Published 3:07 am Saturday, August 20, 2016


Opp candidates: Improved streets, jobs, transparency imperative

Opp Mayor John Bartholomew and six challengers – Councilman T.D. Morgan, school board member Becky Bracke, retired oilfield worker Wayne Wood, accountant and finance professional Deborah Dean, business owner Haywood Nawlin and resident Mack Whatley – all think they have the leadership skills to move the city of Opportunity toward the thriving and bustling city of industry it once was.

The Star-News posed a series of questions to the candidates on pressing issues, infrastructure, developing the tax base, and transparency.

Candidates each have their own ideas on how they can grow. Each of the challengers feels the town isn’t where it should be, while Bartholomew said he is proud of where the city’s progress in the last four years and wants to do more.

The municipal election is set for Tuesday, but with a field of seven candidates, chances are slim that one contender will get enough votes to avoid a runoff, which is set for Oct. 4.

The Star-News received answers from five of the seven candidates – Bartholomew, Morgan, Bracke, Wood and Dean. Nawlin said he was too busy to talk to a reporter and attempts to locate Whatley were unsuccessful.


What is the most pressing issue for the town?

Bartholomew said there were several, but that the depot restoration project is one of the most pressing. “We want to make sure we save our depot,” he said. “It is of historical value to our city.”

The other, he said, is continuing to bring industry to the city.

“It creates a tax-base we need to improve our city,” he said.

Morgan said generating tax revenue is the most pressing.

“Our tax revenue is not strong enough for the spending that we have currently going on,” he said.

Bracke said jobs and improving the workforce are pertinent.

“We lost our jobs and lost a lot of our workforce,” she said.

She said that when industry and retailers come in they look at the workforce.

Wood said the economy and bringing industry are the most relevant issues.

Dean said the most pressing issue is leadership.


What issue is not getting enough attention?

Bartholomew said they city still needs to go out and advertise itself to bring in more jobs.

“We have gone out and done that,” he said. “We now have the infrastructure in place to bring in companies.”

Morgan said he felt the people in Opp were not getting enough attention.

“The people built this town,” he said. “The people who worked at the mill, sewing factory and trucking companies. They are the ones having to pay the high utility bills. We have to fix this.”

Bracke said communication with people is something she feels isn’t getting enough attention.

“It’s really important for leadership to communicate with the people,” she said. “We need to let our people know why we are or why we are not getting businesses.”

Wood said the streets are in dire straits.

“They are awful,” he said. “As I have been doing my campaigning and riding through all these communities, even I, myself, did not realize how bad they were. We can apply for grants for our streets as well.”

Dean said she agreed with others that there needs to be more economic development to get more jobs in her city.


How can the town best build its tax base?

Bartholomew said that building the tax base isn’t always in the present, but often officials are working on the future.

“You have to constantly think of the future,” he said. “You have to go out and bring in the retailer for your tax base. By keeping your infrastructure in place, it helps to continue to improve. With that, you can bring in new jobs and that turns to more rooftops being occupied, and when more people move to our city, it makes our tax base grow, and we can in turn, have more retail.”

Morgan agreed that bringing in more jobs is key, but favors starting small.

“You have to start somewhere,” he said. “Small businesses are key. We have to get them here and help support them. Then we can work other businesses in with them.”

Bracke agreed that increasing retail is the strategy to accelerate the tax base.

“We have to get more businesses to increase our tax revenue,” she said.

Wood said he had no doubt business could come back to Opp.

“That’s the only way you’re going to build up your tax base,” he said.

Dean said she felt development on the bypass is essential.

“We have to get retail out there,” she said. “A travel center would be wonderful. We have to come up with a plan to make that happen.”


How do you feel the city is doing with the balance of infrastructure improvements and controlling borrowing costs?

Bartholomew said the city absolutely had a good balance.

“We go after DOT grants and other grants to help improve our infrastructure,” he said. “We allow our engineers to go out and find these grants. They are working for the city. We can’t afford to do this on our own, but with these grants, we are able to pay a small portion, but get big results. We need to continue this partnership.”

Morgan said a little common sense is needed with bonds and refinancing.

“You have to go with the people who are going to do your bonds cheaper,” he said. “You have to work with the people to get the lowest price. You have to get those who will do the best work for the lowest price.”

Bracke said the city has to have the needed infrastructure, but said she doesn’t feel that she was in the position to know where the city is with spending right now.

Wood said he didn’t know the situation of the city.

“I’ve heard, but I don’t believe in hearsay,” he said. “I know that there are a lot of people talking about our debt situation. Money has been spent on luxuries and wants versus necessities. If we have the money for luxuries, we should have the money for needs.”

Dean said there are infrastructure needs all over town, and she feels the city has been working, but there is still a great need for improvements.


Do you feel the city is better off than it was four years ago? What else needs to be done to improve?

Bartholomew said absolutely.

“We are,” he said. “We never had the infrastructure on the bypass we have now. We have more jobs than we had four years ago. I’ve been working with Sen. Jeff Sessions and Rep. Martha Roby to get a Hub Zone for Global (Manufacturing).”

Bartholomew said the city needs to continue to improve in every aspect.

“If a mayor ever says he’s totally satisfied, he needs to walk away,” he said.

Morgan agreed there have been some good things that have happened in Opp, but not said that the good things don’t outweigh the bad.

“You don’t just go in and tear somebody’s house down just because they don’t have lights and water hooked up,” he said. “Especially if you have people who want to chip in and make the house look better. I don’t believe in tearing down. We need to work to make housing affordable. We also need to better manage city funds.”

Bracke said she didn’t feel the city was in better shape.

“We are spending more,” she said. “I think that the communication is less and the people are more negative than they have ever been. I’ve seen that.”

She said her main goal is to get the residents of the city of Opportunity working together toward the same goal of improving the city.

“We can do that,” she said. “I think that I’m the one that will communicate. I want to form an economic committee.”

Wood said he doesn’t feel the city is better off.

“We’ve had zero business growth,” he said.

Dean said she would actually have to see the books to know the city’s financial situation, but gave the current administration credit for the new pool and new utility building.


How important is transparency and open meetings to you? Are you willing to work with residents and the media alike to ensure that the public knows the town’s business?

Bartholomew said transparency is something that he is very proud of in his administration.

“I am so proud,” he said. “Before I became mayor, you couldn’t go into a utility board meeting. We now televise those. We also televise our council meetings. I love the people here. I encourage people to come to our meetings. I want the news to come cover us – the newspaper, radio and television. I am so open to transparency.”

Morgan said he is willing to work with the people, and with the news media, provided they are on an equal basis with each person and not biased toward one candidate.

“There’s two things about me: I won’t lie to you, and I won’t steal from you.”

Bracke said communication with the citizens is imperative to a successful city government.

“It’s crucial to let them know what’s going on,” she said.

Wood said that the government shouldn’t be a secret service agency.

“Every single person should know the financial situation, what projects are going on and when opportunities for businesses come along,” he said. “That is a big pet peeve of mine. I believe in trust and keeping your word.”

Dean said that working with the public is very important to her, as is good leadership.