District 6 City Council candidates answer questions about city issues during forum
The two candidates for the District 6 seat on Aiken City Council answered a variety of questions about local issues Monday night during the Aiken Standard City Council Forum at the H. Odell Weeks Activities Center.
In many areas, the opinions of Democrat JoAnn Hooper and Republican Ed Woltz were similar.
For example, both agreed that the most important matters that the City of Aiken needs to address involve the Department of Public Safety and infrastructure.
“If I had a magic wand, the first thing I would fix here in the city would be our infrastructure,” Hooper said. “I’ve walked throughout the city, and I’ve spoken with a numerous constituents here. Our citizens have told me their complaints, and their complaints are basically that our infrastructure is a mess.”
Then Hooper talked about the importance of both strengthening Public Safety and addressing the problem of gangs to make Aiken safer.
“We need to have a gang task force put together because right now, gang issues are on the rise,” she said. “Nobody wants to live in a city where there are gangs and where there are crimes.”
Woltz mentioned strengthening Public Safety to get rid of crime as his first priority.
“Public Safety needs help,” he said. “We need to come up with a retention plan and a recruitment plan for officers.”
Then he discussed the problems with Aiken’s basic structures and facilities.
“Our infrastructure is crumbling and that has been a concern for a long, long time,” he said. “Twenty years ago on the Planning Commission, we talked about it, and we’re still talking about it. It’s time we stop talking about it and get something done.”
Another question answered by Hooper and Woltz involved how to address the lack of growth on the Northside compared to the rapidly expanding Southside.
“I think City Council has got to go back and look at different issues and make sound decisions to build up the Northside, the Eastside, and the Westside,” Hooper said. “Council needs to bring about change in our community that is fair to every angle.”
The key to helping the Northside, she added, is to “put jobs in the community,” which would “cause the crime level to go down.”
Woltz suggested that the goal should be to reduce crime in the Northside to make it more appealing for new businesses.
“Fifty-two percent of our crime comes out of one neighborhood, Crosland Park,” he said. “We need to fix that, and there’s a way to do that, I think. We have houses there owned by the city, and I would like to see those made habitable and given to police officers to live in. Move them in there and let them take their cars home with them. Let them be seen and that will run some of the bad guys away. When we clean up the area, people will start moving back in. They will require business services, and private enterprise will come in to fill those gaps. When they come in, they will ask people to work for them.”
One of the questions during the forum gave Hooper and Woltz the opportunity to express their thoughts about the Renaissance plan for downtown Aiken and the redevelopment of the Aiken Mall.
“We have crumbling pipes under the city 10 feet down that need to be worked on before we can bring in different entities and move the city forward,” Hooper said. “We must first deal with the priority at hand and that is dealing with our infrastructure and strengthening our infrastructure. Our infrastructure is the most important thing. We’ve got to look at it first and foremost.”
Woltz said he has talked to a developer and architect involved with making the improvements that are part of the Renaissance and they asked him, “What is the Renaissance?” His reply was, “That’s what I’m here to ask you.”
Based on that conversation, Woltz said he believes that it is “time to put a hard reset on this whole Renaissance project and see what is going on and where we are going. It doesn’t make sense.”
Woltz thinks constructing a parking garage probably isn’t necessary or that a smaller structure than the one that has been suggested would work quite well.
“We’ve got alternatives for parking downtown in many different places,” he said. “Surface street parking is safer, cheaper and it doesn’t take away from businesses.”
Andrea Gregory, who won the Republican primary in City Council’s District 5, also spoke briefly during the forum. Her name will be the only one on the ballot for that district in the Nov. 7 general election because no candidates from other parties filed to run for that position.
Voters, however, will be able to write in the names of other candidates if they so choose.
Gregory urged the members of the forum’s audience to “come out and exercise your right to vote.”
In addition, Gregory said it was important for members of City Council and residents from all parts of Aiken to work together to make their community thrive.