Alexander Co. candidates gather for forum ahead of election

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

CAIRO, Ill. -- Election problems, economic development and police protection topped the agenda for discussion Monday evening among candidates for Alexander County offices.

The Concerned Citizens for the Recovery of Cairo held a forum for candidates on the March 21 primary ballot, attracting about half of the candidates filed for local offices. About 50 people, many friends or relatives of the candidates, attended the forum at the old Cairo Junior High School.

Contested local offices on the primary ballot include county clerk, county sheriff and one seat on the county commission as well as a primary for regional superintendent of schools.

The two Democratic candidates for county clerk who attended the forum -- Kent Thomas and M. Ryan O'Shea -- said they will review voter rolls to purge the names of people who have moved or died. The third Democratic hopeful, Paula Wright, did not attend.

Vernon Stubblefield, an audience member, wanted reassurance that future elections in Alexander County would be fair. Lawsuits have erupted repeatedly in recent years alleging problems with balloting.

"One of the rubs that has gone against the county clerk has been the purging of the voter lists," Stubblefield said. "There are nebulous rumors that dead people are voting. What can be done? What should be done?"

A thorough review of voting lists should be conducted as soon as possible, Thomas said. And information from the public would help, he added.

"If you as a resident know that someone is not living, bring that to our attention and I will investigate it to the fullest extent possible," he said.

A comprehensive review of computer records related to addresses, tax rolls and death certificates would be helpful, O'Shea said. "I will be fair and strive for excellence," he said.

In the county commission race, six candidates, including five Democrats, are vying to replace retiring commissioner Lewis McRoy. Two of the Democratic candidates, Duane "Street Preacher" Lyon and Darrell Shemwell, took part in the forum, as did Republican Mike Caldwell.

All three candidates said economic development is the only way to make Alexander County an attractive location for people to live. Alexander County is part of a development cooperative but few jobs seem to be landing there, Caldwell said. Adequate water and sewage infrastructure must be put in place to attract industry, he said.

Between Shemwell and Lyon, an issue is developing over whether to get rural Alexander County accepted back into the federal flood insurance program. An ordinance aimed at restoring the county to the flood insurance program was adopted in 2000 but implementing work hasn't been finished. Meeting federal rules imposes limits on development in flood plains and requires that homes be elevated.

Lyon said the current efforts are strangling development, especially in the Olive Branch area. "It is a straight-jacket of an ordinance, but we are still not in the program."

The county, especially, Cairo, "needs curb appeal," Lyon said. "I see a need for fresh leadership."

Shemwell, owner of a barbecue restaurant in downtown Cairo, said establishing the flood plain regulations is the only way to bring real development to the county.

"We are the only county in the Mississippi Valley that is not in the flood plain" regulations, he said.

Shemwell also said the county must prepare land with infrastructure so industry sees an attractive location to build.

Among four sheriff's candidates, one Democrat, Jeffrey Petzoldt, and one Republican, Richard Grapentin, attended. Petzoldt, a current deputy, faces two opponents in the primary.

Both candidates said they would work to increase road patrols, keep a dispatcher in the sheriff's office for longer hours and make drug control a priority.

In the regional superintendent's race, incumbent Janet Ulrich faces Greg Goins. Ulrich, who is seeking a full four-year term after being appointed to finish the term of her predecessor, said she would continue to work to bring grants that expand adult and alternative education.

The old junior high, being used now as a community center and site for adult education, is an example of the kinds of work that would continue if she wins, Ulrich said.

Goins was represented by his father, Manul Goins, who touted his son's qualifications as a current local superintendent and educator.

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