By Sarrah Peters/News Editor
The Etowah Chamber hosted the Political Candidate Forum for Gadsden Municipal Elections on Thursday, August 16. The Chamber invited each candidate for Gadsden City Council and the Gadsden Mayor’s Office to speak for five minutes. Candidates introduced themselves and spoke about their plans should they be elected.
For the Gadsden City Council District 1 seat, the candidates are Steven Abel and incumbent Dr. Cynthia Toles. Toles was unable to attend. Abel discussed his vision to reduce crime by providing more safe places for children to study and play. He also said that he would like to see more programs to address drug abuse problems for families to help their children.
The candidates for the Gadsden City Council District 2 are Sam Ashley, Van Smith, Sr., and Incumbent Deverick Williams. Ashley was the only candidate able to attend. Ashley highlighted education issues, including raising preschool and high school enrollment. He said that education begins at home and advocated for educational programs that held parents accountable for their children.
The candidates for the Gadsden City Council District 3 are Robert Avery and incumbent Thomas Worthy, both of which attended the forum. Avery spoke of his success in securing a grant to fund a Head Start program in Gadsden and funding a nutrition program for children. He highlighted the scant number of police officers in Gadsden and said that he would like to hire more officers. Worthy highlighted his military and Gadsden police officer background. Worthy focused on his efforts to decrease local unemployment with the Gadsden Job Fair, which went from eight employers to 70 employers during his time in office. He also discussed creating a program to assist with fixing local abandoned and damaged houses.
The candidates for the Gadsden City Council District 4 are Kent Back, Gene Millican III, James Ray and Davis Varner, who all attended. Back discussed workforce development, saying that he wants to promote careers, not jobs. Back said that consistent school attendance will help develop a strong workforce. He also discussed the local opioid crisis, stating that mental health must be a focus to bring down crime and addiction rates. Millican, owner of the Downtown Tavern, talked about creating a walking district along the Coosa. To do this, he would have incoming businesses face the river and build a walking bridge in the area. Ray said that bringing higher-paying jobs to the area will allow the city to pay for a larger police presence. He also offered to donate his earnings from city council to District 4. Varner discussed keeping locals from moving away from Gadsden by bringing new jobs to the city by improving infrastructure and utilizing the Coosa River. Varner wants to promote technical schooling programs.
The candidates for the Gadsden City Council District 5 are incumbent Billy Billingsley Sr., Mark Dailey, Glenda Jackson and Jason Wilson. Dailey, a pastor, wants to promote economic growth from within Gadsden instead of focusing on bringing new business to the area. As a recovered addict, Dailey said that rehabilitation programs will allow addicts to change and reduce the addiction rates. Jackson introduced a plan for protection, infrastructure and industries, and employment and education, which she named “PIE. Wilson, the founder and CEO of Back Forty Beer Co., discussed creating a long-term city strategy and business plan to bring in investors. Billingsley was unable to attend.
The candidates for the Gadsden City Council District 6 are incumbent Johnny Cannon, Joshua Partee and Richard Pointer. Pointer was the only candidate able to attend. Pointer said that he has seen District 6 decline and wants to bring businesses back to the area.
The candidates for the Gadsden City Council District 7 are incumbent Ben Reed and Chris Robinson. Neither candidate was able to attend.
The candidates for mayor are Todd Bagley, incumbent Sherman Guyton, Mitchell James, Carolyn Parker and David Williams. Bagley highlighted his involvement with addiction recovery ministries and said that state and federal funding is needed to combat the opioid crisis. Bagley also stated that he would like to see Gadsden have a small business culture. James, who served 22 years as a Gadsden police officer, said that poverty, not a bad police force, are the cause of high crime rates and drug addiction. James advocated for more youth activities, drug abuse awareness programs for youth and faith-based addiction treatment programs. Parker, who is currently the Etowah County Commissioner for District 5, said that she wants to host a work session with 12 local municipalities so that they can collaborate to solve the issues in the county. She advocated for the extension of I-759, finding new traffic and economic development solutions and career technical programs. Williams said that education is needed to prevent loss of industry in the area. He wants to promote trade school and career tech programs in middle schools. On the opioid crisis, Williams said that Jesus was the only thing he knew that could help. Guyton was unable to attend.