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Posted: September 13, 2009 12:00 a.m.

Newborn mayoral race heats up with 3 candidates in mix

Ballot includes political vets, newcomer

The Newborn mayoral race will be one of the most contested in the county, as three candidates vie for the top position in the small town of Newborn.

Eight-year incumbent J.W. Cummings, long-time council member James King and world-travelled engineer Roger Sheridan are all running in the Nov. 3 election.

Cummings and King have both been involved in Newborn politics for more than a decade and say they have accomplished a lot of goals, but Sheridan, and most of the city council candidates are new to the scene and are hoping to bring a fresh perspective to the city's leadership positions.

Planning on retiring after this year, Cummings said several local friends and other residents twisted his arm and convinced him to run at least one more time.

"I wasn't going to run, but my friends and neighbors and people who go to church and live with me in Newborn, they told me ‘Mayor Cummings, you need you to run again,'" Cummings said. "If they think that much about me, then I thought I should run."

Cummings said his conservative financial policy and background as a construction contractor, has helped him keep the city's taxes down and increase its savings while still completing several projects, like the overhauling on the city's water pipe system.

He said the city's millage rate has remained at 1.819, by far the lowest in the county. He actually wanted to eliminate city taxes altogether and just run the city off the profits from the various fees it collects, but he said the council thought it would be good to keep some of that revenue.

"When you run a company you have to have a profit and what is a town but a company? If you can't run a town without taxing the people then you're doing something wrong," Cummings said. "I think of the city's money as if it was my own."

While keeping taxes down, Cummings said he has managed to increase services, by hiring three full-time city employees, the only three at the city, two of whom help keep the city clean by picking up tree branches and yard waste and cutting grass. In addition to overhauling the water system, Cummings said his administration has helped bring in an 11-lot subdivision, to accommodate future growth, a Quick Stop to provide a local gasoline source and put two $25,000 CDs in the bank. He said if elected he would continue to manage the city in the same way.

King has served on the council for around 15 years, and similar to Cummings he said he thinks the city has made a lot of progress recently and he wants to see that continue. Over the past four years, he said the mayor and council have managed to buy a new tractor, put a new roof on city hall, bought a new dump truck, paid off the debt on the water tank and purchased a $50,000 lot of land next to city hall for parking.

King, who is retired from a career in the poultry feed business, said he has been very involved in Newborn since he moved to the city in 1977. King said he has been very involved on the council and was the main council member to oversee the city's biggest project, the installation of a new water pipe system.

King said he would like to continue the same path, and complete some more projects, like repairing the old schoolhouse, repairing the front of city hall, which is rotting, and paving the new city hall parking lot and some of the streets in the city.

"I would be more aggressive in going after these things. I have a good working relationship with people. You have to learn to give and take, and I've done a lot of that in my life," King said. "I would be dedicated."

Sheridan, however, would like to shake things up. He and several of the candidates for city council, three of whom are unopposed, decided to run this year because they want to involve the community in the political process. Sheridan said he, John Donaldson, Gene Downs, Martha Ellwanger and Thomas Kreiger want to hear from the public and seek out more community input when city decisions have to be made.

"We will get people involved. We'll call people, talk to people, go out and visit people. When people have concerns and complaints we'll have them come to the council meetings and bring up the issues," said Sheridan. He also wants to make the town hall a community meeting place again, where people can come and get coffee and chat.

"I will take down the sign that says ‘No Loitering'," he added.

In his search for more input, Sheridan said he will allow citizens to comment on each agenda item before the council votes. Currently, citizens are only allowed to give comments before and after the meeting.

"This way they can participate in the discussion before we make a decision," he said.

Besides getting more public input, Sheridan wants to reform a couple of practices. One of his main goals is to reinstitute a sealed bid process for projects. Currently, when a project is bid out, Sheridan that the town employees will call different companies and tell them about the project and collect bids over the phone. Sheridan said this is unfair because the project can be presented differently to different companies.

"I've brought up my concerns several times. It's like comparing apples to oranges," he said.

Sheridan wants to create project descriptions and have companies send in sealed bids by a set deadline. Sheridan said he instituted this when he was town manager around five years ago, but the city has since stopped using sealed bids.

Sheridan said he feels his 48 years of experience as an engineer and project manager will serve him well as a mayor. He said he has worked in 32 different countries, helping build large projects like airports, dams and highways. He actually holds a Guinness world record for the deepest coffer dam for a project he completed in the African country of Ghana.

"I have a lot of experience in running projects and finishing them either on time or ahead of schedule. I think that's what the town needs," said Sheridan who retired in 2002. "I want to put my dormant skills to work for the city."

All three candidates said they want people to get out and vote regardless of the candidate, and they said they hope the younger residents will become more involved in the Newborn political process.


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