More than 100 people turned out to hear from candidates in the Opelika city elections.
The League of Women Voters of East Alabama along with the Opelika Chamber of Commerce and the Opelika-Auburn News sponsored the event.
Each set of candidates were asked a series of questions, some submitted by the audience, for 40 minutes from moderator Rev. Clifford Jones of Greater Peace Missionary Baptist Church.
Mayor Gary Fuller touted bringing a fiber optic network to the city as a major accomplishment of his last term as mayor.
“We’re in a much better place but our future is so bright,” Fuller said. “Becoming Alabama’s first gig city, investing the money we’ve invested in Opelika High School and the money we appropriate to Opelika City Schools are paying dividends for us today – and it’s just going to get better and better in the future.”
Mayor challenger Lee County Commissioner John Andrew Harris said he would make sure every ward sees results from the success of the city and do more to increase affordable housing in the city.
“I will collaborate with the city departments along with current distinguished council members to ensure the revenue is put to use effectively,” Harris said.
Jones asked the candidates about what can be done to curb violence in the city.
“It has caused me much turmoil to think about the senseless killing of our young men,” Fuller said. “Sixteen out of the 17 last homicides in Opelika over several periods were young black men, and the perpetuating of that was, in most cases, another young black man.”
Fuller said the city has to do more to get parents involved with their children’s lives.
Harris said he was a product of the street but he changed and got on the right track.
“If we show love and compassion to each other, it will be a better community” Harris said. “…we show them love and compassion and a relationship (with people.) You’ve got to have a relationship. They need hope. They need prayer, and they need love.”
Both candidates said they opposed a methadone clinic being built in the city.
Councilwoman Patsy Jones said she would continue the success of the Carver-Jeter Master Plan.
“You see the progress that has been made,” Patsy Jones said. “The first two streets are Auburn Street and Martin Luther King. You will continue to see the progress with the sidewalks, with more lighting. And you see will landscaping.”
Challenger Greg Jones criticized Patsy Jones tenure on the council.
“I’ve seen Ward 1 the last 20 years go down deeply – deeply down,” Greg Jones said. “So many murders that occurred in Ward 1, burglaries, crimes, break ins.”
Greg Jones ran against Patsy Jones in 2012, and he said he was retaliated against after the last election.
“Are we going to have time to respond to (the other candidate’s) comments,” Patsy Jones asked. “Since I’ve been so strongly ridiculed here as far as my actions. …I don’t want this audience to leave and not have facts.”
The moderator reminded candidates not to attack each other and answer the questions directly.
Councilman Larry Gray said solving the crime problem is a joint effort.
“In order to solve crime, we’re going to have to become a community that works with the police,” Gray said. “We’ve got to utilize some of those tools that’s out there like secret hotlines, neighborhood watches and things of that nature.”
Tiffany Gibson-Pitts said the city has taken a reactive approach to crime and more programs should be put in place to combat it.
“My goal is to create a partnership with the Opelika Police Department, where they would actually serve as mentors for the children in Ward 2,” Gibson-Pitts said.
Nelson Marsh said there is no silver bullet from crime but he believes increasing the number of police officers in the city would help.
“We’re not doing our part to fund (the police) enough,” Marsh said. “If we want to see crime dealt with in Ward 2, and by extension Ward 1, we need to increase their budget. Out of the $120 million budget we have in the city every year, our police department receives about $7 (million,)” Marsh said.
Oscar Penn said he’s already organized programs to help combat crime like the Easter Healing program to bring the community and police together.
“We got to give our children positive reinforcement,” Penn said. “Where we’re not always talking bad, but we’re talking love. We’re teaching them where than can be educated within the home. We have established these things already. So the first thing I’m trying to tell you is I’m already a city councilman, now all you got to do is go vote.”