By REID TUCKER
With city elections set for next Tuesday, the three mayoral candidates and the two vying for a DeFuniak Springs City Council seat each got a chance to make their case to the public.
The candidates addressed voters at a Q&A session hosted by the DeFuniak Springs Business and Professional Association (DBPA) on Monday, April 1, and if the packed house at the Community Center is any indication, the elections have generated considerable interest. Mayoral candidates Robert Campbell, Jon Kinsey and Mac Work, and City Council candidates Wayne Graham and Charles “Mac” Carpenter, son of current mayor Harold Carpenter, fielded questions from the audience on a variety of topics ranging from the role of tourism in the city’s future to job creation strategies. The common theme of the night was listening to the people of the city, though each of the men, hometown born and raised all, differed when it came to how best to move the city forward into a more prosperous future.
Campbell, who owned a business in the city for the past 20 years and whose father served as mayor in the ‘50s, spoke at length about how his Christian faith impacted his decision to seek office. Campbell, who meets weekly with other ministers to pray for the city, said the time had come for him to put his belief in DeFuniak Springs into practice at City Hall, quoting the book of James, saying “faith without works is dead.” If elected, he said he would be “the same man in office he is at church on Sunday,” and would run the city in the same way a chairman runs a corporation – by letting department heads do their jobs.
Kinsey, a whose family history in the city goes back to the 1920s, on the other hand, is primarily running on an idea to bridge the gap between where the city is now and where it could be by tapping into the power of branding. Kinsey, who has long billed himself as the city’s “unofficial, self-appointed ambassador,” said DeFuniak had a fiduciary duty to preserve its past, and he keyed his talk on rejuvenating public interest and business activity in the downtown historic districts. He also stressed an open-door policy at City Hall and said it would be his job as the mayor to fully integrate himself in the comings and goings of the city and its people.
Work, who resigned his seat on the City Council to run for mayor, used his introduction to sum up his record as a policy maker, emphasizing the Council’s success in reducing spending, lowering taxes and trimming back on full-time employee positions as a means of saving money for the taxpayers. He also discussed the benefits of “leveling the playing field” as a means of encouraging new businesses to open in the city, with economic development being a focal point of his mayoral efforts. Work said he would continue to support as mayor new revenue sources, cost-reduction measures and partnership between the city and Walton County, as exemplified by the project to convert the county’s vehicle fleet to run on compressed natural gas.
Each mayoral candidate also had his own ideas for long-term future plans for the city and discussed each briefly before the end of their addresses to the audience. Campbell’s aim is to have the city establish its own fiber-optic telephone, cable and internet infrastructure, which he said could really give DeFuniak an advantage in recruiting new businesses while also providing citizens with faster communication. Kinsey, who broadly opposed a reliance on recruiting corporate businesses, once again emphasized the need for better citywide branding so as to attract visitors to the area, the idea being that “need creates jobs, not the other way around.” Work, one of the big movers when it came to bringing in such corporate businesses such as Taco Bell and Lowe’s, announced that he is in contact with Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, and he said the school is interested in opening a campus in DeFuniak Springs.
The two City Council candidates hewed much closer to the same line when it came to opinions on the direction for the city and how to run it. Carpenter, a senior planner with the county’s Planning and Development Division, talked about his desire to help the city be a place that could provide good jobs for its young people while retaining its historic charm. Graham, an incumbent with six years on the Council, reaffirmed his years’-long commitment to do right by young and old alike, and that included seeking businesses that provided family recreation activities as well as big employers capable of supporting a large local workforce.
Both Carpenter and Graham have extensive experience in government and want to see greater and continued cooperation between the city and Walton County while respecting the varying views of all parties involved. The two men also expressed their support for local civic organizations and the free use of public buildings for groups that provide valuable services to the community, with Graham saying “those organizations are what makes the city thrive.” Carpenter, who said he would not seek another term if elected to a first, summed up his goals for running by saying he wanted “to leave the city in a better place” than he found it.
DeFuniak Springs Business and Professional Association President Sara Comander concluded the forum by encouraging the public to head out to their polling places to vote on April 9.