School issues dominate forum
By By Leada Gore, Hartselle Enquirer
The vast majority of candidates for Hartselle municipal posts said they would support an elected school board if a groundswell of the citizens said they want to make the change.
Candidates for city council and mayor spoke at a Chamber of Commerce-hosted forum Tuesday night. Some 150 people filled Sparkman Civic Center for the event.
The three mayoral candidates - incumbent Dwight Tankersley and challengers Mike Dowdy and Terry Miller - were each asked four questions: what qualified them to be mayor; did they favor an elected or appointed school board and how they would hande the issue of a new high school; how they would support infrastructure projects; and if they felt regional cooperation was important.
All three said they would support the move towards an elected school board if enough citizens showed support for the idea.
Miller said he agreed the people should have the right to vote on an elected school board.
Tankersley said the appointed school board served the city well, he would support an elected school board if he thought that’s what the voters wanted.
All three said they felt the city also needed to address the issue of a new high school.
Miller said it was up to the voters to decide if they want a new high school. Tankersley said the city needed a new school and cooperation on ideas to fund it was important.
On other issues, Dowdy, a truck driver, said “we need something going on at the interstate. Something high profile and high volume. Maybe a Cracker Barrel or a Green Briar,” and felt he needed to research regional growth ideas, such as the work to bring a new industrial park to Hartselle, before he could speak on those plans.
Miller, who owns a used car dealership, said his administration would be about cutting waste and creating jobs.
Miller said he’d like to see the town hold community meetings every six months and encourage more civic involvement.
Tankersley said his last four years in office have given him the experience to run the city.
Tankersley also stressed the importance of working with state and national lawmakers to promote city projects, as well as cooperating with county officials on regional projects.
In the city council races:
Council Place 2
Challenger A.D. Hargrove said he wouldn’t make any promises to the voters other than to “give the city back,” to them.
Hargrove said he supported an elected school board and allowing people to vote if they wanted a new school. He also said he wouldn’t support regional projects if they didn’t benefit Hartselle.
Incumbent Councilman Bill Smelser was unable to attend the forum. Smelser had heart surgery earlier in the week and was released from the hospital earlier in the day Tuesday. He is recovering at home and is expected to make a full recovery.
Bob Francis, president of the Hartselle Development Board, read a prepared statement from Smelser, who vowed to continue the work he’s done on the council and highlighted the need for more economic development.
Incumbent Mark Mizell said the council’s ability to work together had made it successful in the last four years, citing the work down on the garbage and recycling programs, industrial park and road work.
He said he, too, supported an elected school board if that was the desire of the people.
Mizell also stressed the importance he places on economic development, even if that development is outside the city limits.
Political newcomer Ron Hammon said the city had suffered from a string of “activist councils” and we need to look instead at decreasing the size of government.
Businessman and minister Bill Partridge said he’s “heard enough groaning about the school system.”
He also said he supports working on regional projects, as long as the city doesn’t give away too much.
Former city council and planning commission member Tom Chappell said he “liked the system” we have now for the school board but would not be “totally opposed if the residents wanted to vote” for an elected school board.
He also said he thought a new high school was needed.
Chappell said he also saw the importance of going to Washington, DC and working with legislators during his previous tenure in office.
Incumbent Bill Drake, who found himself at odds with members of the School Board earlier this year when he blocked an effort to send a school vote referendum to Montgomery, said he knows some of decisions “have alienated me from special groups in Hartselle.” He said he did support an elected school board if that’s what the voters wanted but questioned if a town of 13,000 could afford a “$30-40 million school.”
Drake pledged he would not support a sales tax increase.
He also said he would support regional economic development, depending on the project.
Former two-term councilman Don Hall said the system of appointing a school board had served the city well.
Hall said he’d like to meet with all the school principals and discuss ways to ease overcrowding and weigh options of adding on to existing facilities. Hall also said he would ask the people to support a 1 cent sales tax increase to support construction of a new high school.
Hall said economic development is important, too.
Former mayor and current councilman Samie Wiley said he’s in favor of an elected school board.
He also said the continued widening of Highway 36 was important, as was the work on the new Morgan County Industrial Park.