Tuesday, April 2, is Election Day and we will find out which candidates for Decatur Mayor and City Council, Decatur School Board, Richland Community College and the Decatur Park Board are elected (although with two candidates for two seats on the park board, we already know who is going to be elected in that race). Of course, there are a lot of other races in Macon County involving various public offices that voters will also find on their ballot, with the candidates and offices listed depending on where those voters live in the county.
There has been a lot of media exposure in the races for mayor, city council and school board with public debates and get-to-know the candidates events. WSOY’s Brian Byers has interviewed about all of the candidates for the major races and those are available on podcasts. The Decatur Branch of the NAACP and the Herald & Review have given the public opportunities to hear, and read, the views of the candidates and attend forums where those seeking office also expressed their views. Most candidates also have Facebook pages to report their views and events relating to their candidacy.
However, with all of the media exposure, I can’t remember a time in all of the years I’ve written about local elections when we’ve had such a solid field of candidates…and, apparently such low voter interest. The early voting number started rising on Monday as Macon County Clerk Josh Tanner reported that it was his busiest day and it raised the early voting total to 545 by the end of the day. Following are some final thoughts about the mayoral and city council races from conversations and chats with most of the candidates and checking all of the information that is available about them.
Instead of a lot of promises made about what a candidate is going to do, I would encourage voters to look at what a candidate has done in the community and ask if he or is she someone they have confidence in to listen to them, do their homework and make informed decisions that benefit all of the people in Decatur. This is the most diverse group of candidates for mayor and city council that I’ve seen in all of my years writing about the offices.
• IN THE RACE for Decatur Mayor, I believe Julie Moore Wolfe’s background and experience, both as a council member and as mayor, give her needed insight to work with the new council and the city manager. This next council is not going to be deep on experience, regardless of who is elected and, between her role as council woman and mayor, Julie has served a decade in those offices. We need her background and leadership in moving the community forward.
She has also been my good friend for many years and supported me when I was mayor through her role as head of the Greater Decatur Chamber of Commerce, experience in state government and working for a local hospital. I believe she also does a great job in articulating what the city is doing and where we are headed. It certainly doesn’t hurt our city for her to have strong relationships with state and national figures — especially now that a Democrat is governor.
• Councilman David Horn is one of her opponents. I’ve known David for several years and appreciate his commitment to making the city a better place. I believe David has run a pretty solid campaign, been extremely accessible and open about his views, and utilized about every resource available to attract voters.
I believe one drawback for him, compared to Julie Moore Wolfe, is the lack of experience in city government — serving on the council for only two years. If David loses the election, he will still be a city councilman for at least two more years and possibly more. I believe David has pointed out some solid concerns during his campaign, but I also believe he should remain a councilman this time around and pick up additional experience. Obviously, he will have the opportunity to continue advocating for what he believes is right as a councilman.
• Jacob Jenkins is the third mayoral candidate and I do not know him as well as his opponents, but a couple of issues he has written about, such as favoring a strong mayor/aldermanic form of government instead of the council/manager form we presently have, is concerning to me. We’ve been down that road before and eliminating the professional city manager’s position and “saving money” is not going to happen. The law requires that someone serves in that capacity, whether or not he or she is called a city manager. If Jacob Jenkins doesn’t win, I hope that he stays involved and I believe he will from all indications because he was involved before his decision to run for mayor.
The three mayoral candidates have treated each other with respect and it’s nice to see that such conduct exists when all three are working hard to win and campaigning because they want to make Decatur a better place to live. •
• In the race for three city council seats that are up for election, Shavon R. Francis, Marty Watkins, Shelith Hansbro, Lisa Gregory, Bill Faber, John Phillips Jr. and Rodney Walker are the candidates. Gregory and Faber are the incumbents running for re-election to retain their seats. Dr. Dana Ray, the other incumbent, is not running again after a decade of service on the council. The incumbents face some really tough competition for votes from the five strong challen-gers.
Lisa Gregory is working hard to win another term — and she has a pretty solid record of service. Lisa brings 4 years of experience as a city council member, she does her homework, she makes common sense votes and she listens to people — and she can explain why she voted the way she did. Lisa also sees the big picture when it comes to the future of the city and the direction we should be going. Lisa also told me that this race for re-election is tougher than it was four years ago — and I think that speaks for the quality of the challengers in this race.
The other incumbent who is running for re-election, Bill Faber, is also a long-time friend. We played basketball together twice a week for years and were always on the same team — but we never talked about politics or serving in public office. Maybe that is the reason we enjoyed the basketball games so much! Bill, like Lisa, has been on the council for four years, but he certainly marches to the beat of a different drummer and has voted no on some items that it was hard for me to understand why he did so.
I don’t think he has participated in any of the public debates or forums leading up the election. I think he indicated that a family vacation had been planned and that’s the reason he was unable to attend. I know that some of the executive sessions that dealt with evaluating the former city manager he didn’t attend possibly because he had already advocated firing Tim Gleason.
Bill is still my friend, but I don’t quite understand what he is trying to do on council at times. He does purchase a column that runs a couple of times each month in the print edition of the Tribune and clearly states his views that often are contrary to most of the rest of the council. That’s certainly his right and I have received some comments from readers that they agree with some of the statements that Bill has made in his column. If Bill is elected to another term, it will certainly send a message that citizens in Decatur want him to keep advocating such views — even if the rest of the council disagrees with him at times.
• CHALLENGING incumbents Lisa Gregory and Bill Faber are strong candidates Shavon R. Francis, Marty Watkins, Shelith Hansbro, John Phillips Jr. and Rodney Walker.
• I haven’t talked with Shavon Francis for awhile. She was unsuccessful in the Democat Primary in the Macon County Treasurer’s race, but it is evident she is interested in public service. She is an accountant at ADM and received some strong support from former mayoral candidate Kara Demirjian-Huss, who held a fundraiser to help her candidacy. Funds to get her name better known is probably more difficult than for some candidates who are better known.
• Marty Watkins has run a strong campaign, picked up support from such well-known names as former sheriff and councilman Jerry Dawson and David Wilhour to name a few. Marty is ad-vertising about everywhere. He was the first to call me about discussing his campaign with him and started running advertising in this newspaper before anyone else did. Two years ago, he ran for council and lost and apparently learned a lot from that experience. He serves on several public boards and commissions and is running hard to win. There’s no question he wants to serve on the city council.
• When Shelith Hansbro announced her candidacy for city council months ago, standing with her as a form of endorsement was outgoing council member Dr. Dana Ray. That’s a big endorsement be-cause Dr. Ray has been one of the best council members I’ve seen over the years. I’ve known Shelith for a long time and her background and experience in high profile positions show that she is a leader. She is currently a warden at the Taylorville Correctional Center. Shelith is another council candidate that brings a wealth of knowledge and experience about the community into the race for council.
• John Phillips Jr. wanted to run for city council two years ago, but when his father, John Phillips, ran for mayor against Julie Moore Wolfe he felt it wouldn’t be a good idea, and could be confusing, to have a father and son running for two positions on the city council. John told me that he does not have a lot of money to spend on the campaign but he is doing his best to use all of the free media sources available during hte campaign. He also said that he believes any of the candidates who are running are campable of doing a good job as council members. He added “they are really good people”.
• Rodney Walker has great name recognition in the community, not only as a super-star athlete for years, but as the basketball coach at Eisenhower High School, owner and CEO of Skywalker in the former Armory and his work with young people. Rodney is also an extremely outgoing person and, it was apparent at the St. Patrick’s Day parade, that he had the largest group of supporters marching with him. He knows the community and the community knows him. He is a great example for not only young people, but for all of us and is another tough candidate.
• AS WE approach Tuesday’s election, the race for city council has a gold star group of candidates and, unlike many elections, voters really do have their pick from serious, quaified candidates who are running because they want to make the community better.
• The candidates for three positions on the Decatur School Board are: Dan Oakes (incumbent), Andrew W. Taylor, Regan Lewis and Leara F. Evans. This race has been extremely low profile compared to the race two years ago so there hasn’t been a lot (if any) wild accusations and rumors circulating. Actually, the school board’s actions have been fairly quiet — which is a good sign for our community. While two incumbents decided not to seek re-election, incumbent Dan Oakes deided to ask voters to keep him on the board. Dan has been on the board for a lot of years and, as I mentioned in the city council race, experience is important in a public body, at least as long as things involving that public body seem to be running smoothly. It would be a shock, and a shame, if Dan wasn’t re-elected. Regan Lewis and Andrew W. Taylor are two of the candidates who have been extremely active in getting their message out. Most of our “Letters to the Editor” the past two editions have been in support of them. They are a new generation of leaders in the community and have been very energetic in this campaigns. I like their attitude of building their lives in Decatur and their love for the community and educating our children. Both reached out to me early about their campaigns.They are very serious about their campaigns and the desire to serve. I do not know much about the fourth candidate, Leara F. Evans, except that she is a former educator who would bring that experience to the board if elected.
• TWO SIX YEAR terms are involved in the race for Trustees Of The Richland Community College District. Incumbents Dale Colee and David Cooprider face challengers Juanita Morris and Hakeemah Leverson. I’ve known Dale Colee for many years and David Cooprider even longer and I believe their experience needs to continue in those positions.
I think you should have noticed a pattern by now that, I subscribe to the adage: “If it is not broke, don’t fix it!” That doesn’t mean that I’m not open to new ideas and thoughts about how a particular body should act and react, but there has to be convincing arguments that the people serving now aren’t doing the job.
• In the race for two positions on the Decatur Park District Board, there are two candidates: present Commissioner Christopher Harrison, who is running for re-election and Kristin White. Two seats and two candidates. Easy decision here.
Be sure to get out and vote in this important election.
Paul Osborne joins Brian Byers for City Hall Insider hour on WSOY’s Byers & Co. every Thursday morning at from 7:00 until 8:00.