Patrick Yost (left), editor and publisher of the "Morgan County Citizen" and forum moderator, directs a questions to Madison District 5 candidates Michael Naples (center) and Chris Hodges. Photo by Jesse Walker

Patrick Yost (left), editor and publisher of the “Morgan County Citizen” and forum moderator, directs a questions to Madison District 5 candidates Michael Naples (center) and Chris Hodges. Photo by Jesse Walker

By Nick Nunn, Staff Writer

On Oct. 3, Madison City Council candidates Bobby Crawford, Stratton Hicky, Michael Naples and Chris Hodges attended the Madison candidates’ forum, which was held at the Morgan County administration building and moderated by Morgan County Citizen Publisher Patrick Yost. Crawford and Hicky are candidates for the District 2 seat on the Madison City Council, whereas Hodges and Naples are candidates for District 5.

Yost began the event by explaining the format for the forum: each candidate received five minutes for an opening statement, after which questions would be posed and each candidate would have two minutes to answer the question. At the end of the question section, the candidates had another five minute time period to give a closing statement.

Crawford gave the first opening statement, during which he addressed his earlier tenure on the city council, his desire to preserve Madison’s heritage, and the need for jobs in Madison.

Hodges said that she will bring a fresh perspective to the city council and wants to improve transparency in local government by streaming municipal meetings online. She also expressed the desire to create an anonymous text tip line for citizens, work on making sure sidewalks in Madison connect so that pedestrians can access locations safely, and improve Madison’s reputation as a business friendly city.

Hicky opened by explaining his history in Madison and background as a career Navy financial officer. He also described his experiences with Madison’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC), both as an applicant and a commission member. Hicky emphasized the need to balance long-term and short-term goals in order to achieve the best type of growth for Madison.

Naples explained how he came to live in Madison after visiting the town and discussed his previous tenures on the Madison City Council, during which he has lived up to his campaign promises, including being adequately prepared before every meeting and speaking his mind any time his conscience compels him.

The first question posed to the candidates addressed their plans for affordable housing and low-income housing in the city.

Crawford stated that he wasn’t able to address the question without adequate clarification about what was meant by “affordable housing” as opposed to “low-income housing.”

Hicky acknowledged that the city council had addressed that issue before and that housing rates are largely “subject to the general economy.” He suggested that builders be informed about the construction possibilities in Madison.

Naples stated that there was an initiative to create affordable single-family housing in 2006, but builders were not willing to come down on prices. He also noted that there are a number of “well-kept” apartments in Madison’s housing market that could serve the role of affordable housing.

Hodges said that the economy is in an “awkward place right now” and that builders aren’t able to make money on less expensive housing but mentioned the possibility of working with the Downtown Development Authority for “public/private solutions.”

The candidates then took on the topic of impact fees, which are not currently in place in Madison.

Hicky stated that impact fees would involve balancing the desire for builders who want to build here, and how much the city can subsidize construction.

Naples said that he was in favor of impact fees when Madison originally implemented them, but noted that the economy was in better shape at that point.

Hodges said that impact fees are “not necessarily a bad concept” but, with the present economy, would be “a nail in the coffin for any economic development.”

Crawford stated that impact fees would “kill a retail business” and would prevent new business from opening here.

When asked about the apparent relationship between the HPC and their applicants, all of the candidates agreed that the HPC suffers from a negative image, which could be mitigated if there was more open communication between the commission and the applicants.

The candidates were also asked about their top three priorities for the city, how they would attract business to Madison, what fuels their passion for their office, and where they see Madison in the next four years. (See Forum Highlight charts.)

During his closing statement, Crawford reaffirmed his belief that job creation is his top priority and hopes that the voters will give him the “chance to go back and try it again.” He also acknowledged the historic district as a benefit for the city’s plans for future growth.

Naples said that he has “a passion for his job,” which bolsters his integrity. He also stated that no one is proposing to bring back impact fees, and highlighted his desire for city meetings to be moved to later times in the day so as many citizens as possible will have the chance to attend.

Hicky restated his experience with finances as a Navy officer and with the HPC as preparation for being a city council member. He said that they are “fortunate” to be in races with so little animosity between the candidates.

To close, Hodges expressed her desire to “work for the collective” by shifting focus to make sure everything is taken care of and said that economic empowerment is what will drive the city forward in the future.

Click here for more photos of the Madison and Rutledge candidates’ forums.

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