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Candidates weigh in at Bronson forum

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By Mark Scohier, Staff writer

Five candidates, a handful of local officials and a room full of citizens turned out Monday night to hear what Bronson candidates had to say about themselves and the direction the town should be going in.

But candidates largely agreed on two main themes: that development of infrastructure and communication among officials and with town residents were both key to future success.

Candidates, lined up in seats in the council room of the Dogan S. Cobb Municipal Building, answered questions for more than an hour in a candidate forum organized by the Bronson Chamber of Commerce and the Chiefland Citizen.

Seat 3 candidates Jamie Griffin, Sandy Mosely and incumbent Beatrice Roberts participated in the forum, as well as Paul T. Phillips, who is running for seat 1 against incumbent Aaron Edmondson, the only candidate not in attendance. Bruce Greenlee, though unopposed for the Seat 5 position he assumes after the election, also made it to the event. Jason Kennedy pulled out of the race earlier in the day, due, in part, he said in a later interview, to the lack of respect and communication among council members.

The first question of the night involved the candidates’ vision for the future of Bronson and the steps needed to get there.

Mosely said, “I would like to see more encouragement when it comes to growth and business...”

She emphasized continued progress toward the town’s sewer system and broadband Internet access and added that she’d like better participation with neighboring municipalities.

Phillips said he’d like to see the town make sound investments and have money put aside to plan for the future.

He said the council needs to work on communication issues, as well, making strides toward what the citizens want, instead of just want the council wants.

Griffin agreed. “Everybody that’s spoken so far has said some good things ….” Infrastructure, especially sewer, will bring people and business in, he said, stating that was his focus.

He said it’s also important to keep the town out of debt.

Roberts said, “Yes, we need sewage, which we are working on.” Phase 1 has already been completed, she said, and now phase 2 is underway. “Once we do all that, we are going to start moving along.”

Still, Roberts said there’s something to be said for keeping Bronson small. Growth is good, she said, “but do we want to be like Gainesville?”

Greenlee said, “I express the same concerns and hopes …, though, he added, he hadn’t heard much on how all of this was going to get accomplished. He said different sources of funding need to be pursued, as well as the development of relationships with county and state agencies. Other than sewer, Greenlee said, the town needs to start working harder toward improving its streets and roads.

He said it’s also important that the council members start to “take the self out of the way “when deciding on town matters, a practice that could keep disharmony on the council to a minimum.

When asked what top goals would be once taking office, Phillips said the council needs to focus on communication and building infrastructure. Griffin said the council needs to look at what’s been accomplished, what’s left in the “hopper” and how best to move forward with a plan. Roberts said completion of the sewage system is her top goal. Greenlee, much like Phillips, said communication and infrastructure need to be addressed. Mosely agreed, though added that Bronson needs to work more with the sheriff’s office to address an increasing crime rate in town. “It’s scary out there,” she said.

When asked about a timeline for completion of the town sewer system, all candidates responded that there was no way to say for sure, though all agreed it should be done as soon as possible

Greenlee said it might be wise if the town started taking a more proactive approach in terms of what it could do itself, digging trenches and placing pipes.

Phillips said he’d like to see more options for moving forward with projects such as the sewer system. “I haven’t seen plan A, B and C,” he said. “There’s really more than one best way to do something.”

When asked where candidates wanted to see Bronson in five years in terms of being prosperous, Roberts said she’d like the sewer system to be done in that time and added that the council needs to learn to work together.

“There was a time when we really did work together, and things were getting done,” she said.

Greenlee said, “What I hope to see is continued growth …,” again stressing infrastructure and alternative means of funding.

Mosely said, “Basically, everything that everyone has said” regarding infrastructure and getting along. She added she’d like to see more opportunities for children and young people.

Phillips said communication among council was key to the town’s prosperity, as well as getting into a regular grant-writing habit.

Griffin said he’d like to see the sewer get finished in the commercial district first, then “spider” out to nearby homes and neighborhoods. He said he’d like to see the addition of a community center, a new facility for the fire department, more road paving, which could go “hand-in-hand” with the construction of sewer lines, and a continued direction toward grants that refurbish low-income homes.

When asked about personal attributes that would contribute to the success of Bronson, Greenlee said, “Me, personally, I care.” And he said he want to see things get done and knows how to work with people.

“I deal with people every day, and most of them are mad,” Greenlee, who runs the county’s road department, said with a laugh. He said he’s also good with budgets, having to manage that of the road department.

Mosely said, “I feel like communication is my forte.” She likes to work with people, she said. “If someone’s got a problem, I try to help them take care of it.”

Phillips said his integrity and grounding in family and spirituality keep him accountable to the needs of the public. He said he’s “at home” working with diverse groups in the community.

Griffin, a local business owner and former mayor of Bronson, said two of his best traits are his business experience and influence he has with state officials.

Roberts said her smile was her best trait, adding that she loves people. She said honesty, integrity, respect and standing “for Christ” are also attributes she possesses.

The candidates were also asked where they stood on annexation. All said they were for it, as long as the benefits to both the town and for those being annexed outweighed the negatives. The candidates agreed that there would have to be some sort of a study or poll to determine how the community felt about proposed annexation.

Candidates were tentative concerning a question about support for a town fire department under the strict supervision of the county. All said there wasn’t enough information about such a happening as of yet.

Greenlee said he, personally, feels like the county’s relatively new Department of Public Safety needs to be on more “secure footing” before talks or consideration on the issue could progress, should it come up at some point.

The candidates were also asked about how best to deal with “dissension” between council members.

Griffin said, ‘We just need to sit down and talk and work it out.”

Roberts said the spirit of Jesus Christ needs to be invoked, and that council members, though not always agreeing, should always be respectful to each other. “We’re going to have to learn to agree to disagree.”

Greenlee, reiterating what he’d said earlier, said council members need to focus on what’s best for the town. “When we take ‘self’ out of it, there becomes a lot less dissension.”

He added that he has been, at times, “amazed” by the amount of conflict he’s seen in some meetings.

Mosely said, “Camaraderie. We need to be able to get along.”

Phillips said he endorsed everything that candidates had just said, emphasizing to ability to remember that council members serve the community.

Another question asked what could be done to get area youth more involved with the community, schools and a life free of crime.

Roberts said such efforts begin at home, though, she added, further development of the town’s park and the construction of a community center would offer a place for children to go in the afternoons.

Greenlee said,”The first thing is just by being a good example because, believe it or not, they (children) watch. You can’t control a parent, but you can control what you do.”

Greenlee also endorsed a community center and praised earlier efforts by officials and staff to create a town recreation department.

Mosely said she’d like to see park expansion to include other types of sports such as those involving horses. She also said that a community center could be developed in the Dogan S. Cobb building and the fire department, when and if the latter is relocated to another facility.  There’s an advantage there, as well, because of the close proximity to the library, she said.

Phillips, agreeing with Greenlee that parents can’t be controlled, said there has to be an effort between the town, churches, schools, parents and leaders to make things better. He said he’d like to survey youth in the area to see what suggestions and preferences they had.

Griffin said he’d like to see another roller skating rink, such as the one that used to exist. “It brought the community together,” he said. Children need a place where they can feels safe and have fun, he said. “Without a place, they’re gonna’ wonder the streets. No telling where they’re gonna’ end up.”

The upcoming election is Tuesday, Sept. 10, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Dogan S. Cobb building.