At least two issues are now perfectly clear after Thursday night’s Fayetteville candidate forum at Sams Auditorium: 1) Consolidation of fire departments is a dead issue; and 2) Nobody is interested in bringing mass transit to Fayetteville, for now.
Thursday night’s forum was sponsored by the Fayette County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Fayette County Chamber of Commerce, Fayette County Democratic Committee, Fayette County Republican Party, and Fayette County Issues Tea Party. A second forum, scheduled for Monday evening at Sandy Creek High School, will feature candidates in the Peachtree City and Tyrone municipal races.
Several guests Thursday night bore signs calling for the city to save its fire department, which is a reference to a failed effort last year by some Fayette County and Fayetteville officials to consolidate the county and city fire departments and have the combined department run by the county. Mayor Greg Clifton and Councilman Mickey Edwards both said they had been in favor of exploring the possibility based on financial concerns, but both have since said they would not consider any such idea in the future.
“They’re beating a dead horse tonight,” Clifton said as part of his opening statement, referring to the signage suggesting the city’s fire department still needed to be saved. “We’ve already discussed consolidation twice, and it did not pass.”
Clifton praised fire department personnel for attracting a large grant that helps offset fire protection costs in the city, which also helps make consolidation arguments a moot point moving forward.
“That issue has been put to bed, and we will not be considering it under my next administration,” Clifton continued. “Other than that, we have had great success. You got two great candidates that you’ve got to decide between tonight. I hope you will look at my record.
“This isn’t just a matter of race,” Clifton said. “This is not a race about race. It’s the race about what has been done versus what someone says they may do. I don’t even know what he means by ‘Taking It to the Next Level.'”
“I do want to thank Mayor Clifton for his leadership, and to the current city council for the work that we have done over the last four years,” City councilman and mayoral candidate Ed Johnson said during his opening remarks. “And I also want to thank the previous administration under Mayor Ken Steele and the other councilmen, who brought Fayetteville through some extremely difficult times.
“I guess the most pressing question on your minds tonight is, after serving as the city councilman for only four years, why am I running for mayor?” Johnson continued. “Well, as you look at my signs you will find, and it is not a cliche, I believe that I have the ability and the leadership to take Fayetteville to the next level.”
Post 1 City Council write-in candidate Mimi Oddo opened by saying she has been a Fayetteville resident for five years and nine months and a United States citizen since March of this year. She is the wife of Fayetteville City Councilman Paul Oddo, who is up for reelection in two years. Oddo touted her executive-level work in Mexican banking, university education and the legal system as experience that qualifies her to be a good city council member.
“When I knew that Post 1 was an empty chair, and there was only one candidate, I decided to run for this and give you another choice,” Oddo continued. “I am running for councilman because I love this city. This city now is my home.”
Retired businessman Harlan Shirley, who is also seeking the Post 1 city council post, said he was prompted to run for city council after last year’s talks between the county and city about consolidating fire departments. He said he understands Clifton no longer wants to consider consolidation, but he promised the audience talks of consolidating fire departments or police departments would not happen if he was elected to city council.
“I believe we need to have a lot of things going on within the city to keep it viable for the future, and with the activities we have at Pinewood, I can assure you that the opportunities in this city, in this area are unlimited,” Shirley added.
Post 2 City Council candidate Kathaleen Brewer, who is opposing incumbent Mickey Edwards in the race, said, “I’m known as a visionary and a doer. I’m not much of a smoocher.”
Brewer said she has been a Fayetteville resident for a dozen years and that she had avoided politics in the past. Her father is former City Councilman Glenn Brewer. She said she became interested in running for office after the fire department consolidation discussion appeared before the city council a second time last year.
Brewer said considering the fire department consolidation was evidence that city council members weren’t listening to the public. Brewer was one of the outspoken opponents to consolidation during that debate last year.
Edwards rounded off the opening comments by saying he would never again entertain consolidating fire departments. He also said he wanted to answer allegations from his opponent that he was in favor of a proposed apartment complex that would have been built on Grady Avenue.
“The present city council didn’t vote on any apartments on Grady Avenue,” Edwards said. “The developers who came last wanted to put apartments there. We sent him back to Planning and Zoning.”
Edwards went on to say he is optimistic about the increasing number of businesses that are coming to Fayetteville despite there still being too many vacant buildings in the area.
“Fayetteville is a destination for business again,” Edwards said, noting that the city has recently simplified its permitting process, which he says helps builders without compromising the city’s development standards.
Fayette County Democratic Committee Chairman Leonard Presberg, who is also an elected Fayette County Board of Education member, and Fayette County Republican Party Chairman Tyrone Jones served as moderators presenting the full panel of candidates with a short list of general questions. Those questions touched on issues such as constituent access to public officials, mass transit, tax allocation districts, and crime prevention. Other questions were offered by the audience.
On the mass transit question, all of the candidates said they were against publicly funded mass transit.