Mayoral candidates discuss issues of leadership, finance, recreation

By Bill Short

The three candidates for mayor in the Nov. 6 Oakland city elections recently discussed issues regarding the town’s leadership, financial situation and recreational opportunities.

Incumbent Mayor Scott Ferguson and Alderman John Evans were among participants in a Candidate Forum presented by the West Fayette Republican Club at its Sept. 27 regular monthly meeting. Robert Redditt provided written information about his candidacy to the Oakland News.

While noting that he is not a “preacher” or a “policeman,” Evans told the club members that he has 30 years’ experience in the financial industry, which he believes Oakland’s taxpayers need right now.

An alderman for the past eight years, he said he helped to obtain an “automated sewer plant” and to get Wal-Mart and Walgreen’s stores to locate in Oakland, which he believes have “really contributed” to the quality of life in the community.

Calling himself a “taxpayer-friendly” candidate, Evans said that if elected, he will return the “luxury vehicle” leased by the current mayor and propose a reinstatement of the “no personal use” policy on all city vehicles.

Noting that Ferguson has cast a tie-breaking vote approximately 19 times during the past two and a half years, Evans said he supports increasing the number of aldermen on the board and removing the mayor from the voting process.

While acknowledging that many of Oakland’s streets are in disrepair, Evans said he will repair them and make them safe to drive on, while improving the “overall appearance” of the town. Calling himself a “fiscal conservative,” he said he will end the “out-of-control spending” of the current administration.

“City Hall is littered with pictures of projects that have been started and abandoned by this administration,” he said. “I’m not going to tease you with promises of parks and pools and civic centers until the plans are fully formulated, investigated and found to be fiscally sound.”

Evans also said he will not propose any project that will detract from Oakland’s “rural character” or is in opposition to the town’s Land-Use Map.

To determine the necessity of certain expenditures, he said he will institute an accounting system based on an inventory of all the “hard assets.”

Declaring that his “vision” for the town can be described in the word “destination,” Evans said it “leans heavily on the ideal” that Oakland should be a place where families can feel safe in their homes and neighborhoods.

To “increase and improve” the business community, he plans to work with the Oakland Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Committee to “actively recruit” the kinds of businesses that residents must now “drive miles to reach.”

Because he intends to expand the recreational facilities that Oakland currently offers, Evans said his campaign has created a Youth Advisory Committee and a Senior Advisory Committee to investigate and address the needs of those groups.

He also said he has begun “conversations” on the possibility of establishing “charging stations for hybrid automobiles.”

Concluding that relationships based on common “faith, goals and direction” do not fail, Evans said that formula has been the foundation in his marriage. And he will carry that foundation into his relationship with Oakland residents if he is elected mayor.

In written information provided to the Oakland News, Redditt said there are a “multitude of issues” that must be immediately addressed in the town to secure the quality of life for its residents. He cited honesty and integrity in leadership, fiscal responsibility, government efficiency and openness, community-oriented policing, communication and unification, the community’s schools and planned, sustainable economic and residential development.

Redditt said leadership requires faith in Oakland’s residents, because a “team effort” is necessary for success. Goals and visions must be shared and priorities set, he said, to ensure that the goals are achieved and the visions become a reality.

“The town of Oakland has been divided into two parts for many years,” he noted. “And it is time to make this community a whole by working together, with appreciation for all residents’ views and finding common ground.”

Contending that the financial health of Oakland has “deteriorated,” Redditt said a review of all revenues and expenditures, especially in the General Fund, must be a priority. He said the town cannot remain “financially viable” if the General Fund expenses continue to exceed incoming revenue.

“The fund’s balances have decreased each year and are being used to balance the budget,” he said. “Policies and controls on spending must be implemented to address such items as resurfacing of roadways, City Hall facilities and community and recreational programs.”

Citing his 21 years in law enforcement, Redditt said the Oakland Police Department must be “redirected” in its public safety methods, and its current appropriations must be reviewed. He acknowledged that traffic control is a necessity for public safety.

“But to fund more than 60 percent of your departmental expenses with fines, forfeitures and costs is not public safety,” he contended. “It is revenue generation.”

Redditt said the direction of a police department is a “direct reflection” of the town’s leadership.

“The current leadership does not understand that public trust and public safety go hand in hand,” he said. “The police department must develop relationships with the public that are based on mutual respect and trust in order to provide proper police services.”

Noting that he is not a political candidate who will be “promising the unachievable immediately,” Redditt said it will take much effort to get the town’s finances “back on track” and the fund balances built up to a level necessary to meet the shared goals and visions.

“Has there been any progress in any area made under the current administration?” he asked. “No, only regression, bickering and wasteful spending.”

Redditt said the town of Oakland should be a leader within Fayette County.

“We should be the benchmark for honest government, great neighborhoods and sustainable businesses,” he contended. “We should not be the subject of political ridicule, personal objectives, revenge, spite and state investigative audits.”

Noting that he still believes public service can be a noble profession, Redditt said it matters because the issues matter. He said the town should assess its challenges and the solutions to them as a team and a community, not “behind closed doors” with personal agendas a priority, rather than strengthening its foundation.

“I want the residents to work with me and the legislative board to develop tangible plans, measurable and achievable goals,” he concluded. “These plans should be developed in unison with the residents, who are without a doubt this town’s greatest assets.”

Ferguson told the club members that, a few years ago, he became “troubled” and “disappointed” with the direction that the local government was taken because of “corruption.” When he saw a “negative cloud” overshadow Oakland, he decided he would run for mayor.

“For the past two and half years, I’ve enjoyed the great privilege to be able to serve the residents of this great town,” he said. “And hopefully, with a vision and a goal, point toward better and brighter days that we’ve not experienced in the past.”

But Ferguson acknowledged that he has also learned “hard lessons of leadership” that have been very challenging and difficult.

He said learning to be a leader is learning to be administrator who will strive to manage the town’s affairs well, a communicator who will strive to create transparency in government to ensure that every resident stays informed, a listener who will represent the people who have elected him, and a planner with a vision who sets his “foot to the path” to accomplish the goals for success.

“Over the past two and a half years,” he said, “I have formed a team and an administration that works well together to face every challenge head-on that comes our way, and to find real solutions to serve the residents better than we have the day before.”

Calling education “vital” to the success of any community, Ferguson said he appointed the Oakland Exploratory Education Committee to work for 90 days to find ways to place it as the town’s highest priority. Because changes are being made in Shelby County, he said Oakland must have a plan in order to be prepared for them.

He said his administration has also worked to ensure that Oakland residents have “adequate parks and green space,” so families can spend time together with outdoor activities. But he acknowledged that those can only be a reality if the town has a comprehensive plan of growth for its future.

“We all desire that the town of Oakland grow,” he noted. “But we strive and desire for it to grow responsibly.”

Ferguson contended that his administration has already accomplished much of what his opponents are promising.

“Under my watch,” he said, “our property tax rate has remained 15 cents, with absolutely no consideration for increase. That is because we have checks and balances in place, accountability and responsibility.”

The mayor said he has produced three balanced budgets with three consecutive surpluses. Two of them amounted to approximately $100,000, and the most recent was approximately $275,000.

With no property tax increase, he said the Oakland Fire Department is now a 24/7 fire service with a full-time fire chief.

“I inherited $700,000 in the General Fund,” he noted. “As of today, there’s $1.4 million in that fund. We’ve doubled it in two and a half years.”

In the past, Ferguson said, the Oakland Police Department was “plagued with corruption,” with 25 percent of its officers indicted. But he appointed a police chief who is “highly decorated” with more than 40 years of experience to restore order.

While declaring that Oakland has “come a long way,” the mayor acknowledged that the work has “only begun.”

“I know what makes a good leader,” he concluded. “It is those who support him, who believe in his cause and who persevere with him through the good times and the bad. I ask that you consider me to continue our journey to secure Oakland’s future.”