STOCKBRIDGE – The nine candidates for three Stockbridge City Council seats answered a variety of questions from the public at a forum on Tuesday.
Candidates answered questions on SPLOST, Cochran Park, districting, a proposed Stockbridge Police Department, and even how their personal actions would not get in the way of handling the city’s business.
The proposed Stockbridge Police Department was a popularly submitted topic at Tuesday’s meeting, and all nine candidates expressed their support for the police department, with candidates differing how the department would be funded.
Some candidates, like Cherice Hollis, spoke of prioritizing public safety in the budget, and others, such as Jacqueline Blalock, spoke of adding taxes to businesses to fund the proposed department.
While candidates were questioned about their personal behavior not getting in the way of the actions of the city, a modified version of that question was asked of John Blount and Elton Alexander, who were involved in incidents in the last year or so on the City Council.
In response, the two appeared to take shots at each other, with Alexander appearing to call Blount a “bully” and stating that Stockbridge is “filled with dirty politics,” while Blount said “anything negative that has happened” in the city has had Alexander’s name tied to it.
In addition, the two were asked if they could work together if both were re-elected. Alexander appeared to not directly answer that question, stating instead that “America has a problem with bullies.”
“I can’t be bullied,” Alexander said. “It was kept behind closed doors. I was threatened, Neat Robinson was threatened. I just want to be safe.”
Blount said he would work with anyone, but indirectly said that Alexander had been trying to hurt his reputation.
Other candidates said they would work to ensure their personal issues would not get in the way of handling city business. For example, candidate Kenneth McFarland said he wouldn’t have a problem getting along with other council members because he worked in a black church.
“If you don’t get along there, you won’t get anything done,” McFarland said. “I don’t need to receive credit for anything.”
Yolanda Barber, another candidate, said council members “have to learn to compromise.”
“My career in management prepared me to deal with a large number of people,” Barber said. “People with different perspectives, different personalities and different backgrounds. They all have one thing in common, and that’s everyone just wants to be heard.”
Each of the nine candidates expressed support for the projects already approved in SPLOST IV and on the ballot in November, but some candidates differed on projects being completed and getting worked on.
The question raised to candidates stated that only 20 percent of SPLOST IV projects had been completed. Blount disagreed with that assessment, stating that most projects relating to infrastructure and public works had been completed.
Alexander, meanwhile, stated that projects had not been done due to a lack of leadership.
One of those projects, the Stockbridge Amphitheater, should have broken ground at the start of the year, Alexander argued, but he said it didn’t because “Elton Alexander was pushing for it.”
“The 3-2 vote wouldn’t allow it to happen,” Alexander said.
Other candidates spoke of cooperation between the city and Henry County for SPLOST. Candidate Arthur Christian, for example, spoke of looking forward to the proposed aquatic center that has turned into the county’s showcase item of SPLOST V.
“We must embrace that one penny,” Christian said. “Because of the lack of cooperation between the county and the cities, every city has lost millions on SPLOST funds because of no intergovernmental agreement. We must be on one floor. We can’t move forward unless we are together.”
Candidate Nathan Banks, who said he believed in SPLOST, spoke of $20 million remaining in SPLOST IV, but lamented the lack of progress going on with the funds.
“We’re stuck on slow,” Banks said. “Because of the arguing and bickering, stuff doesn’t get done. We’ve got to get council members to lead forward. If we don’t, we’re going to regret it in four years.”
Another hot topic at Tuesday’s meeting was that of Cochran Park, the baseball field in the Stockbridge city limits owned by Henry County. The park was closed at the end of July for safety reasons and has been a “touchy subject,” as Councilwoman Neat Robinson put it.
In their responses, many candidates appeared to directly address Commissioner Bruce Holmes, who was sitting in the audience for Tuesday’s forum.
“I contacted the commissioner, and I’ve been communicating for the last two years. Stockbridge is getting played,” Alexander said. “The county is not spending nearly enough funds in Stockbridge. Cochran Park is in his district, and it is a county park.”
Alexander argued that with the county’s $161 million annual general fund budget, the county could afford the $592,000 needed to fix the park.
Blount argued the county was responsible for the park going into disrepair.
“I’ve been talking about it since 2016,” Blount said. “We didn’t wake up and it suddenly became dilapidated. It has been over time. Take a look at it, and take a look at Jurassic Park, and see the similarities. Bruce Holmes hasn’t put money in the park. He closed the park and put the responsibilities on the taxpayers.”
Others, like McFarland, spoke of wanting to work with the county to get the park fixed.
“I went to the coaches and I talked to them by myself. I told them, whatever happens, you will win,” he said. “The city hasn’t done anything for four years, and now we’re talking about the park. This is a political game. Let’s work with the county.”
Hollis also questioned why the park was suddenly being discussed at this time.
“It must be an election year,” she said. “If we had a better working relationship (with the county), we’d have dealt with this 25 years ago.”
Hollis said she understood why the county ordered the park closed, and stated the city and county should come up with a compromise to get the park re-opened.
“If it’s $600,000? Let’s come together to fix it,” she said. “No kids should be playing on parks with busted pipes and sinkholes.”
The nine candidates are going for three seats on the Stockbridge City Council, currently held by Alexander, Blount and Robinson. Early voting starts on Monday.