Meridian Star

Local News

May 19, 2013

Candidates prepare for Tuesday runoff

MERIDIAN —     Two longtime incumbent council members will try to hold on to their posts Tuesday when voters return to the polls for a runoff election.

    Ward Two Councilwoman Mary A.B. Perry is in a runoff with Kenneth Dustin Markham for the Democratic nomination.

    The winner of the runoff in Ward Two will win the race because there are no Republican or independent candidates on the general election ballot.

    Ward Four Councilman Jesse E. Palmer Sr. is in a runoff with Kim Houston for the Democratic nomination.

    The winner in Ward Four will face independent challenger Thomas Everett Hopson in the general election.

    Wards Two and Four council are the only elections on the runoff ballot.

    The Meridian Star met with each of the four candidates last week to ask them to explain their ideas about some of the issues: water and sewer infrastructure, streets, crime and generally, whether they thought the current city council is serving the needs of the citizens of Meridian.

    Markham, candidate for Ward Two City Council, said water, sewer, drainage, and road infrastructure need a heavy overhaul.

    "We've been patching too long. It would not have been in this sort of state ... if we had had consistent maintenance. That's one of the things we don't have," Markham said.

    Street maintenance is directly connected to water and sewer, Markham said.

    "If you don't have a strong water way, drainage or sewer infrastructure or it's not in good condition, how can you possibly have good roads," Markham said. "It's one thing to go through and simply pave streets, lay tar down, lay striping down, place signs where they need to be, redoing some of the curbing. It's another thing to put together a comprehensive plan where you are not only repairing the streets but you are repairing the foundation that that layer of streets sits on and you're repairing sewer, drainage, and other infrastructural components that sit under that street. You have to do that first."

    As to Meridian's crime problems, Markham said he wants to push for better lighting in Ward Two.

    "The lighting is terrible. Some of it has been damaged, some of the lighting is nonexistent in areas where it is needed. Individuals feel really good about being able to commit crimes, sell drugs, do whatever they want to do in black darkness because you don't have lighting there," Markham said.

    He believes that police need to establish a better rapport with the citizens of Meridian and citizens need to do their part as well.

    "If the officers have the assistance of the citizens, crimes will be solved a lot quicker. There's a gap between the community and officers," Markham said.

Officers should be directed in getting to know the people in neighborhoods, checking on them, and making them feel safe, he said.

    "Our officers need to be more approachable," Markham said.

    Neighborhood watch programs need to be revitalized, he said. Markham would also like to see the revitalization of the Velma Young Community Center and its possible expansion.

        He said he believes the current council has not completely fulfilled its obligation to the residents of Meridian.

    "They are serving but they are not serving to the satisfaction of the individuals that they are required to satisfy. Some of their decisions have been questionable and their ability to revitalize the city of Meridian and move it forward has been questioned," Markham said. "I don't think they've done all they can."

    Asked about water and sewer infrastructure, Perry, councilwoman, Ward Two, said work is already under way to improve services.

    "DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) requires you to do so much regarding your water and sewer. Even though we have not made all the improvements we want to make, we are making steady improvements to the water and sewer systems. It needs to be done because some of our pipes and things are older and they need to be changed," Perry said. "Because we are doing what we ought to do to make sure we are taking care of that, DEQ is leaving Meridian alone. We do look out for infrastructure as we should."

    Perry said the current street repaving program that is under way in the city is a step in the right direction.

    "I think it's going well and had it not been for rain we would have seen more done by now. There's not a street in my ward that I've not covered," Perry said. "Because of that, I've designated all of them as priority one, two or three."

Perry said the council is hopeful that future improvements can be made to streets without passing a bond issue.

    "We are doing what we need at a pace that will not bring financial burdens to this city by slowly taking care of all of the needs as they come up and by consistently improving areas in an orderly manner.

    Crime fighting has seen some improvements as well, Perry said.

    "Crime is not something you are going to just totally get rid of, but we are making headway in getting crime reduced in Meridian. Police presence has been increased, the substation is partially open — not as much as I want — but I've talked with the acting chief and he has said he's working on getting that to be open more and the presence increased so that it will be a deterrent to crime in that area," Perry said.

    Perry said the council is doing  a good job of handling the city's finances, as evidenced by an auditor's report last week which showed the city to be in good shape financially.

    "You can also see that our funds have increased in that, should Meridian have a crisis of any kind, we can take care of our citizens without any money coming in for about three months," Perry said. "Meridian is a great place. It's on the verge of becoming even greater."

    Palmer, councilman Ward Four, said he would like to see water and sewer systems maintained on a regular schedule.

    "I would like to the systems upgraded on a regular basis as opposed to letting everything get down and then we have to get up tremendous sums of money to fix them. I had advocated, at one time, that from the sales tax that we would dedicate $1 million for those emergencies that happen instead of having to go and borrow money," Palmer said. "If you had $1 million dedicated to something and nothing happened, next year you'd put another million and have $2 million. That fund would build and build, as to oppose to waiting until all of them get into bad shape.

    The county has helped Palmer's ward with much of its street repaving, he said.

    "We did that $4.5 million bond issue (for streets) and I did not need very much of it," Palmer said. "We didn't have to hardly ask the supervisors for help. They volunteered to help".

    Palmer would like to have more police get involved with various neighborhoods, he said.

    "We have too many police who don't live in Meridian, who have never lived in Meridian. Why is it that I can walk in any neighborhood as long as I stay in the light where they can see me? It's because they know me," Palmer said.

    Palmer said he speaks to young men with respect and he in turn receives their respect. Police could try to do the same, he said.

    "I'm very concerned about the way our young people are going. Nothing just happens. There are things that cause that to happen," Palmer said, adding that low-paying jobs and unemployment contribute to the incidence of crime.

    Palmer said he believes the council is trying to be effective.

    "I think somehow we kind of go astray in some instances but our main motivation is to do just that. Sometimes things and order we put into place are not carried out as we have asked for them to be," Palmer said. "That is another reason I would like to stay, to help straighten the situation out."

    Houston, candidate for City Council, Ward Four, said the biggest problem with regard to the city's water and sewer infrastructure is the lack of a long-term plan.

    "We have to have an action plan. We're not going to get anywhere just throwing money at the situation by patching, overlaying, and then a week later, when the rain comes again, that overlay and patch is washed away," Houston said. "I think it's important that we have a scheduled, preventive maintenance policy where we have this time set aside to clean the ditches, to help with the flow of things so even if we don't have the money to dig up, clean out, and replace, at least try to work with what we have by having a scheduled preventive maintenance policy. It's probably somewhere on the books, but we're not following it."

    Houston also favors an approach by which the city addresses street problems alongside water and sewer infrastructure.

    "We've got to go back and get to the heart of what is going on, that way when we do pave our streets, they can stay nice and neat," Houston said.

    The key component to crime prevention, Houston said, is getting Meridian's youth headed in the right direction.

    "Our crime is not going to go away overnight, but as leaders we have a responsibility to use our influence to implement programs. No it's not in the job description. The job description talks about voting on the issues, appointments and the legislative arm, but as leaders we have a responsibility to use our influence to build relationships, partnerships with churches, schools, businesses," Houston said. "We've got to get in there and really work with some of our youth to really curtail some of this crime."

    Houston said while she applauds the current council for the things its members have done, she believes it is time for a change.

    "It's time for new excitement, new energy, and new ideas. I feel like Meridian has been stagnant because we've had the same leaders in the same position for so long," Houston said. "The only way that we are going to go to the next level, is to get some people in place that can push us forward. I don't think they've done a bad job, but it's just time."

    Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday for the runoff elections.

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