Candidates field election questions

Published 5:00 am Monday, May 17, 2004

Candidates for mayor and city clerk in Tuesday’s specialelection were asked to respond to a series of questions in aneffort to help inform voters. All five candidates participated.

* With rising insurance costs and the desire to give employeepay raises, personnel expenses continue to take a larger portion ofthe city’s budget each year. As mayor, what specific steps wouldyou take to control these costs?

Sam Dodds: With the skyrocketing national debt and a steadilyincreasing accounts deficit, the health of the national (andtherefore local) economy is at risk. Against this economicbackdrop, it is especially important to tighten our belts. To thatend, shared sacrifice would be the theme of my administration. Iwould seek to:

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* Control the cost of health insurance by rolling back some ofthe coverage provisions of the current health plan and byincreasing the employee financial contribution to it. The servantsof the people should not enjoy a healthcare plan, essentially attaxpayer expense, which is vastly superior to anything that (mostof) the people themselves can afford. That’s hardly consistent withshared sacrifice.

Of course, this is only a short term solution, since healthcarecosts will continue to rise regardless of the type of coverage theemployees receive. Our long term strategy must be to promote thingswhich improve the general health and health education of ourcitizens.

* Control employee pay by freezing salaries, with perhaps acost-of-living allowance exception for some employees; review theexisting salary structure, especially of the mayor and board, withsalary reductions as the goal. This will set a terrificshared-sacrifice example.

Generally speaking, I would identify waste and inefficiency,dismissing redundant/non-essential employees. I’d also considerconverting job definitions from full-time to part-time, if the jobwas essential but wasn’t so labor intensive as to justify full-timestatus.

Bob Massengill: Steps to control costs:

* The mayor, the board, and the department managers must insurethat the city is run in an efficient manner. As a businessman withhands-on experience, I will do my best to see that our tax dollarsare spent wisely. The taxpayer expects and deserves this.

* The mayor and board need to re-evaluate the cost of healthinsurance. I believe that the city must take a more business-likeapproach and increase the deductible as well as charging more fordependent coverage. Having each prospective employee take apre-employment physical will also help control our claims.

John Roberts, Jr.: Insurance is an employee benefit given by thecity. Not only do our city employees depend on this benefit, but toa greater degree, so do their spouses and children. As your mayor,I will look at our budget needs, but will protect this benefit forour employees, and make it work.

* The city and county have voted to support development of a newindustrial park. What can you do as mayor to encourage newindustries and businesses to locate in the park once it isdeveloped?

Sam Dodds: Generally speaking, the Brookhaven Chamber ofCommerce takes the lead in seeking out new businesses andindustries for relocation to this area. Convincing new industriesand businesses to locate in the new industrial park will rely,principally, on three factors:

* financial incentives (tax abatement, existinginfrastructure…)

* quality-of-workforce incentives (education level, work ethic,general physical health…)

* quality-of-life incentives (crime level, municipal services,recreational facilities…)

As mayor, I will work closely with the chamber of commerce topositively influence those factors within my purview — as well actas “cheerleader” for the community.

I would support those proposals which encourage newindustries/businesses and which at the same time preserve thequality of life and are fiscally sound.

Bob Massengill: Development of a new industrial park:

The city board, the board of supervisors, the chamber and theIndustrial Development Foundation have the opportunity to build alarge industrial park, which means we can then attract industrythat will provide jobs for us, for our children, and for ourgrandchildren.

With the management experience that I have, I understand what alarge company is looking for when they are considering relocationor expansion. I know their needs, and feel comfortable using mybusiness experience in talking with any industrial prospect.

I also believe that I, along with our community leaders, canshow prospects what makes Brookhaven and Lincoln County “special.”By “special” I mean the quality of our schools, the work ethic andtrainability of the workforce, and the desire of city and countyofficials to cooperate. Another vital factor is our new industrialpark, which will be second to none!

John Roberts, Jr.: The key components to bring new industriesand businesses are better schools, low taxes, a strong medicalcenter, less crime and work force. As your mayor, I will supportall of these. The best time to fill an industrial park is before itis completed.

* At city board meetings and during this campaign, severalprojects have been discussed, including annexation costs, themulti-modal transportation center, a public swimming pool and arecreation center. Of those mentioned — or others that you mayhave considered — what projects would you give top priority?

Sam Dodds: Generally speaking, those projects which directlyrelate to increased jobs and revenue would receive top priority.These projects would be divided into those which require immediateattention and those which do not. Resources would be allocated tothese projects in a commensurately staged chronologicalfashion.

Those projects, like a recreational center, which would helpbusiness/industry recruiting would also be given high priority.

Roadway improvement, frequently mentioned in my informal survey,would also receive high priority.

Bob Massengill: Projects:

One of the first things a business needs to do is “prioritize,”especially when finances are limited. The city always faces a tightbudget, so we must distinguish between “needs” and “wants.” Withthat in mind, let me mention several priorities:

1. I’ll start with annexation because it is a primary concern ofmany people right now. We need qualified leadership who will seethat the newly annexed areas receive city services in a timelymanner, without decreasing the level of service of those already apart of the city.

2. The purchase of the land for the industrial park is ofprimary importance. We must insure that people have good jobopportunities, not only now but also for years to come.

3. Little or no equipment has been purchased for several years,therefore nearly every piece owned by the city is in need of repairor replacement. This has to be one of the top priorities.

4. Phase One of the Multi-Modal facility will allow us torefurbish a rather run down area of town, without any constructioncost to the taxpayer. I feel that this facility should definitelybenefit civic and community groups as well as train passengers.

5. Our community has other needs that, hopefully, can beaccomplished in “phases” over the next several years. We can neverlose sight of the fact that we have budget limitations,however.

John Roberts, Jr.: Annexation has to be a top priority and willbe one of mine. Federal funds must be attained in order to reduceour costs. Children and families are also a top priority for me;therefore, a public swimming pool and a recreation center will beaddressed. My background in raising private funds will go a longway in making this a reality.

The Mississippi School of the Arts has always been and willremain a top priority for me.

* This year’s board decision to privatize garbage collectionservices has received mixed reviews from citizens, and solid wasteissues continue to present difficulties for city officials. Wheredo you see city solid waste operations headed in the near future,and what do you think is the solution?

Sam Dodds: Complaints concerning solid waste and rubbish pickupwere among the most numerous complaints mentioned in response to mysurvey. Solid waste issues are community quality-of-life concernsand can affect a business’ or individual’s decision to relocate tothis area. The outsourcing of jobs, whether by government or theprivate sector, is a wrong-headed idea. Jobs are outsourced to savemoney or increase profits. But the savings/profits, if any, areoutweighed by

* increased customer dissatisfaction with the service or productprovided

* loss of tax revenue (since the outsource provider is usuallyout-of-area)

* increase unemployment compensation payout (until the citizenfinds another job)

The employment is a measure of a community’s strength. Byoutsourcing jobs, you weaken the community and help to demoralizeits citizens.

I would oppose outsourcing, except in extraordinary cases suchas full employment.

Bob Massengill: Solid Waste Issues: I believe that we willbecome more satisfied with Waste Management as time goes on.Through the years the cost of picking up garbage and trash hadgotten excessive, thus the need to go to a professional, outsidefirm.

The board decided to continue picking up trash and rubbish, aswe knew people didn’t want to bag or bundle, which was arequirement of all outside firms. If our customers cooperate byseparating limbs from leaves or grass as well as by putting cansand paper in with their garbage, the city should be able tocontinue offering a service that will best meet their needs.

John Roberts, Jr.: There are many reasons to privatize garbagecollection services. The two most common reasons are saving moneyand improving quality. The new garbage collection service needsvast improvement. As your mayor, one of the first issues I willaddress will be to meet with waste officials to that you get theservice that you deserve, ON TIME!

* What qualities or skills do you possess that should encouragevoters to select you instead of your opponent?

Sam Dodds: I believe that the most important qualities of apublic servant are love of God and what is right, love of country,truthfulness/honesty, an unfailing tendency to do what is in thecommunity’s best interest rather than that of a particularconstituency — black-white-corporate-legal, a liberal dose of thecommon sense that the Lord grants us all. I believe that I have anample supply of all of the above.

Bob Massengill: Qualities or Skills:

I helped develop a small local company into a leader in itsindustry. For over 23 years I gained valuable management experiencethat I feel is necessary in running the business of the city. Thisexperience is extremely important during city expansion.

I have run a large bank as well as helping start another bank. Iunderstand financial operations and will make sound businessdecisions.

I am a good communicator as well as a good listener.

As an alderman for the past three years I have learned muchabout how our city functions.

I have developed excellent relationships with others working incity government.

By utilizing my many years of experience as a businessman, theboard and I will be able to run the city like a business …efficiently and competently!

John Roberts, Jr.:

I will be accessible to everybody I represent.

I am able to work with all city employees.

I am able to identify with the needs and concerns of allcitizens.

I have 12 years of experience in city government.

I have the vision to move Brookhaven forward.

I have the communication skills necessary to work with ALLboards … in harmony.