With the approach of the elections, the debates between local candidates are already inflamed.
Several candidate forums were held in St. Clair County this week. The St. Clair County Farmers’ Federation held its event at CEPA on Monday, while 94.1-FM The River hosted a similar debate for county commission president candidates the following Thursday.
The river forum focused on a wide range of issues ranging from economic development to the county’s gas tax and county radio system.
The radio system was one of the first topics of the forum. Just this week, the commission approved a proposal that would link different parts of the county’s 9-1-1 radio system to allow better communication between first responders and dispatchers. The system as it currently exists has “white spots” where communication is virtually impossible.
Former county commission chairman Stan Bateman, the only candidate not currently serving on the commission, said the radio system has been a problem since he was chairman eight years ago. He also said that the proposal approved by the commission would still not solve the problem for two years.
“We need to get to this system and I promise my number one priority is to get this radio system dealt with,” Bateman said.
County Commissioner Tommy Bowers said he recognized the radio system was a problem largely because money had been an issue for the county for many years. He said he thinks transitioning the system is a good first step because it at least opens up grant opportunities for municipalities.
“During our meeting, I found out that no one can apply for grants unless they’re part of the system,” Bowers said. “That’s what Transition does, Transition puts them in the system so they can apply for grants.”
Outgoing Commission Chairman Paul Manning said he had asked the commission to set aside money for radio upgrades, but the pandemic and other factors prevented them from doing so. do it efficiently. He said the issue has always been put off because the money needed would strain the county.
“It would have been a pressure on the county, but it’s overdue now,” Manning said.
The county’s four-cent gasoline tax was also a point of contention. The three candidates agreed that the tax could be modified or even canceled if the commission saw fit.
Manning said he feels the tax is important to help county roads, but understands gas prices are tough on people right now.
“I know it’s harder for taxpayers to tear this up, but it’s very necessary right now.” he said.
Bateman said he would just like to see changes in the distribution of tax money.
“I think we should set up a fund of two cents to go to municipalities,” he said, adding that the rest would go to rural roads.
Bowers agreed with Manning that the tax was necessary and said the county is already helping cities with special projects.
Those present at the Farmers Federation forum were not only presidential candidates, but also District 11 State Senate candidates Lance Bell and Michael Wright and District 6 candidates from Alabama State. Board of Education Marie Manning and Priscialla Yother.
Moderator Roland St. John opened the forum with a discussion among the state senate candidates.
Bell made his opening statement, saying his concerns are for both Washington and Montgomery, but the solutions lie in working together with everyone in the county.
“It’s going to take everybody in this room, everybody in this county, working together as one,” he said. “I can only be your voice in Montgomery, but you have to help me here.”
Wright continued with his opening statement, giving a brief background on himself and his intentions for his candidacy.
“It’s an open seat,” he said. “I wouldn’t run against an incumbent, he was doing a good job, but I want to make sure we maintain a conservative base in Montgomery and stay a solid base.”
Wright then received the first question of the night: what problems does he see in St. Clair County and how does he plan to address those concerns.
Wright said road conditions were the main concern.
“I know there are areas we can improve on our roads. It was awesome when they did I-20 with all the wreckage and everything we had,” he said.
When Bell was asked the same question, he agreed that roads were a big deal and the county needed to be able to keep up with its growth.
“We’ve done a great job developing St. Clair County, but if you go to Moody and walk down the 411 from the crossroads to Odenville during rush hour in some areas, it’s miserable,” Bell said, adding areas of Highway 231 in Pell City also needed to be widened.
The two candidates also discussed some burning issues such as school choice bills and term limits.
After the State Senate Forum, the candidates vying for the Alabama State Board of Education took the stage.
First up on the podium was Priscilla Yother from Gadsden. She started by saying that although her whole life has been devoted to education, she acquired her work ethic by being raised on a farm.
“I feel like my whole life has prepared me for the Alabama State Board of Education,” she said, adding that she taught every elementary grade except for kindergarten, until she later took on the position of principal.
“My intention, if elected to the Alabama State Board of Education, is that you have my promise, I will visit all 172 schools, in eight counties each year,” Yother said.
Manning, who is the vice president of the St. Clair County School Board, then took the stage to formally introduce herself.
“Most of you out there, I’ve taught you, I’ve taught your kids, or I’ve taught with you, and so I know how much you love education and I know how much you want someone who will make your voice heard on the state board of education,” Manning said.
The two candidates were also asked about the problems they see in the county, but more from an educational point of view.
Yother said she believes there has been a learning casualness that bothers her throughout the district. She noted that when she was teaching in the UK that was not the problem.
“We in America sometimes don’t think that we are raising children to contribute to their community, their state and their nation and so when I see young people just hanging around, with really nothing to give, it really bothers me. endlessly because I feel like we let them down in education,” she said.
Manning said she’s seen the COVID burnout in the county’s education system and they can improve by not only improving the content taught to children, but helping parents and children deal with the added stress. they have faced over the past two years.
Manning also stressed the need for math and reading coaches in every school.
“Reading coaches dramatically increase reading and reading test scores at the grade level. When the Alabama Reading Initiative started, those of you who were teaching knew that,” Manning said. “And then you know what we did? We said, “Well, they’re doing pretty well now, so we probably don’t need those reading coaches in elementary school, let’s put them in middle school” and you know what happened went to primary school? In primary school, (scores) went down.
She then added, “So the state board of education, in one of the recent meetings I attended, said it was important to bring back Alabama’s reading initiative. with the coaches we had and that it was important that we provide coaches for teaching math so our students can be successful at their level.
Manning and Yother were also asked about their thoughts on involving more students in trade schools and agricultural education rather than just pushing for a four-year degree.
Manning said the St. Clair County School Board is already doing this through its Eden Career Technical Center.
“We want in this county, and I want in every county, to improve the amount of learning in the technical career field,” Manning said, adding that the ECTC offers programs such as culinary arts, l In the welding and air conditioning school, however, sometimes it’s just a matter of hiring teachers for specific positions to teach these students.
Yother agreed that technical training should be pushed as far as a four-year degree and that jobs in the technical field not only pay well, but are also rewarding.
The conversation regarding public education ended with a discussion of common core math, although neither condoned nor condemned, they both agreed that some parts were useful while others can often make the process of challenging learning for students and parents.