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Mayoral hopefuls outline views

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Kevin Jones, left, a candidate for mayor of Rocky Mount, answers a question as fellow candidates, Robert Alston, center, and Sandy Roberson, listen on Thursday during the Kiwanis Club mayoral issues debate at Benvenue Country Club.

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BY WILLIAM F. WEST
Staff Writer

Friday, August 16, 2019

Three candidates for mayor who participated in a debate on Thursday afternoon all made clear crime is of the utmost concern in Rocky Mount.

Robert Lee Alston, Kevin Jones and Sandy Roberson appeared at a gathering sponsored by the local Kiwanis Club and television station WHIG at Benvenue Country Club. The election is set for Oct. 8 but one-stop early voting is set to begin on Sept. 18 and extend through Oct. 4.

The subject of crime came up when the three candidates were asked what would be the first issue they would like to address if elected the city’s chief executive.

Alston, who was asked first, said he would address gun violence and cited concerns about young men and gangs with their guns. Alston also suggested an amendment toward what he called “doing without guns.”

Although the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear one’s right to bear arms, Alston said he believes the crime and the shootings in Rocky Mount need to be resolved.

“We sit back and we wait for another, another person to be shot or to be killed,” Alston said. “And it needs to be addressed. It needs to be mandatorily addressed, immediately.

“A lot of times, we’ll sit back and we’ll wait and we’ll hear about this person or that person, instead of doing something about it,” he said. “Don’t wait until it hits your house and then you want to have something to say.”

Roberson, who was asked next, said polls and surveys conducted by him and his team show public safety is the No. 1 issue among everybody in the city and therefore is the single largest item needing to be addressed.

“I don’t think it is a simple fix, but I think it’s something we need to work on,” Roberson said. “It requires multiple approaches.”

Roberson said he is endorsing police Chief George Robinson’s plan of community policing, with officers returning to beats and meeting residents in their respective communities.

“A lot of times, you can’t out-arrest a problem,” Roberson said. “So you have to take any approach and every approach you can to achieve the end goal within the letter of the law.”

At the same time, he said he believes one cannot speak about public safety without jobs. He said poverty and crime often are linked together and said if jobs can be increased, then opportunities are created for people.

“And that’s something that needs to be considered as well as we move forward,” he said.

Jones said he has been engaging with people throughout the city and that crime is what keeps them awake at night. Jones said he wants to work toward what he called “a zero initiative” where there are no deaths in the city.

Noting he grew up in South Rocky Mount, Jones said, “I’ve been to funerals. I’ve hugged weeping mothers on the front row before their sons’ caskets. I know all too well what that’s like.”

He confessed he cut classes when he was a high school student and noted guys he cut classes with ended up being gunned down.

“So I know what that’s like,” he said. “I know the realities of it.”

He said he would focus on the victims of crimes because when these deaths occur — in most cases, young men, he noted — they leave behind mothers and children who are left to put the pieces back together.

Another question focused on how the mayor, as the leader of City Council meetings, would handle the interaction between attendees and the panel.

Roberson, who was asked first, said what needs to be done is to introduce a civility he believes has been lacking in council meetings for the last year or two.

Roberson said while he believes the public hearing component needs to be in place, he thinks perhaps there ought to be a change of some of the configuration of the council meeting to induce more civility in the whole discussion.

Roberson said he would like to encourage council members to discuss in open session their thoughts behind each and every vote.

He said he believes such transparency and clarity would allow citizens to understand a bit as to how, as the old saying goes, the sausage is being made.

Jones, who was asked next, said he would revisit the municipal charter to make sure the document fits the context, the ideas and the needs of modern-day government.

As for the citizen-speaking phase of the council meetings, Jones said, “It’s no secret to anybody in the room that public hearings have been quite contentious as of late. And I feel like there is a basic decency, decorum and respect that we need in our council chambers.”

Jones said presiding over meetings is not always pretty, but he said, “It has to be done.”

He said as mayor, he would be sure the government and the interaction with the public reflected what Rocky Mount is at its best, not at its worst.

“I would handle the attendees and the council on a professional level,” Alston said. “I’d be attentive and listen to what the citizens have to say because it’s about the people, the citizens of Rocky Mount, listening to them and just being attentive.”

As for the council members, Alston said, “They have their own opinions as far as what the citizens or the attendees want to say.”

Another question was about how the candidates, if elected, would combat the perceptions of nepotism and corruption plaguing the city.

The question was in the context of reports of acquaintances and friends being hired to work in municipal government and of reports of a hiree avoiding residency requirements while having received relocation funds.

The question also was in the context of seeking assurances the candidates, if elected, would adhere to the highest ethical standards.

Roberson, who was asked first, noted the city has ethics policies in place.

“I think it’s just simply a matter of enforcing the code and the policies and procedures that we have within our current city government,” Roberson said. “And if it requires a review of current employees and relationships, then perhaps that’s something that we should engage in.”

Jones, who was asked next, seconded what Roberson said, but added he knows if elected, the spirit of the question posed would not be the case with him as mayor.

Jones, referring to a previous remark he made earlier in the debate, said, “I was raised by people all around this city, which means I will be jacked up by people all around this city” about doing the right thing.

“It’s just simply good old accountability,” Jones said.

Alston, when offered his chance to respond to the question, said, “I’ll pass.”

The mayor’s position is opening because David Combs, who has been the city’s chief executive since 2007, opted not to seek another term.

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