Public gets chance to hear from candidates

Published 12:19 am Friday, February 1, 2008

Vidalia — It was a political forum at its finest — almost.

Candidates spoke and people listened, but several running for office chose not to attend Thursday night’s candidate forum at the Vidalia Conference and Convention Center.

“I would have really liked to have seen all of the candidates turn out,” Vidalia resident Lynda Tate said. “If you’re going to run for office, you should have been here.”

Email newsletter signup

The candidates who were there filled display tables with the usual assortment of pamphlets, cards and signs proclaiming that they were best suited for office. They also greeted the 100 or so who attended as they walked in the door of the center’s main meeting space.

The forum’s framework was simple and streamlined. Candidates were given one minute to introduce themselves and then were given two minutes to answer prepared questions.

All candidates received a list of possible questions, but didn’t know which would be asked. On more than one occasion, candidates were cut short by the two-minute mark.

The race that saw the most candidates in attendance was for Vidalia chief of police. Four men are vying for the post, incumbent Billy Hammers, Ronnie G. “Tapper” Hendricks, C.A. “Sam” King and Ricky Williams.

The four were all asked the same questions. Arguably the most important question was what were their plans to make the citizens of Vidalia feel safe.

Hammers said he feels like the citizens of Vidalia are safe.

“Is crime growing? A little bit,” he said. “There’s more people, more businesses and more opportunity for that crime. It is the job of the chief of police to constantly try to improve anything to do with safety.”

Hendricks responded to the question with his idea of zoning the city into four sections and having a specific officer in each zone.

“The citizens would have a chance to know the officer on a personal level,” he said. “As far as being safe, visibility of officers is the most important thing.”

King suggested increasing patrol on the streets to make people feel safer.

“We’ve got to pay them enough to patrol the streets,” he said. “We need to increase pay and increase motivation.”

Williams said that officers need better training and more visibility on the streets to make citizens feel safe.

“I also want to implement a program that protects children at school in case of a school shooter,” he said. “There’s not currently a plan in place.”

The race that drew the most reaction from the crowd was the battle for mayor of Vidalia. Two men are running, 15-year-incumbent Hyram Copeland and William “Bill” Murray.

After their short introductions, the two were asked the same four questions.

Question No. 1: What do you see as the town’s biggest obstacle to growth in the years ahead?

Copeland cited transportation and land space as obstacles.

“We’re beginning to lose land space around Vidalia,” he said. “There’s also a shortage of residential area.”

Murray said the city’s location is one of its biggest obstacles.

“Our isolation is an obstacle for growth,” he said. “We still aren’t on a major highway. We have the river and we need to tap that resource.”

Question No. 2: In what way can a mayor make a difference in the prosperity of a town?

Copeland spoke about his leadership ability and his commitment to making Vidalia a better place. He cited numbers of jobs added and new businesses started during his years in office.

“We have two Fortune 500 companies here in Vidalia,” he said. “Again, 1,400 jobs created here in the past several years.”

Apparently the crowd liked what Copeland had to say. Most clapped and cheered when the incumbent finished answering the question.

Murray said he would establish a stable, fiscally responsible government that would be responsive to the people. He also said he would aggressively pursue future development and future jobs. His biggest push was for what he called a master plan of development.

“As we move forward, we need to be following some kind of guideline,” he said.

Question No. 3: What do you consider your best leadership ability?

Copeland quickly answered with “determination.”

Murray responded with “honesty and integrity.”

Question No. 4: Name your top three goals as mayor for the next four years.

“The continuation of bringing businesses and industry to the area,” Copeland said.

Murray named his master plan, bringing city government into fiscal responsibility and getting directly in touch with the people as his goals.

Several who attended had already voted, but still wanted to know where their candidate stood on the issues.

“I came to hear what they would say,” Ferriday resident Eliza Cage said. “I like their ideas of moving the city forward.”

Vidalia resident Rickey Hollins said he had already made up his mind on a candidate for mayor, but he wouldn’t say who that was.

Don Tate said he had already voted, but still came out to hear the candidates’ ideas.

“I heard a lot of good things,” he said. “I was impressed with everyone.”