center. “There’s not a whole lot of disagreement necessarily about what we want to accomplish, but we’ve got to figure out how.”
For question after question, the views of candidates for mayor, city council and board of education were generally aligned, but the difference comes down to the details.
City Council and mayoral candidates made it clear that developing job opportunities in the city is vital.
Guy Bonds, who is challenging George Areno in Place 1, singled out manufacturing jobs as a potential area for growth.
Incumbent Place 2 Councilman Mark Jones said education is the driving forcein bringing business and residents into the community. He said Jacksonville State University has a great business development program, and by working with the university in this respect, the city can promote Jacksonville and the university and use both to attract business into the city.
Working together with other entities is key for Place 5 candidate Ronnie Thomas on this issue. Pulling industry into the city, he said, is not the work of one person or one group.
“It’s going to take everybody from the university, the city, the high school, the grammar school,” he said. “Everybody has to work and want it.”
Areno said the city should look at the historical strengths of the area, which is rich in farming and music. He noted opportunities to expand the farmers market into something larger and said the depth of musical and other artistic talents in the city should be highlighted.
“Who knows where it will go?” he said of the farmers market. “Three years of trying has had fair success.”
Kyle Warmack, who is challenging Jones in Place 2, said he’d stay in constant contact with the Alabama Development Office to make sure “that they know every available land here for companies to locate here in Jacksonville.”
Jerry Parris, who is also challenging Areno in Place 1, said the city has been lax in bringing new industries into town for quite some time. He said the last major industry to come in was Federal Mogul, and at that time the city had its own economic development authority. Now, he said, the city depends on such an authority at the county level. If the city is to bring in new industry, Parris said, it will be critical to work closely with Calhoun County Economic Development Council to do so.
Tompkins, a Place 5 candidate, said he would like to see the city’s dormant commercial development authority revived. He said the city needs such a group that would take on the task of promoting Jacksonville to the business community.
Mayoral candidate Derek Raulerson said bringing industry and jobs into the city is all about planning.
“We do not have a plan,” he said. The first step in creating one would be to contact the Alabama Development Office, work with the economic development office in Calhoun county, and utilize some of the resources the state has already put in place, he said.
“If I were elected mayor, in the first 100 days, I would implement and put a plan in place, present it to the public and get out of Jacksonville and go do it.”
Incumbent Mayor Johnny Smith said he’d continue to work with the Calhoun County Economic Development Council. His focus would be to try to bring more retail outlets to town.
“Every time we have a retail outlet to open, it creates jobs for someone…and it also adds convenience for the citizens when we do that,” he said.
School board debate
For Board of Education candidates, one of the greatest priorities will be figuring out what to do with Kitty Stone Elementary School.
William Walter, a candidate for Place 5, said he values the Kitty Stone property. He said he thinks the district needs to look at all angles, including getting rid of the “pods” – smaller buildings on campus -- and constructing new buildings, depending on what the district can work out with the university, who owns the property.
For Kelley Haynes Pearce, incumbent in Place 3, the first priority is to deal with the pods at Kitty Stone.
“We know that they continue to deteriorate,” she said. She said she is also in favor of building a new elementary school and middle school if feasible.
Coming from a middle school teaching background, Place 4 candidate Emily Sims said she would like to see some way to separate the middle and high school students. She said she is not sure of the feasibility of repairing Kitty Stone’s pods, but said if the district might be able to build a new facility more efficiently than continued renovations.
David Glass, a candidate for Place 5, said he’s not sure Kitty Stone's location is the most important question, although as a parent, he sees convenience in having a middle and elementary school located near each other. As far as what’s best for middle school students, Glass said the district doesn’t need to have seventh-graders hanging out with 12th-graders.
Caroline Allen-Ross, the incumbent candidate for Place 4, said that she thinks a renovation of Kitty Stone would be a waste of money at this time.
“The focus should be on building a new elementary school and also I agree with having a middle school,” she said. “Because of finances, we may have to look at variations of those.”
Richard Williams, who is seeking Place 5 on the City Council, and Steven Sewak, who is vying for Place 3 on the Board of Education, were not present at the forum.
Star staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter@ PRentz_Star.