Friday, October 27, 2023–11:24 a.m.
-David Crowder, WRGA News-
With just over a week of early voting to go, eight of the nine candidates for Rome City Commission candidates fielded questions on a wide array of issues, most dealing with Downtown Rome, during a candidate forum Friday morning, sponsored by the Rome Downtown Development Authority.
DDA Director Aundi Lesley served as the facilitator for the forum, which was held in the commission meeting chambers on the second floor at Rome City Hall.
Ward One incumbent Mark Cochran, and Charles Love, who is also running in Ward One, were both asked how they would address a shortage of police officers.
“The first is officer pay,” Cochran said. “Compared to every other adjacent county and city pays their officers, on average, $5,000 more a year. We have to raise officer pay,. The second thing is, if we have a shortage at the City of Rome, and the Floyd County Police and sheriff’s office do not, we can create an intergovernmental agreement to get some of their officers downtown. We need at least two beat cops, three or four days a week downtown.”
“I think the effort that the police department is putting into recruiting is a good one,” Love said. “I think the community can also assist. Communities can establish a relationship with the department to assist in the solution in solving crimes. One of the things we did in North Rome was monthly reports on crimes. Over the last year, total crimes in North Rome have gone down 50 percent, and that’s a lot. That’s because the community is engaged.”
Ward One incumbent and current Mayor Sundai Stevenson and Ward Three incumbent Bonny Askew were asked if the city should do away with the 50-50 food-to-drink ratio for establishments that sell alcohol.
“That’s something we’ve been working on, Stevenson said, “Of course, our restaurants have to meet that ratio, but now we have other businesses that have been allowed to do other things to meet the ratio. We don’t have the data back on that yet, and I’m data-driven. I’d like to see what it’s going to be like in six months and how that has worked. If I had to vote today, because of the lack of data, I would say we would still have to do the food-to-drink ratio, but I would listen and go from there.”
“I don’t think we need to discriminate against one side by allowing a lot of variances on the other side,” Askew said. “I think we really need to study it because if we continue to allow variances, we are hurting the restaurants and others who have to meet those requirements. I think there should be one requirement for everybody, whether it’s a no food requirement or whether everybody has to do food.”
Incumbent Ward Three Commissioner Craig McDaniel and Ward Three candidate Wayne Robinson fielded questions about improvements in the River District, specifically the NOVA development on West Third Street.
“The fact that we have a TAD [Tax Allocation District] there and we have private investment is huge,” McDaniel said. “It’s not a government project. These people are stakeholders and they are putting money into Rome. I think with the acquisition of Floyd Medical Center by the new group you are going to see growth back toward Broad Street there. We are recognized as a live, work, play community. I think once we get the Second Avenue paving out of the way and the Turner McCall Bridge, and traffic gets back to normal, I think it going to be magnified what a great downtown we have.”
“I am very much in favor of the development of the River District,” Robinson said. “Once this project gets done; I think it’s going to inspire a lot of other development. I would like to see us expand the district and include some things that could be redeveloped. I have an idea of trying to develop the top level of the parking deck. I think that would be a fabulous restaurant site. We could bring in a developer that could foresee that and create something up there that Rome could utilize.”
Apart from the city commission elections, there is also a county-wide special purpose, local option sales tax referendum on the ballot. The largest city project is a new headquarters for the Rome City Police Department.
Ward One candidate Harry Brock and Ward One incumbent Jim Bojo both said they support the SPLOST.
The fact that you can get 30 to 35 percent of the money coming in from out of the community is a huge benefit,” Brock said. “The main thing is, you want to make sure your SPLOST projects are good projects. I think we have some good projects. Sometimes you have to make sure there is not too much outside influence and people just trying to do it for themselves. It has to be for the community.”
“A SPLOST tax is about the fairest tax we have in Rome because everybody pays it,” Bojo said. “Like Harry said, we have to make sure we have a good list of things to accomplish. We have to make sure both the city and county work together. Once the vote is done, all the projects need to be done in a timely manner. If we don’t, we lose what we went after.”
Incumbent Ward Three Commissioner Bill Collins was unable to attend the forum.
Voters can cast ballots on Saturday, October 28 from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. at the elections office on East 12th Street and on Sunday, October 29, from 1 until 5 p.m., also at the elections office.
The week of Oct. 30, early voting will be held at the elections office and at the Anthony Recreation Center in Garden Lakes from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday – Friday.
Election Day is Tuesday, November 7.