Candidates at Perry forum keep it cordial

PERRY — Seven of the eight candidates running for office in the Nov. 3 election met Monday evening for a forum that was most remarkable for its cordiality.

The forum, organized by The Telegraph and the Perry Area Chamber of Commerce, touched on the city budget, taxes, infrastructure and form of government, but the key issue of the evening was the attraction of business and the development of commercial property. Each candidate addressed the subject at least once and some found a way to work it into almost every answer.

Councilman Charles Lewis, who is being challenged in District 3, Post 1 by Randall Walker, was the most outspoken supporter of commercial growth in the room.

“You’ve got to maintain a certain climate for commercial operations to come into town,” said Lewis, who favors developing a commercial corridor with close access to Interstate 75. He added that it would have to be a private-public partnership, since the city would not be able to foot the bill for development.

Walker also was in favor of exploring additional commercial opportunities and thus expanding the tax base. In addressing how the city can draw more revenue, Walker felt that in the long term, “it’s in the growth of Perry.”

All of the candidates, especially the sitting council members, acknowledged that difficult economic times will continue to create difficulties in city budgeting.

Jimmy Faircloth, who is running unopposed for mayor, summed up the issue.

“It’s easy to say ‘decrease expenses’ or ‘increase revenue,’ ” said Faircloth, a Perry resident for 21 years. “Well, that’s easier said than done.”

Still, the forum was largely positive, with all of the candidates lauding the benefits of the fairgrounds, the city’s location along the busy I-75 corridor and the effect of nearby Robins Air Force Base.

At one point, the candidates for City Council District 2, Post 2 — after being offered a chance to question each other — exchanged what was essentially a verbal handshake.

Peggy Davis asked William Jackson a question about the recent drainage issues resulting from heavy rain, and the approach he would take to the issue if elected. Jackson replied that he was one of the people who had experienced flooding, which Davis seemed to already know.

After Jackson answered the tailor-made question, he said he didn’t have one for Davis.

“I don’t really feel I’m running against Peggy,” Jackson said. “I’m running for the seat.”

That incident was indicative of the tone of a group that, while acknowledging that the city has issues to address, on the whole expressed satisfaction with Perry.

The closest the forum came to controversy was when Councilman Joe Kusar asked his District 2, Post 1 challenger Joe Posey about Posey’s campaign stance of being fiscally conservative while improving public infrastructure.

“How do you intend to do both?” Kusar asked.

“I don’t see a conflict,” Posey countered.

The only no-show was incumbent councilwoman Phyllis Bynum-Grace, who is running unopposed in District 1, Post 1.