Ask the candidates
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.
Q: Many people say there is "nothing for young people to do" in Meridian. Is this true? If yes, does the city have a role in solving this problem?
Young people in Meridian do not have "enough to do." Although we do have entertainment in the form of restaurants and movies, we do not have enough places for kids to "hang out" in a properly supervised environment. Most are forced to gather in groups on city streets or at the mall, neither of which really offers enough entertainment to occupy their very active imaginations.
Although I believe the city should be a partner to providing broad based entertainment areas such as parks, pools, sports complexes and the like, I also believe that the main responsibility for those provisions should rest with the schools, churches, civic organizations and private enterprises.
William Hugh Johnson:
There is something for young people to do. Better educated ones leave Meridian for better opportunity. Too many others turn to drugs and crime to pass their time. Taxing the general public for fireworks displays and concerts is not the answer.
As mayor I will encourage schools and churches to promote additional youth activities. Once we stop trying to fund city government off traffic tickets, private business will again provide entertainment for our young adults. The best solution is to provide better paying jobs for young people. Then they will spend more on their time.
I, too, have heard similar statements concerning the lack of something for our young people to do. However, there has not been any specifics as to what the young people would like to do.
We have an abundance of sports complexes to provide opportunities for those who wish to participate. Perhaps an all purpose facility with recreational activities, i.e. indoor swimming, track.
As your mayor, I would go out and ask the young people what is meant by "there's nothing to do," and seek their input as to what kind of facility they would like.
John Robert Smith:
Meridian has many activities for young people and the city is involved in sponsoring or supporting many of them. From softball at Northeast Park to swimming at Highland Park, a full array of athletics is available to young people of every age. Festivals and concerts throughout the year attract young people, and we're excited about the prospects for arts and technical programs that will be available at the Riley Arts Education Center. The private sector is also playing a role by sponsoring and supporting additional concerts as well as typical weekend activities for young people. Our churches are also very active in supporting youth group activities.