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Citizens speak up

Wednesday night was the time for listening.

State Sen. Hank Sanders said that anyone in the Dallas County Commission courtroom would be disappointed if they came expecting a speech from him.

Instead, Sanders listened to questions and concerns of Dallas County residents about everything from a growing crime problem in Selma to ways of attracting industry.

There was one common theme in all the senator’s answers — initiative.

“It usually takes initiative on the local level, and then we find a way to support you,” Sanders said when asked about state funding for projects. “If you’re waiting for initiative from the state, you might be waiting for a long time. If somebody takes the ball and runs with it, we’ll block for you and get you across that line.”

Wednesday was the first in a series of town hall meetings Sanders plans to hold in all nine counties he represents.

Mae Richmond lives in the Selmont community and does a lot of work with incarcerated people. Her concern is that people, especially young men, leave the jail system without the adequate skills to join the work force again.

“If industry is coming to Dallas County, and they’re not ready, they’re through,” Richmond said. “I really believe if we can get the men moving in the right direction, the women will follow and it will keep our children form becoming juvenile delinquents.”

Ten murders occurred in Selma in 2008, and several involved youth as suspects or victims. People in the gathering asked about funding for education and programs that could deter juveniles from violent crime.

“I wouldn’t mind taxing gambling to get other things, but I hope that you keep supporting the things we have now that we need,” said Anne Fitts, a member of the Selma City Board of Education.

Sanders said cuts to the state education budget during the next year could reach $1 billion.

“When you have to cut $1 billion out of the education budget everything is on the table, and that’s the difficult thing,” Sanders said.

Sanders also addressed the proposed extension of Interstate 85 from Montgomery to Mississippi, which some people see as a way to lure industries to the Black Belt.

The major problem, Sanders said, is determining whether the route would go through Lowndes or Autauga counties before reaching Dallas County.

Sanders also expressed hope that President-elect Barack Obama’s stimulus package would include a reduction in the matching amount states are required to pay for Medicaid.

“Senior citizens go without a lot down here,” said Millie Lee Dulaney. “I go to my doctor, and I have to wait 4-5 hours. He’s an excellent doctor, but there’s so much strain on doctors and nurses.”