By Bill Short
The 14 candidates for seven contested positions on the Millington Board of Mayor and Aldermen in the Nov. 8 city elections recently responded to questions during a Forum at the Harvell Civic Center.
Co-sponsored on Oct. 18 by The Millington Star and the Millington Exchange Club, the Forum was moderated by Club President Marilyn Loeffel.
Mayor Terry Jones is being challenged by Vice Mayor Chris Ford, who is not seeking re-election as Position 6 alderman.
Missy Boyd Ervin is seeking the Position 1 seat occupied by Alderman Bethany K. Huffman, while Albert (Al) Bell is competing with Position 2 Alderman Hank Hawkins.
Roger Taney Henderson is seeking the Position 3 seat occupied by Alderman Frankie Dakin, while Sherrie Hopper is competing with Position 4 Alderman Larry Dagen.
Position 5 Alderman Thomas McGhee is being challenged by Donald Holsinger, who is not seeking re-election to the Millington School Board.
The candidates for Position 6 are Jon Crisp and former alderman Don Lowry, while Position 7 Alderman Mike Caruthers is unopposed.
Loeffel presented the following questions to the candidates:
1. What will you do to ensure that the Millington municipal school system receives sufficient local funding each year to successfully operate and meet its capital improvement needs?
Jones recalled that, in 2014, when the only funding requirement for the school system was to establish the school board and employ a superintendent, the city board “obligated” more than $700,000. He noted that it allocated more than $2 million the next year and $2.5 million the following year. And he said $7.2 million was allocated in the 2016-17 fiscal year budget.
Ford called the school system “instrumental” in Millington’s progress. And because the city has a “50-50 partnership” with it, if one “breaks down,” they both do. So, he said it is important that each has the financial stability to “thrive going forward.”
Huffman said that, in addition to the local sales tax, property taxes and the economic development in Millington, the city board must focus on “partnerships” with Shelby County and the state of Tennessee, along with the Millington Area Chamber of Commerce and the Millington Industrial Development Board.
Ervin said she has a “vested interest” in the school system and can see its needs “firsthand,” because she has children enrolled there and is employed as a Special Education assistant at Millington Elementary School. She said the school board and city board can work “hand-in-hand” to meet the needs for the capital improvements.
Hawkins called the school system “vital” to Millington’s growth. He said the city government, business community and the school system are “tied together,” and they all serve Millington. He also noted that “every dollar” the school board has asked for, the current city board has allocated.
Bell said Millington “definitely” must have a good school system, and he noted that the city board is “mandated by law” to provide funding for it. He said the system must make sure it has “good graduates” who will return to Millington to earn their income “later on in life.”
Dakin called the school system the “No. 1 economic driver” of Millington. Noting that it recently got an international accreditation, he said the report described the schools in one word – “family.” He also said that, in his view, that word really describes all of Millington.
While pledging to do everything he can to make sure the city board and school board communicate, Henderson said that does not mean the two will always agree. He said part of being responsible for the budget is asking the “tough questions.”
Dagen noted that the city board has helped the school system acquire a $6.2 million bond issue for the capital improvements that are currently being done. He also said no one on the city board has a greater understanding of how schools make an “impact” on a community.
Calling the school system Millington’s “crown jewel,” Hopper said she voted to create it and to fund it. She expressed hope that the good working relationship between the city board and the school board will continue.
McGhee called school funding a “non-issue,” because it has happened and must continue. He said Millington needs to change the “song” it is singing, because it does not encourage individuals and families to move to the city.
Citing “some challenges” facing the city and the school system, Holsinger said the newly elected or re-elected mayor should appoint one of the aldermen to serve as a liaison with the school board.
While noting that he has been a businessman throughout his career, Crisp agreed with Dakin that the school system is an “economic driver” for Millington. He said students can get a good education here, but the city must be “committed” to that.
Declaring that Millington is “not very community-minded” about its schools, Lowry said the entire city must become “activated and united” to enable it to have a “great school system.”
2. What will you do to recruit more businesses and industries to locate in Millington, particularly along Veterans Parkway and Highway 51, as a way to increase economic development?
Noting that 17 new businesses are preparing to open in Millington, Jones said 12 will be “new construction,” and five will occupy vacant buildings. He also said he will continue to attend the meetings with the county and state, which are “partners” in this development.
Ford said he thinks the city does not have a “good collaboration system” between the IDB and the Millington Municipal Airport Authority, because it has never conducted a single “joint” meeting.
Huffman said the flood control grant that the city received will allow the board to assure residents and potential business owners that Millington is “stable and available” for them to locate their businesses here.
Ervin said bringing more businesses to Highway 51 and Veterans Parkway is not “the only right answer.” Calling Navy Road a “jewel” that was the source of the city’s tax revenue “back in the day,” she said it needs to be revitalized.
Hawkins said the board must do a better job of “getting all the players together” to develop a “shared vision” of the kind of growth that Millington needs. He wondered what will encourage businesses to locate here if the city’s workforce is not “ready.”
Noting that he was a building inspector several years ago, Bell said the board must make Millington “presentable” to attract industries and do something to change the “restrictions” on construction.
Dakin said the board recruits businesses to locate in Millington to support the current residents, not the businesses that are coming here. He said that should be the “litmus test” for everything the board does in recruiting new businesses.
Declaring that there is “no sense in reinventing the wheel,” Henderson said the board should keep Millington’s taxes low, “leverage” what it has in the airport and “seek out” other cities to determine if what they have done in the past will work here.
Dagen said he cannot understand why anyone in Millington would think that road paving is not important. He noted that it not only takes care of the residents, but presents a community that cares about its people and takes care of its infrastructure.
Hopper said that, until the board changes the “perception” that the rest of Shelby County has of Millington, it will not attract the kinds of businesses that will stay and contribute to the community.
McGhee noted that the idea of attracting businesses is a “priority” for the board. But he said it will take a “concerted effort” to work together, and the “narrative” that people have regarding the city must be “very positive.”
Holsinger said Millington must have a “fully trained” workforce, a “partnership” with the six universities in Memphis and “right-size” housing for the individuals and families who will move here.
Crisp said the board needs to identify the things that companies need, determine what is necessary to “target” them and “go after” them. And Lowry agreed with Crisp that the board needs to work on “making it easier” to be a business in Millington.
3. What will you do to ensure that Millington is a safe community with enhanced amenities that inspire individuals and families to make it their permanent home?
Jones said the current construction will bring almost 500 new jobs to Millington. If people have a way to make a living here, he said, that is another way to get them to move to the city.
Ford said he met recently with Public Safety Director Gary Graves to discuss how to help control the “turnover rate” in the police department. He said they are working on potentially giving the officers a “retention bonus” at the end of either three or five years of their service to the city.
Huffman noted that, through some of the work with the Millington Arts, Parks and Recreation Department, the surfaces and walking trails at a number of the city’s parks have been repaved.
She said those are the things that people look at when they want to relocate to a community.
Ervin said police officers should be invited to the schools to teach the students that they are “on their side” and also teach them to “respect authority.” She also said Millington needs an “outlet” for teenagers and children to play, so it can “let them be kids.”
Hawkins noted that the board has made a “competent effort” to increase the salaries of all the city employees, including the police officers and firefighters. Because it is aware of Millington’s reputation as a “training ground,” he said the board is doing all it can for the employees.
Bell said the board “definitely” must do something to keep the police officers currently employed by the city. And he called it “everybody’s responsibility” to “take action” on that.
Dakin noted that he wants his friends and former teammates to return to Millington to see the city’s progress. So, he said the board needs to make sure the young people have “good experiences” in the city.
Henderson said he has seen the “full spectrum” of what crime does to a community and why police officers leave. He expressed hope that the board will recognize the need for a career certification or national standardization for the city’s officers.
Dagen said Millington must work closely with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office regarding any deficiencies it has within its police department. He noted that the sheriff’s deputies can provide “strength” wherever there is weakness.
Hopper said the city must take care of those who “put everything on the line” for Millington’s residents. And if any police officers are ever killed in the line of duty, she said the city must take care of their families.
McGhee called “community policing” a way to ensure safety. He said Millington residents should obey the existing laws, and the city should take advantage of its opportunity to join the Crimestoppers hotline that is shared throughout the county.
While noting that most of the crime in Millington is committed by “transients,” Holsinger said he believes the city is currently safe. Because the “average tenure” of Millington’s police officers is three or four years, he said the board must provide what is necessary to keep them here.
Crisp said a safe city with emergency medical services is necessary to attract the “younger families” who want to live here. And Lowry said more police officers should be assigned to patrol areas where crime is known to occur.
By Bill Short