10/19/05 — Mount Olive hopefuls square off in first debate of election season

View Archive

Mount Olive hopefuls square off in first debate of election season

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on October 19, 2005 1:48 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- About 60 Mount Olive residents listened Tuesday night as candidates for the town board described how they could help improve the town's government.

All six seats on the town board are up for election Nov. 8, including the mayor.

Ten of the 13 people running spoke at Tuesday's forum. Those who did not participate were mayoral candidate Gilbert Usher, Billy Rivenbark, who is seeking the District 3 seat, and Jesse Jack Faison, who is seeking the at-large seat.

Mount Olive candidate forum

News-Argus/Bobby Williams

Mount Olive town board candidate Rick Kraft tells a group of about 60 people Tuesday night that he doesn't feel it would be a conflict of interest to sue the town while serving as a town commissioner. At left is Karen Bass, time keeper for the political forum, and at far right is commissioner candidate Jimmy Kornegay.

All the races are contested, with three people seeking the at-large seat on the board.

The District 3 seat has two newcomers seeking to replace Lloyd Warren, who chose not to seek re-election.

Mayor Ruff Huggins promised to continue to do his best for the town of Mount Olive.

"I think over the last 30 years I've demonstrated I want to work for the town," said Huggins, who has held elected office since 1995. "Since I've been mayor I've always had an open door policy. There's very little closed sessions in our board meetings."

Incumbent District 1 commissioner Ora Truzy described herself as qualified, experienced and dedicated.

"I'll keep on striving to do my best," she said.

Truzy was first elected in 1997 and said she has been an advocate for strong neighborhoods, encouraging people to form community watch groups.

Her challenger, Kenny Talton, commended her for her efforts but said he believes it is time for a change.

Talton is the town's former code enforcement officer. He said he feels the town needs a comprehensive land use plan. He said he wants to investigate the water plant and assure compliance with the Safe Water Drinking Act, and he wants to help the town solve its storm drainage problems.

Incumbent District 2 commissioner Paul Smalley urged the people to vote for those candidates they think can best represent them. He said he sees himself as a commissioner for the entire town, not just for people in his district.

"If you have a complaint and can't get anybody, call me, and I'll pass it on," he said.

His challenger, Hosea Manley, said he wants to be the eyes and ears of his constituents. He said if elected he plans to walk around his district periodically and talk to residents about their concerns. He said he thinks Smalley has done a good job, but he said he believes "it's time for a change."

Manley said he has served as a pastor and knows how to lead. He said he doesn't do his own thing; he seeks divine direction.

District 3 candidate Tom Preston is a newcomer to politics. He said he has seen many changes in Mount Olive during the 26 years he has lived in the town.

"I think Mount Olive is pointed to the future," said Preston. But he said drainage problems have remained unsolved for 20 years. He said he believes the problem is the outgoing tributaries, and with help form the state and local governments, the problem can be solved.

Incumbent District 4 commissioner Jimmy Kornegay said in the four years he has been a town commissioner the board has made a lot of progress. He pointed to the work that has been done to develop a regional sewer system, and he said the board hopes to award bids on upgrading the wastewater treatment plant near the first of the year.

"Morale is as high in the police department as it's ever been," he said. "We are not having the turnover we have had."

His challenger, Gene Lee, was on the town board 17 years. Lee said he feels he has the experience necessary to keep Mount Olive moving. He promised to work hard for more improvements in whatever areas are needed. His foremost issue is drainage.

"It's a very serious problem," said Lee. "The town needs to clean debris and dirt out of all the storm drainage catch basins."

Incumbent District 3 commissioner Ray Thompson said he was pleased to see so many people attend the forum. He said he has been active in volunteer work since 1960. He noted his years of involvement with the town's rescue squad.

"I just love Mount Olive," said Thompson. "I love working for the Mount Olive Chamber of Commerce. It's the backbone of Mount Olive I've enjoyed working with the town board. I believe we have the best town board we've had in a long time."

Rick Kraft is challenging for Thompson's seat. Kraft said the town has been too busy pursuing grants and paying large local matches while neglecting other needs. He said he asked for a copy of the budget, and he was told the town can't afford to print copies for all of the candidates. Some of the town's cars are old, and some of them have 200,000 miles on them and slick tires, he said. He said he has been told the town can't afford to replace them.

"Remember grants come with a price," he said. "We have to pay our percentage. It can be a two-edged sword. And make sure you can pay for it without leaving areas unattended."

People in the audience were able to ask candidates questions by submitting them to the moderator.

Candidates were asked if they would favor raising property taxes to maintain the present level of services. The only one who said yes was Ora Truzy.

The candidates were asked about crime in the town.

The crime problem is bad, Kraft said. He said the problem is not being addressed the way it could be.

But other candidates said the people in the community would have to help, too, if the problem is to be solved. They were commissioner Ray Thompson, Ora Truzy, Kenny Talton, Tom Preston and Paul Smalley.

"We've had neighbors say, 'You'd better get in the house. There's shooting out there,'" Pauley said. "I know one thing. If you don't report it when you see it, they'll get bolder and bolder."

Hosea Manley said "people you wouldn't think come to my neighborhood to get drugs. If I told you, you would not believe me."