Four mayoral candidates spar in debate
By By Ben Alexander/The Meridian Star
May 29, 2001
About 50 people attended a mayoral debate Monday night at Emma McCain Theater at Meridian Community College. The majority were campaign workers.
The forum was sponsored by the Council of Government's Human Relations Commission, and broadcast live by Comcast.
The four mayoral candidates and five city council candidates answered questions from a panel of three media representatives and members of the audience. Most questions concerned services provided by the city to its residents.
Democratic challenger William Hugh Johnson said a vote to re-elect Republican incumbent John Robert Smith is a vote for "more racial diversity, potholes and special interest politics."
Johnson, and Independent candidates Bill McBride and Charlie Haynes, agreed the city isn't providing residents with adequate services in the areas of garbage collection and police protection.
Haynes said the current administration focuses too much attention on high-profile projects, and not enough on "nuts and bolt" services.
McBride criticized the city for not having a comprehensive paving program to maintain a higher standard for street repairs. McBride also said the Meridian Police Department is dangerously understaffed.
Smith responded by saying all citizens enjoy good fire and police protection, and that more than 100 miles of street repaving has been done during his tenure.
In light of the City Planning Commission's recent rejection of a incentives package developed by the Community Development Department and the Grow Meridian Team, the candidates were asked how they would go about sparking new residential growth.
Haynes said the first step is to solve the "mad breakdown" in communication between city departments.
Johnson criticized the city, saying, "We have put obstacles in the path of development," but added he wouldn't support the incentives package because the city doesn't need to pay for infrastructure improvements to "rich developers."
McBride said the community needs to be more involved in how to grow the city, but that he too wouldn't support the taxpayers shouldering costly incentives to lure developers.
Smith said his Grow Meridian Team, formed in late 2000, had solid ideas about how to spur growth in the city and that he supports implementing those strategies. Smith said he supports the incentives package the planning commission rejected and that the package would be resubmitted, saying "We'll be back."
Ben Alexander is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. Call him at 693-1551, ext. 3226, or e-mail him at balexander@