17 speak at forum

Published 11:18 pm Friday, October 17, 2014

A political forum sponsored by the local NAACP branch and other organizations on Thursday evening brought out all candidates for local office, save one, that voters will find on the bottoms of their ballots on Nov. 4.

Councilman Mike Duman, who is unopposed in his bid for re-election in the Chuckatuck borough, was unable to attend. But the panel was still packed with the other 17 candidates for City Council and School Board.

In alphabetical order, candidates were each given three minutes to introduce themselves and talk about why they were running, and then questions submitted by the office were answered by whoever wanted to answer them.

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Terse words were exchanged during the City Council panel, with Suffolk Borough challenger Kerry Holmes telling more than 100 potential voters in attendance that the incumbents would like them “to check your brain at the door” when they vote.

He said the incumbents want voters to forget about their water bills, forget about the money spent for the new city hall and forget that “they told the fire and rescue department to sit in the corner and color,” an apparent reference to the volunteer firefighters and rescue squad.

Holmes also asked where all the jobs are at that current City Council members say the city has gained in recent years — 7,700, according to Councilman Charles Parr.

In response, Parr said, “Someone’s not been getting out of their house.” More than 300 new businesses also have been created, Parr said.

Later, Vice Mayor Charles Brown defended the current council’s work.

“We have the system, and it’s working. We are doing things right, y’all. People will sell you a bill of goods right quick.”

In their introductions, the candidates touched on a variety of topics, including the relationship between City Council and School Board.

“I think we need to have better relationships before budget time,” Cypress Borough challenger Leroy Bennett said.

Councilman Jeffrey Gardy from the Holy Neck Borough touted the CenterPoint industrial development, jobs and the city’s AAA credit rating.

“I strive to get things done,” he said.

Suffolk Borough challenger Don Goldberg said he wants to help diversify the economy, look at taxes and fees as well as utility costs, and address pay compression in the public safety ranks.

Cypress challenger Clinton Jenkins said he would “push hard to improve transparency in city government” and would “work hard to build your confidence and trust in Suffolk city government.”

Holy Neck challenger Tim Johnson said he is running “because I love this city.”

“One of the reasons I’m running is we have so much opportunity,” he said, but, he added, “people in Holy Neck have felt we are the stepchild.”

The School Board panel preceded City Council’s. Following their introductions, they responded to questions about how they could get involved with the schools and how to improve student performance, among other topics.

Linda Bouchard, the Chuckatuck incumbent, said she often tutors students and has substituted. She also said she wants to find an alternative punishment to suspending misbehaving students, because they get too far behind and can’t catch up.

Mike Debranski, the chairman and Suffolk incumbent, said the superintendent’s student advisory committee is an important way to keep the administrators aware of students’ concerns.

Thelma Hinton, who is challenging Debranski, said she mentors foster children and wants to see more remediation money poured into the schools.

Charles Leavell, running in a special election for the Sleepy Hole seat, said the district should inquire of teachers about how to improve the curriculum.

“They’re the ones who teach every day,” he said.

Lorraine Skeeter, the unopposed incumbent for the Cypress seat, said the district is “doing what we are expected to do” and that administrators are coming up with a plan to address weaknesses.

Dorothy Gamble, challenging for the Chuckatuck seat, said the district needs “to look at things in a proactive way.” She also said students needing remediation should be caught before the student enters fourth grade.

Enoch Copeland, unopposed in the Holy Neck borough, said parental support is a big issue and is needed more in order for students to succeed.

Jim Perkinson, running in the Sleepy Hole special election, said he believes the district is doing well but that more improvement is needed.

David Mitnick, also running in Sleepy Hole, said he plans to address the transportation issues the district has faced lately by offering a sign-on bonus for bus drivers and encouraging retired drivers to come back and share routes.