Let the debate begin for who should be Rocky Mount’s future chief executive.

The local Kiwanis Club and television station WHIG have set Thursday afternoon at Benvenue Country Club as the time and setting for the candidates for mayor to appear, speak and answer questions.

The gathering will start at 12:45 p.m. and continue to 2 p.m.

“This is something that I think has the opportunity to be powerful in the long run,” retired Army Brig. Gen. Arnold Gordon-Bray, the local Kiwanis Club’s president, told the Telegram.

Gordon-Bray and Jean Almand Kitchin will moderate the debate.

Seeking to be the next mayor are Robert Lee Alston, Kevin Jones, Sandy Roberson and Bronson Williams.

Jones is the founder of the BAC Scholarship Fund, which is an educational nonprofit group in the city. Roberson is a businessman and Williams, who ran for mayor in 2015, owns television station WNCR.

The election is set for Oct. 8, with the one-stop early voting period to begin on Sept. 18 and continue through Oct. 4.

The winner will fill the position being vacated by David Combs, who has served for about a dozen years as mayor but decided not to run again. Combs previously had served a stint as a city councilman. He is in the real estate business.

The mayor serves a four-year term with seven city council members who serve staggered four-year terms.

The local Kiwanis Club has just under 80 members.

As for the debate, Gordon-Bray said, “We’ve been thinking about it for a while, but we’ve been planning for it for about a month and a half, two months.”

Gordon-Bray made clear to the Telegram there will not be any debating of character and personalities.

“We want to debate ideas and issues for Rocky Mount,” Gordon-Bray said.

The plan is for the candidates to give a brief description of their vision and the relationship of Rocky Mount to key neighboring municipalities such as Nashville, Tarboro and Wilson.

Candidates also will answer questions drawn randomly, with the questions having been submitted in advance by a variety of people.

Each candidate can bring up to five people to sit in the audience, with each of those audience members being able to provide questions.

Questions will be collected from the audience at large and from people tracking via social media.

After the question and answer part, each candidate will get to give a closing summary.

Gordon-Bray said he believes at the end of the gathering, the real debate will begin among the citizenry.

Gordon-Bray said he believes city residents will be able to say, “Well, this candidate said, this candidate believes, based upon what he said — and not what my friend told me.”

“You are voting for and against a platform, as opposed to just voting for or against somebody you know or don’t know,” he said.

Gordon-Bray originally is from Columbia, S.C., and served in the Army from 1978-2013.

Gordon-Bray presently is a consultant on leadership diversity and strategy. He cited the housing market in Rocky Mount and the city being about an hour from an airport as reasons he chose to live here.

Kitchin told the Telegram of the gathering, “I want people to really get some answers, clear answers, about where people stand and what their vision is for Rocky Mount.”

Kitchin noted much is going on downtown and at the Rocky Mount Mills commercial and residential development, as well as with the Carolinas Gateway Partnership having secured industrial commitments to the area.

The Telegram asked one of the Kiwanis club board members, Lanny Shuff, what he wants the gathering to do for the future of Rocky Mount.

“I’m hoping that it’ll make people understand that there are different positions and that we can appreciate the various positions that people make — and that although some interests want to favor Edgecombe County and some Nash County, that we can work together to make Rocky Mount and the outlying communities also a better place to live,” Shuff said.

Anyone wanting to submit questions in advance of the debate, as well as during the debate, can do so by going to https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1kY9tEV9gNDFEZvCPEJ7ZgGYP0pVuaOAv-ZBsY5a8DLo/edit?usp=sharing