Update: This is the series of questions that I have sent out to the Anniston mayor candidates that I have been able to contact so far.
Today’s seven questions is with Vaughn Stewart. Mr. Stewart is currently running for the mayor seat in Anniston Alabama. Vaughn Stewart is fourth-generation Annistonian, and is a member of the Class of 1974 of Anniston High School. He returned to Anniston and became a Municipal Judge for fifteen years and was known as the “GED and jobs judge.” Vaughn has contributed thousands of volunteer hours to community organizations and boards. For more information on Vaughn Stewart for mayor go to: http://vaughnstewart.com/.
1. With the extremely high crime rate in the City of Anniston. What are you willing to do to help lower crime in Anniston and to keep police from leaving Anniston?
When I’m Mayor, we won’t stop there. We’ll keep students out of trouble with after-school programs and engage the community with neighborhood associations. Moreover, we will institute community policing to foster positive interaction between police officers and youth. A partnership between APD and PARD wherein police officers volunteer as mentors would go a long way to improve this relationship.
We’ll also attack the causes of crime with stronger schools and better jobs. Employment both raises self-esteem and decreases the need to commit crimes. The three pillars of my campaign—safe streets, steady jobs, and strong schools—must be addressed together. Safe streets stimulate more jobs which, in turn, decrease crime. Stronger schools keep students in school by affording them a quality education. This negates the need for criminal behavior and greatly improves their job prospects. A better educated workforce stimulates economic development.
As Anniston’s municipal judge for fifteen years, it has been my pleasure to work alongside our public safety officers. They are professionals and deserve the support of the entire community. The Anniston police and fire departments, as well as the EMS, work cohesively as a unit. Their respective leaders are on the page; as Mayor, I will work toward maintaining this dynamic.
Public safety is one of the most important and fundamental services a city can offer its citizens. As Mayor, I will ensure that our public safety officers are equipped with the technology and training they need to protect themselves while they protect us. These officers put themselves in harm’s way every day for us. I salute them.
2. What are your plans to help the Anniston City Schools from failing the kids? What are your plans to keep kids engaged outside of school?
In Anniston, of course, we must first ensure that our students receive a high school diploma. Our public school’s dropout rate is unacceptable. Dropouts earn only half as much annual income as high school graduates. They are also much more likely to experience a lower quality of life than their peers with a diploma.
As a judge for fifteen years, I know first-hand the negative impact a high dropout rate can have on a community. Anniston’s high crime rate mirrors its high dropout rate. In the courtroom, I listened to youth with tears in their eyes recount their biggest mistake in their early years: not remaining in school. To end this pernicious legacy and give our students an opportunity to achieve the American Dream, I will propose a Summit on Education.
For too long, the City Council has skirted the issue of education in Anniston. It’s time to make education a priority. It’s time to address the issue head on, admit it is a problem, and rally the entire city around strengthening our schools. Our students deserve a City Council and City School Board that work in concert toward making the Anniston City Schools the best in the state. As Mayor, I will ensure they receive no less.
I strongly support the following proven education approaches to strengthen our schools:
- Investing in early childhood education
- Intervention programs aimed at at-risk student population
- Strong, individualized curriculum with career-learning component
- Strong and effective vocational training for students who choose not to pursue college
- Recognition and support of excellence in teaching
- Enforcement of Code of Conduct to ensure that learning opportunities are not disrupted
- Advanced technology in the classrooms
- Encouragement of academic clubs, math and sciences, for students and field trips
- Development of a city-wide reading initiative for both youth and adults.
I was afforded many opportunities as a youth in the 60’s and early 70’s in Anniston. Sadly, these opportunities are no longer available to our young people. I feel strongly that we can and must do a better job in youth development. As Mayor, I will implement a Youth Advisory Council to provide feedback and recommendations to me on youth programs. I will request the Director of PARD, the Director of the Boys & Girls Club, and other youth directors to collaborate with the Youth Advisory Council.
Anniston’s youth want decision-making opportunities to develop their own activities and programs. I’ve witnessed this passion first-hand at the Carver Community Center. There, with the aid of the R.E.A.L. MEN of Anniston organization, a group of middle schoolers meet weekly to develop a series of youth activities. This process builds self-confidence, a sense of responsibility, and an understanding of their capacity to make a difference.
I would also like to implement a “Youth Leadership Anniston,” modeled after the successful Chamber of Commerce program, but targeted at Anniston youth. This group of young people would learn about their hometown, take frequent field trips, and be exposed to different educational opportunities. These youth would also serve as the official hosts and hostesses of Anniston when visitors arrive for special events.
Youth development matters to not only the youth themselves, but also to our community. As Frederick Douglass said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
- Utilization of benchmarks in performance measurement
- Provide an open and transparent City Hall
- Adhere to legal and regulatory requirements
- Obtain and use citizen surveys
- Obtain and use business surveys
- Balance the City budget
- Development of City website improvements to reduce City staffers time and expense
- Move toward paperless applications in all city departments
Lastly, I strongly support term limits for Mayor and City Council. Too often, elected officials get comfortable in their offices and forget why they’re there: to represent us. Term limits ensure that new ideas and energy are regularly injected into our city’s leadership.
4. What are your plans to recruit new jobs and businesses into Anniston? What are your ideas to transform the downtown area into a place people would want to visit?
Anniston needs more jobs and careers in order to grow the tax base and offer the quality of life Annistonians deserve.
First, we must support our local businesses. Annistonians already benefit from a passionate local business community. We must ensure these businesses continue to survive and thrive. I will create tax incentives to encourage local residents to “buy local” during the Back to School and holiday seasons. Moreover, I will start a marketing campaign to inform residents about our local businesses and the benefits of buying local. Lastly, I will initiate a Business Visitation Team that reaches out to local businesses to obtain accurate and up-to-date-information about their views and needs. As a business and real estate attorney, I know first-hand the challenges that local businesses face. Contacting City Hall should not be another one.
Secondly, we must encourage local entrepreneurs. As Mayor, I will work together with the Northeast Alabama Entrepreneur System to support new businesses. I will implement classes and provide seed money to budding entrepreneurs. I will also encourage property owners to offer short-term rental space to new business owners to help them get off the ground.
Lastly, we must recruit new businesses to the area. As Mayor, I will serve as salesperson-in-chief in our recruiting efforts.
I strongly believe that as the downtown goes, so goes the town. A vibrant downtown reflects the overall condition of a community. Unfortunately, Downtown Anniston is a shell of its former self. With a 65% vacancy rate, our downtown is stagnant and in desperate need of new leadership. A revitalized downtown will immeasurably strengthen the quality-of-life of Anniston. Anniston must chart a course of action for downtown that includes private funding sources and explicit benchmarks. We must seek out private and public grants to make our dream of a vibrant downtown a reality.
For decades, my parents ran two small businesses downtown. I have fond memories of Anniston’s bustling downtown and believe that with the right leadership, downtown can be vibrant again. My vision for downtown includes:
- A walkable and bikeable downtown;
- A mixed use of retail, office, entertainment, food and housing;
- Façade improvements;
- Loft apartments;
- User friendly code enforcement system;
- Attractive window displays;
- Extended store hours;
- Series of signs on bypass leading motorists to Downtown;
- New Community Theatre;
- Specialty Clustered Retail;
- Aggressive Marketing;
- Grant & Tax Incentives
- Outdoor Seating
- Public Art
5. How do you plan to bring the people of Anniston together? What are your plans to keep people and neighboring communities engaged and working together?
Anniston must become one city with one vision. It’s time for all citizens of Anniston to rally around a common purpose to overcome the barriers impeding our prosperity. Controversy and conflict must and will end under my leadership. The myths and mysteries must and will cease.
I strongly believe that sunshine is the best disinfectant. As such, I will make transparency a priority so that vital information flows freely to all citizens. This will allow citizens to make informed choices based upon facts, not fiction.
The strategic planning process will undoubtedly serve as an impetus for unification. Citizens from every ward will be invited to formulate Anniston’s vision. Like in a town meeting, citizens will be presented with information about Anniston’s past and present so that they can chart its future. All organizations will also be invited so that they too can work interdependently and not independently.
As an attorney and a judge for 29 years, I have hands-on experience in consensus building. I know how to bring people with different understandings of a problem to the table and work for a common good. Everyone can agree that the City Council’s main mission is to improve the quality of life for all Annistonians. However, conflict arises in the best means to achieve this end. Too often, city leaders operate independently of each other on special projects. While their intentions may be noble, the city misses opportunities because important stakeholders are not consulted. This results in stagnation across the city.
6. There are talks of transforming Anniston into a eco-tourism hotspot. What are your plans to promote biking, hiking, and other outdoor activities in Anniston?
Tourism creates jobs and revenue. According to a recent study, each dollar spent by tourists yields twenty-five cents in salary increases for residents. Simply put, tourists pay taxes that can directly fund our schools, roads, and public safety strategies.
Smart cities take advantage of existing assets, which Anniston has done with our museums, gardens, and mountain bike trail. We must thank visionaries in the private sector for their leadership in those efforts. Our rich history, both civil and military, our majestic mountains, our Amtrak service, and our convenient geographical locations are all tremendous tourism assets. It will take strong leadership to take advantage of these resources and make Anniston a desirable tourist destination.
7. What are your plans to help improve infrastructure in Anniston? What will you do to our streets to make pedestrians, cyclists, and other people safe?
There are several great candidates in this mayoral race. However, I think that my educational and professional experience uniquely qualify me for this position. I have lived my entire life here and remember when Anniston was considered one of the best cities in the entire state.
I have the experience to build a consensus to get things done. I have the vision to focus the city’s attention on real solutions with proven records of success. I have the intellect required to study the policy minutiae and forge the best path. I have the strength to stand up to any leader who prizes personal agendas over Anniston’s future.
And I have the character to make Annistonians proud to live here.
- Anniston, AL Mayor Questions (geekalabama.com)
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