Candidates forum held for Eutaw city elections

By John Zippert, Co-Publisher

Alabama New South Alliance (ANSA)
Endorsements for
Municipal Election – August 25, 2020
Sandra Walker – Mayor of Eutaw
Charlie McAlpine – Mayor of Forkland
Valerie Watkins – Eutaw City Council District 1
La’Jeffrey Carpenter – Eutaw City Council – Dist 2
Sheila Smith – Eutaw City Council District 4
Rodney Wesley – Eutaw City Council District 5

The Eutaw Garden Club, a voluntary group of city residents that has been working to beautify and clean the Courthouse Square and surrounding streets, held a forum on Saturday for candidates for Mayor and City Council, in the upcoming August 25 municipal elections to present their views and answer questions from voters.
The program was held outdoors on the Old Courthouse Square lawn with masks and social distancing for both the candidates and audience. Iris Sermon, 911 and Emergency Management Director served as mistress of order.
Four of the five candidates for Mayor of the City of Eutaw – Latasha Johnson, Joe Lee Powell, Sandra Walker and Queena Bennett Whitehead were present, addressed the crowd and answered questions. Incumbent Mayor Raymond Steele did not attend and missed the opportunity to discuss his record and respond to questions.
City Council candidates were also present and gave remarks and responded to questions. Among the Council candidates who were present were: for District 1 Ka’Undra Q. Cox and Valerie Watkins, Chandra Mayes did not attend; for District 2 LaJeffrey Carpenter spoke but Bryant Snyder Jr. did not attend; for District 4 Sheila Smith and Larry Coleman were present; and for District 5, both candidates Jacqueline Stewart and Rodney Wesley attended.
The District 3 Council race is uncontested and Tracy Hunter, the only candidate who qualified, will be elected, unless challenged by a write-in vote. She did not attend the candidates’ forum nor did she submit a statement of her candidacy to this newspaper.
Sandra Walker, candidate for Mayor, who is endorsed by the Alabama New South Alliance (ANSA), said she was humble and hard working and would not accept a salary as Mayor until the finances of the city were straightened out.
She said the first thing she would do is have an audit made of the City finances and do a budget to make sure the city government knew what direction they were moving forward in.
Walker said she had been attending City Council meetings and other agency and committee meetings for a year to prepare herself to serve as Mayor. She agreed with outsourcing the management of the city’s water department until problems with the system’s pipes, meters and billing system can be corrected.
Walker said she would hire a grant writer to help the city raise more funds from state and Federal sources to support activities, projects, equipment and programs like the Carver School community center. She was concerned that the city’s streets and infrastructure were “band aided but not really fixed”.
She said that she would work to develop a good relationship with the City Council members and other boards and agencies. She said she was open to raises for the police and city employees but she wanted to be sure that they all worked hard and did a good job for the people.
Latasha Johnson, who is currently District No. 1 Councilwoman, said she was running for Mayor because “I am tired of the same voices being heard and the Mayor lying to the people about the water system and the finances of the City.”
Johnson pledged that if she is elected, she will have an audit and a budget and allow the citizens of the city to see the finances. She also said that she would work closely with the City Council to achieve greater unity.
She said her priorities included working with the City Council, straightening out the water system, paying the police and staff more and providing them with updated equipment, so they could do their jobs more effectively.
Johnson said she thought that the City and the County government were going to collaborate on buying and making the Carver School into a community center to serve the full community. “Next thing, I knew, Mayor Steele had run down to the Board of Education and bought the school; without telling the Council about his plans.”
Johnson said she was supportive of cleaning up and improving the downtown areas but felt all areas of the city should receive attention and improvement.
Joe Lee Powell, who is currently representing District 3 (Branch Heights) on the City Council is also running for Mayor. Powell said he is a “proven leader with 16 years’ experience and training in all areas of municipal government.” He said he would organize a citywide Advisory Council to assist him in governing the City of Eutaw.
Powell said that he plans to hire a financial person to help develop a budget and make sure the city follows its financial plan. He said he wants to remodel the National Guard Armory for the police department and other city agencies.
Powell said the downtown area is the gateway to the city and the county. There are too many empty and dilapidated buildings around the Courthouse Square, including the old Courthouse itself. “We need to seek funding to fix up the city. We also need to raise pay for all of our employees, including police, on an annual basis and get them the equipment they need to be effective.”
Powell supports the Water Management Associates contract to oversee the water department and plans to issue regular reports to the Council and the public on the status and finances of this and other city departments.
Queena Bennett Whitehead, who is also running for Mayor, qualified that, “I have a residence in Eutaw at 107 Second Avenue, but I also have a home in McCalla and two in Tuscaloosa, which I won’t be giving up.”
Bennett said she “would help to make things better in the city and do the things that are needed to improve. I feel the citizens are shut-out and do not know what is happening in city government. I hope to change that.”
Bennett said her priorities were: to get the crime rate under control, to bring jobs to the city and improve the water system and other city services.
Candidates for City Council also spoke and answered many of the same questions as the mayoral candidates.
In concluding the meeting, Iris Sermon urged everyone to vote on this coming Tuesday, August 25, 2020 for the Mayor and City Council positions. She also reminded the people present that they can join the Eutaw Garden Club by coming out on Wednesday afternoons at 6:00 PM to help beautify the downtown areas of Eutaw.

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