Three of the five candidates in the running for a pair of city council seats in Aurora attended a question and answer forum with the public last Friday. Moderated by Advertiser general manager Paul Ward, the event took place at Pate Early Childhood Center as a way for citizens to learn more about the candidates asking for their vote.
Challenger Stephen Wiles and incumbents Linda Barton and Rosemary Henderson introduced themselves before Ward posed the first question of the night: "what do you feel is the biggest challenge facing Aurora in the next three years?"
Wiles responded that he felt jobs were the pressing issue. "We've got a lot of small businesses coming up, but I don't know that we've got major employers," he said, adding that bringing in those employers will take a lot of collective work by the council, the chamber of commerce and the planning and zoning commission.
Henderson agreed that the job problem was the biggest challenge. She said she was hopeful that the small businesses already operating in the city would be able to add employees.
Barton agreed that jobs are important but said she believed the biggest challenge for Aurora "is trying to update our infrastructure." She cited declining quality in houses, streets and the stormwater and sewer systems as issues which need to be addressed.
Relating the next question to the infrastructure problem, Ward then asked the councilwomen why they had voted "yes" on the first reading of the ordinance to approve a bond authorization election.
Henderson responded that the work on the sewer system was long overdue and gave a brief breakdown of what the funds from the bond authorization would be used to do. Barton added that Phase I of the project was already completed and gave reasons why the next phases were beneficial to the city.
When asked if he would have voted for the bond issue, Wiles responded that he would have done so reluctantly, due to the fact that the hospital has not yet committed to expanding.
The next question centered around what the candidates would do or like to see done to promote economic growth in the city.
Barton responded that it was a difficult question because "we've tried everything we can," and that "the city really doesn't have that many incentives" to bring in new industry. She added, however, that the city was willing to "bend over backward" for incoming businesses and cited how the city has previously worked with AFB and Renew Biomass to help those businesses expand.
Wiles agreed that the city may not have as many incentives to offer but suggested that the city focus on what is already here and work on "getting people to come visit Aurora and spend money here."
Henderson agreed, citing the successful antique stores and saying "use what you have if you can't find something new."
Ward then asked the candidates why they believed they should receive the most votes on April 4.
Henderson stated that she has been working toward the completion of many projects in the city and that she would like the opportunity to see those through to the end.
Wiles pointed out that he is the only person running who has not already served time on the council. "I think I'll offer a fresh new look on some existing problems," he said. "I'm here to try to help people who are down, and I think I'm the best person for that."
He went on to say he would like to have a job board posted somewhere in town where out of work people can go to see where they could get hired.
After answering the initial question by pointing out her six years of experience with the council and saying she would like to keep helping the city, Barton responded to Wiles's idea. "It is hard to find workers," she said, adding, "People don't want to work. There's too many government subsidies out there."
Barton and Henderson were then given the opportunity to tell the audience what they considered their biggest accomplishments while on the city council. Both agreed that the upcoming overpass project was the most important. Henderson added that she was proud of some of the demolitions that have taken place, such as that of the old Radio Shack building last year.
In one final question, the candidates were asked who besides themselves they thought would be the best candidate for city council, as two seats will be filled following the election.
Barton and Henderson replied with each other's names, due to the fact that they had known each other for 50 years and have been family friends. Wiles said he could not choose "the two that did not show," referring to candidates Larry Marks and Lisa Rentfro. He then said he would have to pick Henderson, as he felt Barton's statements on people's desire to work "felt disconnected."
With no questions from the audience, the forum adjourned. For a look at the candidates in their own words, see the profiles in last week's edition of the Advertiser.