Mayoral candidates answer questions about community’s future

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 6, 2004

Special to The Democrat

EDITOR’S NOTE: In recent days we asked all three Natchez mayoral candidates to provide written answers to a series of five questions, along with one extra question specific to each candidate. Below are their full responses:

Question 1:

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Describe in detail an example of help you have provided in your official or non-official role to give a boost to a small business owner or to the business sector in general.

RICHARD BRANYAN (independent): I was one of the early businesses to revitalize Franklin Street and create Antiques Row. I was also a founding member of the Franklin Street Antique Dealers Association and was instrumental in the purchasing and installation of Antiques Row banners on Franklin Street in 1994 and 2003. I designed the Antique Row rack cards, coordinated the printing and distribution to welcome centers around Mississippi. I organized group advertising for Antiques Row in the Antiques Gazette, Mississippi Tour Planner and other publications. I recently organized a group of regional conservators to exhibit at the American Association of Museums annual conference, the world’s largest museum meeting, a conference of 6,000 museum professionals. I offered to sell the Natchez Festival of Music tickets for the 2004 season, resulting in a 47 percent increase in net revenues for the Natchez Festival of Music.

SUE STEDMAN (Republican): I believe that small businesses are the bedrock of a community. It has been my pleasure over the years as a businesswoman, a real estate professional and an alderwoman to foster and help several small businesses grow and become successfully established in Natchez. Assistance has been provided to these businesses by helping them identify affordable locations in which to house their businesses, accepting reduced compensation to facilitate purchases or rental contracts, personal recommendations to business clientele for work, assistance with permitting and licensing procedures at city hall, and upon request analysis of and recommendations for solving financial problems. Some of these businesses are a lawn service company, an electrician, cleaning services, painters, carpenters, pool services and physicians.

PHILLIP WEST (Democrat): In 1974, I was employed as a small business development specialist for the Natchez Business League in affiliation with the Jackson Business League.

I assisted small and disadvantaged businesses located in the Natchez area to develop business plans for submission to banks and other financial institutions, such as the Small Business Administration.

Through my job, I provided counseling and located other available resources and persons with expertise to support these businesses in their efforts either to start a business or expand an existing business.

During my tenure as a state representative or supervisor, I consistently voted for tax incentives and tax breaks for International Paper Co., Armstrong Tire, Fidelity Tire, Titan Tire, Johns Manville, Mississippi River Corp., Nissan North America, Northrop Grumman Corp. and other companies located in Mississippi.

I have sponsored legislation to eliminate tax burdens for small, one-family-operated businesses that have been in existence for 20 years or more.

In addition, I have sponsored legislation to provide major tax breaks for businesses interested in locating in southwest Mississippi (Adams, Jefferson, Wilkinson and Amite counties). These businesses would employ a minimum of 50 persons with an upward pay scale for employees and any capital investment that these companies would incur.

Question 2:

Explain how you view the importance of diversity among Natchez residents and specific ways you as mayor will ensure that city government is inclusive of all residents, celebrating diversity but bringing about harmonious relationships.

BRANYAN: Natchez, a racially diverse town and government, has to be inclusive of and fair to the entire community. I am the only candidate that attended racially diverse high schools and colleges. I know the importance of diversity in any community. I will strive to work well with Alcorn to bring new educational investments into Natchez. I will strive to foster good relations with all segments of the community. I want to work to grow our African-American tourism and promote and fund the Forks of the Road site, the NAPAC Museum, the historically important black churches, the interpretation of slavery at many museums and houses in Natchez.

The African-American experience is a vital part of the history of Natchez that appears to have been overlooked for many years. The complete story must be told. I believe I am a candidate who can build consensus and represent the entire community.

STEDMAN: Natchez is diverse, and how diversity is dealt with at City Hall is very important to our success as a community. We not only have large African-American and Anglo-Saxon populations, but a growing Chinese and Hispanic population as well. It is important to understand that all people are proud of their ethnic heritage and want to be recognized for their contributions to society. As mayor, I will be responsive to the people of our community and ensure that city hall will be open and available to all citizens. Equal opportunity hiring practices will be followed. As an alderwoman, I have demonstrated my ability and willingness to recognize our diversity by successfully finalizing stalled negotiations for an agreement for the purchase of the Forks of the Road site that likely will become a part of the Natchez National Park, supported grant applications and projects for the NAPAC Museum, voted for the employment of minority department heads and voted for the appointment of minority members to the School Board, Civil Service Commission, Recreation Council, etc.

WEST: I have always viewed the diversity of our community as a major asset that we need to utilize. With the racial composition of our community being approximately 50/50, our diversity (asset) provides us with an excellent opportunity to lead by example, paving the way for others to follow.

We should consciously be aware of the strengths of our diversity, enduring access to equal opportunity is a part of our decision-making process. In my administration, I would create an open-door policy for the citizens of Natchez, allowing them an opportunity to be heard.

I have demonstrated my ability to take advantage of our diversity during my tenure as chairman of the Adams County Democratic Party, president of the Adams County Board of Supervisors and chairman of the Boys & Girls Club of the Miss-Lou Area.

Question 3:

Provide several specific examples of actions you have taken and the results of those actions that demonstrate your leadership skills.

BRANYAN: I have been active in the revitalization of downtown Natchez, restoring buildings moving into old commercial property and allowing tours of my apartment for the Natchez Downtown Development Association &uot;Rooms with a View&uot; tours. I have encouraged new downtown businesses and coordinated joint marketing programs. I was very involved with the Pilgrimage Garden Club’s Antiques Forum Antiques Row evening event, enjoyed by all attendees. I’m on the Natchez Festival of Music board of directors and I organized the silent auction at Christmas. I sold the tickets for the festival for the 2004 season. I am an active Rotarian, a Paul Harris Fellow and a former sergeant-at-arms. I am on the board of the American Institute for Conservation’s Wooden Artifacts Group. I am currently the treasurer of WAG. I was also elected a professional associate of the AIC. I have been asked to and have presented numerous seminars on conservation. I am also a paid reviewer for the National Endowment for the Humanities, American Treasurers grants for the Institute of Museum and Library Services conservation grants. I have also participated in grant writing workshops at museum conferences. I am the current president of the Natchez Historical Society.

STEDMAN: Several actions that I have taken demonstrating leadership skills are convincing the Board of Aldermen that the employment of a building maintenance person who could perform pro-active maintenance would be cost effective for the city. This person also assists with inspections when not performing city maintenance. I worked with the engineering and inspection departments in developing the job description and ultimate employment of a person for this position. I worked closely with James Johnston, community development coordinator, to secure grant funds from the Mississippi Development Authority for the purpose of establishing a Home Revolving Loan Program for the purpose of assisting low-income buyers with downpayments. This effort included meetings with members of the Mississippi Development Authority for program guideline discussions, introducing the program to the Board of Aldermen, and lobbying for their agreement for the successful adoption of the program. The program has been successful and the city is now in the process of assisting the county with a similar program. It has also been my pleasure to work on the federal courthouse project. The completion of this project will bring an asset to our community that we can be proud of for years to come. It is a very complicated project with five or more governmental agencies participating in the funding. I have assisted in the lobbying efforts that were necessary to make the project happen in Natchez, traveled to Washington, D.C., and Birmingham, Ala., for the purpose of meetings regarding the project. I have offered motions and made favorable votes when necessary for the successful completion of this project that already has and will continue to bring business to Natchez.

WEST: My leadership skills have been demonstrated through my role in serving on the steering committee that helped to organize and establish the Boys & Girls Club of the Miss-Lou Area. This committee worked for more than three years to bring the idea of this organization to fruition. Since its inception, this club has worked diligently to provide recreational activities for the children of this community. Our staff has worked extremely well together with its 50 percent white and 50 percent black racial composition.

In 1991, a few alumni of Sadie V. Thompson High School met to discuss the idea of having a school &uot;era&uot; reunion. I was chosen to serve as chairman and initially received very little support from the general alumni. Under my leadership, committees were formed to contact members of each class from the high schools of Sadie V. Thompson, Brumfield, St. Frances High and Natchez Junior College. In 1994, we successfully held the first SVT School Era Reunion with participants who had attended those schools from 1958 to 1970.

These reunions have brought together thousands of people from throughout this country who may never have seen each other again. They also left thousands of dollars in this community for hotels, restaurants, gas stations and other businesses.

I served as chairman in 1994 and 1997, and the honor of chairman emeritus was bestowed on me in 1997. Our era reunions occurred in 1994, 1997, 2000 and 2003.

Question 4:

What specific steps will you take as mayor to involve city government in projects to provide the best education for all students, from public and private K-12 to community college to university?

BRANYAN: I will work with Dr. Anthony Morris, the superintendent of Natchez-Adams Public Schools, to develop either &uot;neighborhood schools&uot; or a new Natchez High School that will be more racially diverse. I will strive with Dr. Morris to find the needed funds to make the Natchez school system better. I am committed to work with Dr. Clinton Bristow at Alcorn to bring the new technology center to Natchez and work to bring the Performing Arts Center into downtown Natchez. The mayor should play a leadership role in the appointment of new persons to the school board.

STEDMAN: Education is a cornerstone of the community. It is also an industry. As mayor there are many ways to involve city government in education. Recognition of students is one way to motivate and therefore encourage students to perform well. As mayor I would like to see honor rolls from all of our schools, including Co-Lin and Alcorn, posted in City Hall. As mayor I will be available to the School Board and other governing bodies to discuss problems and offer assistance from the city where appropriate.

I will facilitate meetings with area employers and appropriate school/college officials to discuss ways that our local schools/colleges can assist in workforce development. Expansion of our campuses is in many ways the same as expansion of an industry leading to new employment and promotion of an industry that is practically recession-proof. I have in past and will continue to support and promote expanding our educational facilities in Natchez. As mayor I will continue the Mayor’s Youth Council and make appearances on our campuses in support of our schools.

WEST: As mayor of this city, I will propose that the city government be given a periodic status report by educational institutions in Natchez-Adams County.

These status reports, made in person, will enable us to establish better communication with our educational entities to foster the significance of these institutions and their major role in the further development of the community.

This is just one of the steps I propose to take as mayor to involve city government in the educational process of our community.

Question 5:

Describe your mentors and role models, naming them or not, telling what traits you hope to have developed from them. Tell in some detail how your role models have taught you to make decisions.

BRANYAN: My father, Larry Branyan, was the major role model in my life, teaching me the importance of hard work, a good education and the importance of volunteering in the community. My father grew up in Greenville and worked hard to get into Vanderbilt University and later Harvard Law School.

During summers, he worked in the cotton fields near Greenville. His business career was very successful, but he always had time to pursue his many hobbies and interests. My father, after moving to Natchez, was very active in the community, serving the Historic Natchez Foundation, the Natchez Opera Festival, the Great Mississippi River Balloon Festival, St. Mary Basilica and other organizations.

I have tried to follow his example. More than anything, he instilled in me a desire to work hard for success, be intellectually curious and be open to new ideas. A man must earn the respect of his peers. Honest, integrity and hard work are important ingredients in earning that respect.

STEDMAN: Throughout my life, I have been blessed by people who took a personal interest in my success as an individual and as a businessperson. The first of these are my parents. I was fortunate enough to be raised by parents who valued education and self-reliance. They taught me to work hard, be of good character, to treat people fairly and with kindness and to be honest with others and myself. As a child my parents took me to church and introduced me to my childhood minister, to whom I give credit for my eternal salvation and belief in God, and for instilling in me basic Christian principles which I rely upon every day to make decisions. There are many other friends, family members and business associates who have influenced my life, but those who have had the greatest influence are people that I have had the privilege of having as a boss or supervisor. They taught me that you must lead by example, and that respect is earned not demanded. They have taught me the value of a job well done, charged me with the responsibility of executing varied tasks and rewarded me for their completion. They have taught me to examine the problem, properly inform myself, have confidence in my decisions and finish the task. As mayor of Natchez I will rely upon all of these lessons to make decisions and will hope that in some small way I will be able to share with someone else the many wonderful lessons that have been shared with me.

WEST: The mentors and role models in my life have been my parents, Sam and Elodie West; Little League baseball coach Robert &uot;Bob Lee&uot; Williams; high school teacher Eva J. Brown; the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.; President John F. Kennedy; and Sen. Robert Kennedy.

All of these individuals influenced me by their actions rather than their words. They inspired me to be a good and decent person by serving my family, my God and my community. I learned always to maintain my integrity and be respectful of all human beings, regardless of their color. Most important, my decisions on all manners should be based on &uot;what I think is right&uot; and not on peer pressure or following the crowd.

Question for Branyan:

Unlike your opponents, you are new to the political arena. How have you developed your inexperience in politics into a positive qualification for the mayor position?

BRANYAN: Although I am new to politics, I never considered it a negative. This race started with many first-time candidates. Natchez has often elected mayors with no political experience. I decided to run on my education, my knowledge of the tourism industry, grant writing, my business experience and my communication and people skills. My opponents, although they have years of political experience, their track record for progress for Natchez has been minimal. I would make Natchez a &uot;must see&uot; destination and bring new job and businesses to Natchez.

All our recent mayors did not have political office experience before being elected &045;&045; David Armstrong, Butch Brown and Hank Smith. Business experience seems to be more of an asset than political experience. Voters feel comfortable electing a person with a strong work ethic and a desire to improve our community.

Voters want new ideas and a new direction, not politicians who have already failed to lead our economy forward.

Question for Stedman

The perception among many people is that little has happened in city government in the past four years. Name and describe step-by-step three city projects that you spearheaded and saw through to success during your last four years as an alderwoman. What leadership skills did you employ?

STEDMAN: Three successful projects that I have spearheaded are the renovation of the Sunshine Shelter, the selection of Natchez as the site for the 2005 Mississippi Association of Realtors convention and the relocation of the Ward 3 polling place. The renovation of the Sunshine Shelter included understanding the need, working with the community development coordinator to find the grant funds (It is important to note that this grant had no match), introducing the project to the Board of Aldermen and receiving their approval, working with the administrator, architects, and coordinator to develop the plans for renovation and following the project to successful completion. The Mississippi Association of Realtors had not held their state convention in Natchez since the late 1980s. The selection of Natchez as the site of the Mississippi Association of Realtors’ convention began when I contacted their meeting planner and invited here to visit Natchez and view our new convention facility that was under construction at the time. Mrs. Garcia agreed to the site visit and I, accompanied by a member of the CVB sales staff, took the day to introduce her to our facility, our local hotels, B&B’s, restaurants, and city. I assisted the CVB sales staff by making recommendations for housing, planning and pricing of the convention. I was present at the 2003 convention that was held at the Grand Casino in Biloxi when the vote was taken to hold the MAR 2005 convention in Natchez. This convention will bring 750 to 850 Realtors to our city for four days. The relocation of the Ward 3 polling place became a priority for me because I felt that the bypass fire station was an unsafe location from a traffic standpoint. The new location is handicapped accessible, has plenty of parking, is easy to locate and offers better accommodations for poll workers. This process began by asking for approval of the relocation from the other aldermen. This request then had to go before and be approved by the Federal Department of Justice. The relocation was approved in time for the 2004 elections. All three of these projects required an awareness of the issues and an understanding of how to correct them. Each project required slightly different skills, but the common denominator of all of them was being able to work successfully with the mayor and other aldermen to bring all of these projects to completion.

Question for West:

Some business owners remember the 1980s boycott of white-owned businesses and have concerns about you as a candidate because of your role in that. Explain the role you played in the boycott, what you accomplished and how those events have changed the community?

WEST: The 1980s were a difficult time for all of us in Natchez. We had experienced many years of frustration, and in the view of our people, our community concerns were not being addressed.

Various options to be heard had gone unnoticed; therefore, as a last result, a collective decision was made to boycott.

History had shown that real attention to our concerns was only addressed by those in positions of authority, through the ballot box and/or monetary consequences.

We were not happy that we had to resort to such actions, because we realized that innocent people on both sides would be hurt. But no real progress has ever been made without sacrifice and pain. This action focused attention on the everyday pain and frustration of the black community beyond the education issue.

Prior to that action, there had not been an opportunity for a black person to serve as superintendent of education in a majority black-populated school district, or in other capacities in our community.

We are aware of the fact that all children are equally important, and we must improve our educational system in such a way to ensure the growth and development of all, so that our children can reach their maximum potential.

The result of that action forced us to realize that all citizens have a right to be heard, and if we are going to move forward as a community, we must include everyone in the voice for our government.

Even though we are still experiencing growing pains, we are collectively positioned to be a stronger and better community.