Valley Grande holds forum

Published 12:25 am Wednesday, August 20, 2008

VALLEY GRANDE — Keeping the status quo vs. making large-scale changes: that was the elemental struggle at the heart of the Valley Grande political forum on Tuesday night.

The event, sponsored by the Valley Grande Exchange Club, allowed candidates for mayor and each of the five city council seats to speak about their goals for the future.

The city faces a pivotal point in its young history with the Aug. 26 elections approaching.

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Some residents and the people who hope to represent them believe the city should remain as it originally started — a small, close-knit community that takes pride in its independence.

“I decided to run to be more involved in the community and to try to maintain the quality of life we have here now,” said Jimmy Johnson, a candidate for Place 3. “I believe the city government of Valley Grande should be small government. We’ve got enough people telling us what we should do on the state and federal level.”

Still, other candidates called for progressive moves for the city.

Ken Melton, a Place 2 candidate, called for dividing the city into wards in order to represent its residents equally and fairly.

“Candidates would then no longer be able to choose their constituents at large,” Melton said. “Wards are the only way to ensure fair and accountable representation for all residents of Valley Grande.”

Incumbent mayor Tom Lee warned that such an idea is too far ahead of the city’s current progress. It’s a process that requires a lot of time, manpower and money.

“It’s a good concept for when we can afford it,” he said.

The format of the forum was a two-minute introductory speech by each of the candidates, followed by a question-and-answer session.

Moderator Benny Austin, president-elect of the Valley Grande Exchange Club, read audience-generated questions that could have been intended specifically for mayor or council candidates or both.

Each candidate had the opportunity to give a one-minute answer to each question.

Toward the end of the hour and a half session, the development of Alabama Highway 22 came up. The candidates for mayor that were present, Lee and Terry Hughes, were asked what they would do to push for making it a four-line highway.

Hughes opted not to answer the question, but Lee said a plan was already in progress.

“It will be a five-lane, similar to Citizen’s Parkway; two lanes on each side and a turning lane in the middle,” Lee said. “We’re pushing it now. We’re 63 percent finished with the first stage, which is acquiring the right of way.”

Lee said the project is on schedule for completion in 2011.

Council candidates addressed the issue of zoning.

“As long as you don’t have to zone, I don’t think it would be a good idea if you did,” said incumbent Place 1 representative Julie Drinkard.

Libby Ezelle, however, the Place 3 incumbent, thinks zoning is something the city should look at proactively.

“We’ll have to in the near future, primarily in the residential areas,” she said. “No one wants an undesirable business to open next door to them. And with a zoning plan, we can protect against that.”