Ask the candidates
Editor's note: In an effort to help inform the public about issues in the Meridian mayor's race, The Meridian Star is posing a series of questions to the candidates. The questions are based on input from our readers, and the candidates' responses to the second set of questions appear today.
Q: An allusion has been made in this campaign to a "metro government." Is it a good idea? If so, what departments should be merged? Who would be in charge of operating the government?
It would definitely be worthwhile to do a study of the long-term benefits of combining city and county governments, particularly as it relates to leadership, law-enforcement and fire protection. However, I believe the more immediate need is to work diligently and expeditiously to make the current system work properly through a much improved partnership between the mayor and board of supervisors. Right now we do not have that partnership in place.
William Hugh Johnson:
Municipalities in Mississippi are chartered by the state. If Meridian and Marion turned in their charters a county-wide "metro government" would exist, governed by a board of supervisors. Law enforcement would be under a sheriff. It ain't happening.
Legislative action to allow other forms of "metro government" would be required. Rather than "metro government," Meridian needs competent leadership for a change.
Meridian must grow like Hattiesburg, Tupelo, Gulfport, Biloxi, and other cities have during the past eight years. Competent leadership is required, for a change.
Any movement toward a "Metro Government" would have to include not only Meridian, but other incorporated/unincorporated areas of the county. Any merger effort would require a thorough and comprehensive study of the pros and cons. Also legislative action would be required prior to any merger. On the surface, a merger of law enforcement units would seem to be the least controversial and would appear to be the most beneficial and cost effective. The top law enforcement official would have to be in charge of this department.
John Robert Smith:
Lauderdale County, with one large city, is an ideal candidate for a metro form of government that would merge all departments and government functions. A few functions have already been consolidated, such as tax assessing and collecting. The metro government should be run by a strong, full-time chief executive elected by the people, an elected legislative body and a judicial system that would be a combination of elected and appointed judges and judicial officials. State legislation would be required to authorize such a form of government.
Q: If you were elected mayor would you retain the current fire chief and police chief? Why?
There is no doubt in my mind that we now have structural, financial and operational problems within both the fire and police departments particularly the police department. However, I would not recommend or initiate any changes in leadership of either organization until I had personally conducted a thorough review of the total operation of both departments.
Unlike the current administration's, my review would include and be heavily weighted by the advice and opinions of the rank and file employees in both the police and fire departments. I don't believe the current administration is properly communicating with or listening to the ideas and concerns of the "front line" folks.
William Hugh Johnson:
Meridian's police and fire departments must be upgraded, and new leadership is vital.
The current chiefs have become spokesmen for the administration, rather than advocates for the officers and departments we pay them to represent.
I will not retain the current political appointees. As to the police department, I have pledged to select a qualified black as the new chief to help reflect Meridian's majority black population.
Both new chiefs will be individuals of unquestioned integrity and proven ability. They will be required to rebuild their departments, and show no favoritism in the enforcement of laws and regulations.
As the newly elected mayor, I would conduct a thorough in-depth study and analysis of each department head and their respective departments, including talking to all personnel in that department, before making any decision.
Certainly, the police and fire department heads are two of the most prominent and visible in the city administration and should certainly reflect the administration's policies and ideas.
Fire and crime are two of the major safety concerns of the citizens of this community. However, based upon personal research, I do feel that changes in the leadership within the police department are warranted.
John Robert Smith:
Since I am the sitting mayor, both of these employees, as all department heads, work for me, and I have a responsibility to keep personnel performance matters confidential. I am extremely proud of both the Police and Fire departments. Our Fire Department is the best trained in the state and our police officers aggressively fight crime and work to prevent crime, efforts that are reflected in our status as the safest of Mississippi's largest cities. I assure the public that the very best person will always serve in each of the city's six departments.