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Residents question council candidates
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Around 30 Covington city council residents showed up to Tuesday’s political forum to ask the city council candidates about public transportation for seniors, public safety, parks and activities for teens and the future of the city.

All four candidates clearly established themselves and focused on the issues that were important to them. The only contested race is for Council Post 2 West between incumbent Hawnethia Williams and Charles Wilborn. Ocie Franklin and Chris Smith are also running, but are unopposed.

Hawnethia Williams

Williams has continually said that housing is her top priority and reiterated that point Tuesday night. In her opening statements, she touted the newly created Urban Redevelopment Plan, which has identified blighted housing areas throughout the city and explores ways to improve housing. She was especially proud of the affordable senior housing complex, which will be coming in 2009 to Harristown, the neighborhood where she was born and raised.

When asked what she would do for the rest of the city outside of Harristown, Williams said fixing housing in the entire city is a concern, and she said the URP addresses a variety of neighborhoods like Nelson Heights, Green Acres and Sand Hill-Texas Alley.

Besides housing, Williams said she has worked hard with the council to stabilize utility prices and has committed to expanding the public access channels, which help bring the city’s business to people who can’t attend meetings.

In her closing statement, Williams said she has worked hard for the past four years and, if reelected, will continue to accomplish things in the future.

"I am a proven leader. I’ve done a lot, I’ve helped stabilized utilizes, helped form the Urban Redevelopment Authority and helped remove blight as a member of housing team," she said. "I work with people in my district to have more town hall meetings and I invite the community in. When Hawnethia Williams makes decisions they are based on the people in her district … I want to solicit your vote for the most qualified people."

Charles Wilborn

Wilborn kept most of his responses short and to his main point: downtown Covington needs more businesses. From his opening statement to his closing thoughts, revitalizing square and surrounding downtown is his main goal.

"I’m looking forward to the day when I’ll be able to go to downtown Covington to shop," Wilborn said. "We don’t have any where in downtown to buy mens’ and ladies’ wear, we have to go to Rockdale County. Even me as a tailor, I have to go to Jo-Ann’s in Rockdale to buy zippers, thread and needle. We need stores in downtown Covington to keep revenue in Newton County, and I do believe it can happen."

Wilborn said his 14 years on the city council and his hours of leadership training and involvement on organizations like Kiwanis Club, Keep Covington/Newton County Beautiful, Habitat for Humanity and the Newton County School System make him the best candidate. He said he will continue to work these organization and Main Street Covington and the Chamber of Commerce to revitalize businesses and keep the city clean.

Ocie Franklin

Franklin said her four years on the council have been both rewarding and challenging. She said fixing blighted housing has also been one of her biggest concerns, as well as improving community infrastructure by improving sidewalks and roads. She also wants to see speeding brought under control in the neighborhoods, and wants communities to develop more public watch programs to control crime.

Chris Smith

Smith’s opening statement pretty much summed up his view of his role on the council: "I’m conservative."

Smith plans to follow in current councilman John Howard’s footsteps as a conservative voice on the council. He said he’d like to expand housing, transportation and park programs, but all of that will be contingent on cost.

Besides managing the city’s budget, Smith said he will focus on bringing more business and industry to the city.

Other Issues

All of the candidates said public transportation was a good idea, but the cost of the project and the current economy meant that might not be a reality for a while.

Public safety concerns were also brought up, and Wilborn was the only member who advocated more police officers. All candidates focused on individual responsibilities, but Franklin and Williams said community outreach programs were also needed. Franklin said she wants to see a Boys and Girls Club, because the YMCA was too expensive for many residents.

A resident asked whether the civic center was needed. Smith said the city can’t afford the project right now. Franklin and Williams both agreed that a civic center was a good idea because even though it would cost a lot it could also bring in a lot more in revenue. Wilborn said brining in more businesses could make the center more feasible.

The political forum is being shown on the city’s public access channel 20, at 7 a.m., 12 p.m. and 10 p.m. every day from now until Election Day.