PARKERSBURG - Crime, taxes and business issues were the hot topics of discussion at a Parkersburg candidates forum Thursday night.
The Julia-Ann Square Historic District held a candidates forum Thursday for the city's three mayoral candidates, Democrats Gerald Board and Mayor Bob Newell and Republican Sharyn Tallman, and candidates for the district's city council seat.
The forum attracted about 20 residents at St. Paul's United Methodist Church.
Photos by Jeff Baughan
Gerald Board, Bob Newell, Sharyn Tallman
The event was attended by all three mayoral candidates and nearly all the candidates for the council seat. Randall Hupp, an Independent council candidate, was the only one not to attend.
Crime in the area was a concern for residents and a topic for candidates, as well as taxes and (user) fees and business growth.
Candidates were given five minutes to speak. After all the candidates had spoken, residents were allowed to mingle and ask questions.
Mayoral candidates spoke first, going in alphabetical order, led by Board, a former police chief.
Board said he wanted to create a citizens advisory committee to bring fresh ideas to the table and serve as a resource for council members.
He called for a charter revision committee, asking the charter be adjusted to allow the city's mayor to serve two, four-year terms. Newell is seeking a third consecutive term, a first in the city's history under the strong-mayor form of government.
Board pledged to work for business retention and promote a positive, working relationship with outside law enforcement and other government entities, "with the goal of preventing and reducing criminal drug activity."
"They don't have to agree," Board said. "But they don't need to argue and bicker."
Newell spoke next stating he "wasn't running against anyone; he was running for the office of mayor."
"My campaign is not based on promises I can't keep," he said.
Newell touted the improvements and growth to the city, particularly the downtown.
He touched on the retention of businesses, such as Highmark West Virginia headquarters, and the growth of new businesses: O'Reilly, Ollie's, Dunkin Donuts and WVU-P's downtown campus.
The recently approved vacant-building tax credit will aid the continued growth of business, he said. To punctuate that, Newell said there will be a major announcement coming next week regarding a multimillion dollar project for the downtown area.
If re-elected Newell pledged to continue the pursuit of a public access river port downtown, as well as the Frontier League baseball project. Newell stressed the proposed baseball park would not be a government facility but a private, big business facility.
With rising crime a concern among residents, Newell announced uniformed police had been shifted to 10-hour days beginning this week and would concentrate on hot spots throughout the city.
Tallman, who has served as the District 5 council representative for 11 years, said the city's next mayor needs to be accountable and open. She attacked the administration for what she called a lack of transparency, asking why residents- herself included- had to file Freedom of Information Act requests.
"Why is everything not transparent?" she asked.
Tallman pledged to control the budget, control expenses and decrease the user fee. She called for an audit of B&O taxes, stating "everyone needs to pay their fair share."
Joe Backus, a Republican running for council, said he was unhappy with the direction of the city and would do everything in his power to repeal the user fee.
To make up for the lack of revenue generated by the fee, Backus suggested closing police substations, downsizing the number of city parks, and going after back taxes. And he called for the increased annexation of county areas into the city to expand the tax base.
J.R. Carpenter, a Democrat running for council and business owner in the district, told residents he also wasn't in favor of the user fee, but recognized the need for its income, especially with regard to the federal stormwater mandates.
"We need to use it wisely," he said.
Paul Miller, a Democrat running for council, also spoke against the fee, stating he would like to see it reduced. Miller said the dilapidated homes and broken windows in the district are signs for criminals to set up shop in the neighborhood. He is calling for a police substation in the district.
"I want an increased police presence, to send a strong signal to people committing these crimes," Miller said.