MOUNT CARMEL — A forum held at the Mount Carmel Senior Center Thursday evening gave the community an opportunity to meet its Board of Mayor and Aldermen candidates for the Nov. 6 election including the three men seeking the mayor position.
Mount Carmel mayoral candidates are incumbent Gary Lawson, who has been mayor since 2000 and also served as mayor in the late 1980s; former Planning Commission chairman and County Commissioner Larry Frost; and longtime Alderman and former Vice Mayor Eugene Christian.
The candidates were asked to comment on several issues including business recruitment, the Nov. 6 liquor referendum, photo traffic enforcement cameras, and town employees and department heads.
The following is a summary of the responses.
Christian is a retired grocery store manager and has been at the forefront of Mount Carmel’s business recruitment efforts. He noted, however, that it’s not possible to recruit new businesses without the support of the property owners.
“We really need the revenue, and besides that, we really need the convenience for the citizens here,” he said. “We can get a grocery store here, and I’ve been working with three companies that have an interest, but going through this last recession has been really hard. ... The one reason I want to be mayor is to grow business, control taxes, and have more money to pave streets.”
Christian said he believes if Mount Carmel doesn’t approve liquor by the drink, and Church Hill does, restaurants looking to invest in the area will go to Church Hill.
“It’s up to the people, but if it does happen I’ll work to see that we get a restaurant, and I do think it will have some potential for growth,” Christian said.
Christian noted that when the traffic lights were installed on Highway 11-W, the BMA said it would consider taking down the speed cameras, and he will remove them as mayor. Christian said he believes the city has a good crew of employees.
“I feel like everybody here I can work with, and we can accomplish a lot more than we’re accomplishing,” Christian said.
Frost has owned and operated Frost Construction LLC for 40 years. He said one key to recruiting new business will be offering incentives such as breaks on sewer and property taxes.
“They have to have an incentive to come here,” Frost said. “Competition is tough out there in today’s world. My goal is to talk with each of the corporate level people to try to get business within the city. If we get businesses in here, we can lower taxes in this city.”
Frost said he doesn’t believe approval of liquor by the drink will result in commercial growth because there’s limited places in Mount Carmel for a new restaurant to locate.
“As far as a chain restaurant coming here — I’m talking about a Red Lobster or some restaurant of that magnitude — folks it just ain’t gonna happen...” Frost said. “It’s based on traffic count, and we do not have the traffic count in this city to have a chain restaurant. There’s a possibility we’re going to get a Kentucky Fried Chicken or some restaurant of that sort, but it won’t be based on alcohol.”
Frost said he has never been a supporter of the speed enforcement cameras, and he believes they have hurt the city.
“Cameras don’t stop impaired drivers,” Frost said. “That’s a proven fact through the police department recently. They chased a guy 70 miles and come to find out the guy was drunk. The camera didn’t chase him. A police officer did.”
Frost said rumors that he intends to fire certain department heads if he is elected are false.
“There’s been rumors I’m going to fire everybody in this city,” Frost said. “I don’t know who started all those rumors. I’ve never fired a person in my life. ... I do appreciate the employees. We’ve got a wonderful work group, the police department, the fire department, and the whole nine yards. Everyone does a super job.”
Lawson is a retired manager at Eastman Chemical Co. He said some of the things that have been approved recently by the BMA will make Mount Carmel more attractive to new business when the economy improves. Among those are creation of a housing authority that includes a mechanism to offer a property tax incentive for new business developments.
“I think the economy is in a downturn, but we have some things in place now that maybe will make things better in the future,” Lawson said.
Lawson said he believes if Mount Carmel’s voters reject liquor by the drink and it is approved by Church Hill, Mount Carmel will lose out on potential new business development.
“If Mount Carmel passes it we may have some growth, and we may not,” Lawson said. “We have limited space to actually have anything. I’ve talked to other restaurants, and they would not locate here because we do not have liquor by the drink. ... If it (doesn’t) pass and Church Hill passes it, it’s going to really handicap us financially.”
Lawson said he anticipates that with the new red light being installed this year, statistics will show slowing traffic on 11-W and safety being increased. Lawson anticipates the 11-W cameras will be removed when the contract with the camera provider expires. Lawson noted that he appointed a committee to study traffic statistics after the red light was installed and make a recommendation, and ultimately the decision will be made by the BMA as a whole.
Lawson said he lets the department heads run the city, and although the mayor has the authority of fire employees, he doesn’t exercise that authority.
“I know some employees are scared because rumors are flying,” he said. “It’s a bad situation when a person has to live like that and have a job they may lose because somebody (doesn’t) like them who’s in politics,” Lawson said.