With five days to go before the election for Miami City Council seats for Ward 3 and Ward 4, the Miami Area Chamber of Commerce candidates forum was sparsely attended by approximately 20 to 30 friends, family, city officials and residents at NEO A&M Thursday night. Both Joe Sharbutt and Neal Johnson answered questions posed my moderator Thomas Callan, an adjunct American government professor at NEO A&M.
The two incumbent candidates, Terry Atkinson and John Dalgarn, declined the invitation to participate in the forum, Dalgarn citing a business scheduling conflict.
The forum began with Callan asking the candidates what they feel is the most pressing issue facing the city.
Johnson, running for the Ward 3 seat said filling the position of city manager and street projects were the most pressing and important. Sharbutt, who is running for the Ward 4 council seat agreed.
Callan asked both men what qualities they seek in a candidate for the city manager position. Sharbutt answered that someone strong who works well with other people and has experience with state and local government was vital.
Johnson stressed the need for improvements in the city's infrastructure.
“We have some issues with our water and sewer lines as the citizens in Ward 3 experienced last weekend,” he said. “Those issues need to be addressed.”
Both Sharbutt and Johnson were in agreement on what role the city plays in economic development. “I believe the city's role is to work together with all parties; the cities departments, the Chamber, MAEDS, the different tribes, and NEO,” said Sharbutt.
“I agree with Joe on that. I think we also need to look to work with other districts to further economic development. I do agree with the city council's decision to hire Retail Attractions, this helps in recruitment in our retail business. We do need a strong tax base to survive,” Johnson said.
The moderator asked the candidates to describe what they would do to bring people to the city.
Sharbutt answered that striving to have a community that invites them to come here and that shows they want people, economic growth and people working together and to create an environment that makes people want to come and live in the city. Johnson responded that he couldn't have said it better.
“On recent city government decisions opinions, thoughts?” Callan asked.
“Roads was one of them I think was a very good decision,” Sharbutt said. He also said that working with tribes and federal government to pursue funds for repair and construction work of the Central Street bridge was a positive move on the city's behalf.
“I also agree with Joe on that one. Some things come up here lately that I'm glad that's been corrected and been addressed. The public input in our agenda, I'm glad that's back. I thank Mayor Ketcher for that. I think that it 's important for our citizens to be able to speak regardless of what they want to say,” Johnson said.
The two men were then asked what decisions from the city they disapprove of.
“I want to apologize first, I kind of get a little emotional when I talk about this. About a year ago there was an issue of salaries being posted and published on a website. I don't know who the sponsor was of putting them on windshields and passing them around town, that's not the proper place. I do agree that needs to be public record that can be found at city hall. Ijust don't think it's good, it's bad for our employees morale, and it caused division among our employees,” Johnson said.
Sharbutt said he disapproved of a decision , not an actual council decision, to close restrooms at city hall for security reasons which affected senior citizens using the building.
“If elected, what impact do you want to make?” Callan asked.
“As a council member I'd like to definitely improve our political climate and communications amongst the council. My goal is to work with Mayor Ketcher and my fellow council members. I have not been caught up in the turmoil of the past two years....Being retired I have time to spend talking to the ones I I represent and addressing the problems that they have,” Johnson said.
“I believe in hard work. I'm a consensus builder and a problem solver and have been my whole life. I help manage a business the same size and scope of the city and I'd like to bring those same abilities to the council,” Sharbutt said.
Callan asked many other questions that were not on the prepared list and them men read closing statements.
“There are a lot more things that have to be done better than the ones in office now and I want to be a part of that...This is my town and I'm proud of it....I believe I can make a positive difference with the skills that I have for Miami,” Sharbutt said as he became visibly emotional.
“Me, I like interaction with people. For example going door to door while campaigning has been a real education for me. I love that aspect o fit . That's probably the main reason I'm driven to do this I love to be among the people,” Johnson said.