Mayoral candidates answer questions at Marked Tree forum

Friday, July 26, 2013
Mayoral candidates wait for the start of the question and answer session. Pictured from left are: James Williams, Cleo Johnson, Jr., Dixon Chandler, and Mary Ann Arnold. (DT Photo/Corey Clairday)

Bringing jobs to Marked Tree and cleaning up the town were among the topics discussed during Meet the Candidate night Thursday, July 18. Four candidates running for mayor met with members of the community for a question and answer session moderated by Stan Morris. Mary Ann Arnold, Dixon Chandler, Cleo Johnson, Jr. and James Williams discussed what they would do if elected and what the city needs most.

When asked about their top priorities, candidates put cleaning up the town and jobs high on the list. Arnold said she wants to do something about vacant houses and lawns that aren't maintained and become more knowledgeable about the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.

Chandler said jobs and industry would be his first priority and pointed out his role in helping bring the Awesome Products facility to Marked Tree. He promised the factory would be open by the first of the year if elected. Chandler also wanted to work on cleaning up the town and work on sports.

For Johnson, his first priority is all about jobs. "Jobs, jobs, jobs. What Marked Tree needs is jobs," Johnson said. He also wants to clean up the town and get rid of houses that need to be torn down.

Williams agreed the town needs jobs and needs to be cleaned up. He talked about growing up in Marked Tree at a time when every store was open and the need to bring revenue into the city.

When asked about what action they would take to improve the appearance of Marked Tree and stimulate community pride, Williams said people have to be held accountable when their property isn't maintained. "We have an ordinance to fine people. I'm not sure if that's being done. If I'm mayor, they'll get fined. I don't care who they're friends with," Williams said. He also wants to get volunteers to help clean up the city. "The whole city needs to be accountable," he said.

Arnold agreed that ordinances should be carried through. She said a lot of the homes that are unsightly belong to absentee owners. "We need to be harder on those people," Arnold said.

Chandler said when he was mayor, he had a code enforcement officer to make sure people kept their property clean. He also vowed to work with the Quorum Court for a county ordinance to help the city pursue property owners who don't maintain their property and live in other cities in the county.

When asked about how they would improve city services, many agreed the streets need to be repaired. "The streets have always been a problem," Chandler said. Johnson agreed the streets need to be fixed and said money from the state could help with that. Williams agreed and encouraged people to get involved in grant writing. "It doesn't matter who's mayor, if you know how to write a grant, write it to help the community," Williams said.

When asked about the police and if they would support a tax to fund them, Arnold said she believed MTPD had sufficient officers. Chandler and Johnson said the force is short but did not support a tax. Williams agreed the force is short. He said he was embarrassed when he found out what their starting pay was and had no problem raising taxes for them.

The final question of the evening revolved around how to attract business and industry to Marked Tree without more debt. Williams said he would have to learn and find ways to reach new companies. "We have to find people willing to open businesses. I think Marked Tree is a good location," Williams said.

Arnold said buildings need to be made available and land needs to be made available to attract businesses. Chandler wants to get to know people at the state level to help bring business and industry in. Johnson noted current Mayor Michael Scott had brought a booklet back from a meeting in Little Rock that would be a big help in bringing in jobs.

The election is set for Aug. 13 between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. at ASUN-Marked Tree. Early voting is from Aug. 6-12 at the County Clerk's Office.

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