10/31/07 — Candidates share views at Mount Olive chamber's forum

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Candidates share views at Mount Olive chamber's forum

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on October 31, 2007 1:54 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- They wanted to hear someone take a stand against the drug dealers along South Church Street.

They clapped when "slum lords" were condemned.

But for the residents of Mount Olive who turned out Tuesday evening to meet the candidates for upcoming mayoral and town board elections, the forum was not just a chance to hear fiery speeches or catchy campaign slogans.

It was an opportunity to look into the eyes of those men and women behind the lectern and "get a sense of who they are" -- and whether or not they are fit to lead the town.

So when moderator Delores Kennedy began reading questions generated from the public, some were quite personal.

District 1 incumbent Kenneth Talton was asked to talk about his accomplishments since the 2005 election, a question generated after his opponent, former board member Ora Truzy, challenged his commitment to getting the job done.

He cited progress in the Community Development Block Grant program, which funds demolition of dilapidated dwellings in low-income areas.

"We have had houses that have been demolished and as a result, those residents have been moved into new homes," he said.

Another incumbent, District 4 candidate Jimmy Kornegay, was asked if he used his position as a board member to get a free driveway.

"Did the town employees work on your driveway?" Mrs. Kennedy asked. "Was this done during town time? Who authorized this?"

Kornegay denied claims that town employees worked on his property.

"This question has been up before," he said. "The town has never spent one dime or done any work on my property."

And then there was mayoral candidate Ray McDonald, who was asked, "Having served as both town manager and mayor, is it not time to give someone else a chance?"

"I agree with you 100 percent, whoever wrote this question," he said. "We need to get more young people involved in politics. I don't disagree with the question. If we had somebody running I really thought could do the job, I wouldn't be up here."

McDonald's lone opponent, Jessie Jack Faison, did not attend the forum.

There were other questions, too -- but not quite as personal.

And while only one resident asked about how to curb crime along South Center Street, it was clear by the audience's reaction to the responses given that it was an issue weighing on all their minds.

Nearly all of the candidates cited progress already being made -- Operation Clean Streets, and the "fine work" of new police Chief Ralph Schroeder.

But District 1 challenger Mrs. Truzy questioned why town officials "waited so long" to act.

If elected, she said she will work to mend what she feels is at the heart of the problem, a town that has nothing to offer troubled teens.

"We have to have something that the youths can be involved in," she said. "They walk the streets and do nothing. We don't have areas for organized play. ... There is nowhere to go."

District 2 candidate Paul Smalley said whatever the solution might be, it needs to be found soon.

"We need to not let these young bucks go around town selling dope. We don't need to be selling dope to our kids," he said. "It is not good for our community. ... We need to clean it up now."

And then there were those who agreed, but said they felt the community was moving in the right direction.

At-large candidate George Fulghum said increased police presence on bad blocks is a start.

But one of his opponents, Russell Gray, said until a community watch program is started and residents feel safe calling the police, no real progress can be made.

"What have we really done?" he asked.

Other residents wanted to know about drainage issues and water rates, the Recreation Department and abandoned properties.

And by the end of the forum, all were addressed -- except one.

Wayne County resident Tom Drew was told by the moderator his questions would not be fielded at the forum, that time was running short and he was welcome to address his questions with the candidates one-one-one.