Candidates square off in Alexander County forum

Friday, October 27, 2006

By RUDI KELLER

Southeast Missourian

OLIVE BRANCH, Ill. -- Three of four candidates for Alexander County offices on Thursday offered during a candidate forum to serve without salary or spend their own money seeking help for county coffers.

Republican and Democratic candidates for the two contested races in the county squared off during the forum, sponsored by the Concerned Citizens for the Recovery of Cairo. The county, one of the poorest in Illinois, struggles to pay basic bills and leaves many accounts unpaid.

Democratic candidate Duane "Street Preacher" Lyon faces Republican nominee Mike Caldwell in a race that could, for the first time in memory, give control of the county Board of Commissioners to the GOP. Lyon promised that he, if elected, would donate his $10,000 annual salary to area charities; Caldwell countered that he would refuse his pay and, if forced to accept the money, donate it back to the county.

Neither David Barkett, Democratic candidate for sheriff, nor Richard Grapentin, the Republican nominee, promised to work without salary. But Barkett promised to travel at his own expense to Springfield, Ill., the state capitol, and to Washington, D.C., seeking grants to support law enforcement. Grapentin did not talk about spending his own money or working without pay.

Lyon's promise drew sharp questioning from some in the audience of about 30. Lyon operates the Promise Land mission in Cairo, Ill., and he claimed that his mission has distributed $300,000 worth of goods to hurricane victims as well as the local needy in the past year.

Jobs and grants

Asked where he gets the money for the operation and to support his family, Lyon said it is raised from a nationwide network he has built as a preacher. He supports his family, he said, from "free will donations" and revival meetings. The mission does not receive any tax money, he said, and he does not take a salary.

The mission doesn't turn away anyone seeking food or other goods unless they are clearly under the influence of alcohol or drugs, Lyon said. "We don't deny anyone," he said. "And we have no paperwork."

Caldwell and Lyon both said the county needs a strong effort to recruit industry.

"We have got to get people working in this county," Caldwell said.

Additional jobs at a proposed Cairo biodiesel plant are a good first step, Caldwell said. Regardless of the outcome, Caldwell said, "we all have to go to work the day after the election and all pull together. This county is steadily going down."

Lyon said the county needs to set short-term and long-term goals, including looking for grants to help out county finances. Grants are fine in the short term, he said, but additional jobs are the only way to obtain long-term stability.

Both commission candidates question the county's effort to implement flood-insurance program building restrictions. Alexander County is the only county in Illinois along the Mississippi River where residents in unincorporated areas cannot buy flood insurance. The county has been working to return to the program for almost seven years.

The candidates for sheriff both promised to increase the law enforcement efforts of the department and to increase the number of hours when residents can call for emergency help. The department, which has six deputies, currently provides regular patrols during normal business hours.

Barkett, the county coroner, said the sheriff's department needs to become the primary law enforcement service in the county. "We need the hoodlums and the drug dealers off the street," he said.

Grapentin, who moved to Alexander County in 2004 after retiring from the Los Angeles County sheriff's department, said he views methamphetamine sales and production as the county's top crime priority.

He promised to foster a "vigorous neighborhood watch program to assist the department, especially in the area of drug enforcement, specifically locating and eradicating meth labs."

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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