BY BRIAN JONES
COLUMBUS – Incumbent Ward 5 Councilman Stephen Jones (D) and Republican challenger Mark Ward spoke to the Columbus Exchange Club June 1, making last-minute pitches before Tuesday’s general election. The event drew a large crowd, packing a room at Lion Hills.
Jones is the incumbent. He was elected in a 2016 special election to fill out the remainder of Kabir Karriem’s term after Karriem was elected to the legislature. Ward is former assistant chief for Columbus Fire and Rescue.
Ward started things off.
“I spent 30 years with the fire department, and the last 10 of those were in administration,” Ward said. “I have focused my campaign on my experience and my qualifications. I’ve learned a lot in 30 years working for the city. I am aware and familiar with everything in the city as far as day-to-day operations. I know the department heads and have a great working relationship with them. I have a good working relationship with the council, the mayor and the (chief operations officer.) Thirty years of experience goes a long way.
“I am a Mississippi certified public manager,” he said. “That is a program with the state personnel board. There are six levels. I can tell you there’s only been a handful of city employees who ever reached that designation. It took me almost four years. In between each level there were projects that you had to do, and one of my projects was that I had to write a policy. The city did not have a donated sick leave policy. If an employee or close family member had a catastrophic illness of some kind and exhausted all their sick leave and all their vacation, there was no way for other employees to donate some of their hours to the person who was going through a terrible time so they could continue to get a paycheck. I used what I learned in that program every day. Dealing with employees, management, leadership, and I plan to use that if elected.
“When I was with the fire department and we were trying to get nationally certified one of the benchmarks was that we had to have a five-year plan,” he said. “It had goals, timelines and strategies under each goal to accomplish them. I would propose that each department in the city write their own five-year plan so citizens can know what kind of goals the city has. We’ll take all those plans from each department to make a comprehensive plan for the city. It will be published on the city web site and at city hall for anyone who wants to read it, and it will be reviewed annually to see if we’re making any strides.
“Every forum that we’ve been to, crime has been an issue,” he said. “They have somebody here to help them, but right now they’re trying to get their numbers up. [Mr. Ward is referring to consultant Dr. KB Turner. – Ed.] That will help enforce the law, but the way I look at it is that you’re not always going to be able to reduce crime. I feel the key to reducing crime in the city is prevention and education. At the fire department we have fire prevention and education. It’s all about teaching and preventing. We need to apply those same principles to law enforcement. We need to get in the schools. We need to get the DARE program back. It hasn’t been in our schools in 10-12 years. We need to reach these children. It’s all about educating and preventing. We need to support back-to-school programs like the Boys and Girls Club and get kids off the street.
“We’ve got to continue to work with the LINK when it comes to economic development,” he said. “We don’t have a megasite in the city, but you can’t tell me there’s not an industry or a business that the city couldn’t get. I’m not just talking about manufacturing. It could be a call center that employs a hundred people or along those lines. We need to raise our tax base.”
Jones spoke briefly.
“I am the current councilman in Ward 5,” Jones said. “Most of you know me. I am a real estate agent. I’ve been a real estate agent for eight or nine years. Before that I was district manager for a chain of video stores. I worked in that industry for about 22 years. I started off as a clerk and worked my way up. In real estate I have been ranked in the top five for the last five years as far as transactions being sold in the whole Golden Triangle. Anything I do I try to do my best at.
“Same thing being a councilman,” he said. “Most of you know me. If you call me and I don’t come out to your house I will call you. I’m very open. This is not my seat, it is the seat for all the people in Ward 5 no matter where you live. This seat belongs to every person in this ward.
“I want to see the slumlord problem that we have solved,” he said. “That is the only way we’re going to change our school system. That’s the only way we’re going to change the image of Columbus is to get rid of some of the slumlords and give people a better way to live. The product that we are putting into the educational system, if we make that better from the start then we’ll have a better school system. We can have the best superintendent in the world, but if we don’t have the right people in place the only thing we’ll be doing is turning over superintendents the same way we’re turning over chiefs in the last three or four years. We have to work as a community to make it better.
“I also want to look at the litter problem that we have,” Jones said. “I’d like to make that a little better. We should be providing trash cans to all the residents in the city. Aberdeen does it, Starkville does it, West Point does it, so I don’t see why Columbus can’t do it also. That would help with our litter problem and make us look better as a city.”
The candidates were asked if they would equally represent all residents of Ward 5, regardless of which part of the ward they lived in.
“I reach out to everyone,” Jones said. “You can see it in the locations of my signs. I have signs on both sides of Military Road. I have signs in Southside, I have them everywhere in my ward. I try to reach out to everyone. Any events that are going on, whether they’re black events or white events, I’m there if I’m invited. I live on this side of Military, but I’m building a house on the other side of Military. I sincerely hope that whoever ends up in this seat does that and reaches out to everybody, whether they are a Republican or a Democrat or black or white.”