Among the items on the Nov. 5 ballot will be six seats on the Rome City Commission, which include three seats in Ward 1 and three seats in Ward 3. Candidates running for Ward 1 include Jim Bojo, Mark Cochran, Bill Imscher (incumbent), Milton Slack (incumbent) and Sundai Stevenson (incumbent). Candidates running for Ward 3 include Bonny Askew, Bill Collins (incumbent), Craig McDaniel (incumbent) and J.J. Walker Seifert. Hometown Headlines offers interviews today with Ward 1 candidates. The interviews and profiles were complied and written by Natalie Simms. Click here to read candidate profiles for those running for Ward 3 of the Rome City Commission.
James “Jim” Bojo is from Ohio but has lived in Rome for more than 50 years. He served 21 years as area manager for Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. and then worked another 20 years in radio for WLAQ AM1410 and 95.7 The Ridge before his retirement. He has served on the Board of Directors for Hospitality House, worked on the SPLOST Citizens Advisory Committee, past president and member of the Noon Optimist Club of Rome, graduate of Leadership Rome and Leadership Chattooga, serves as volunteer at The Braves Miracle Field, Youth Basketball Coach and referee for Rome Boys Club. He is a member of Fellowship Baptist Church where he serves as deacon and Sunday School teacher. He and his wife, Donna, have been married 46 years and have two children and seven grandchildren.
Mark Cochran is a native of Rome. He is an architect and small business owner of Cevian Design Lab, as well as a developer. He graduated from Pepperell High School and holds as bachelor of science degree in Construction Management from Georgia Southern University and a masters of Architecture from NewSchool of Architecture and Design in San Diego. He is a member of the Rome Floyd Chamber board, the Historic DeSoto Theatre Foundation and the Rome Area Council for the Arts. He is a graduate of Leadership Rome XXV and former vice chair of the City of Rome Historic Preservation Commission. He and his wife, Michelle, have been married 19 years and have two children.
William “Bill” Irmscher (incumbent) was first elected to Rome City Commission in 2011. He has lived in Rome for the last 47 years. He worked for 27 years with Best Manufacturing in marketing and executive management before working 10 years as a financial consultant with Wells Fargo Advisors. He has served on the Rome-Floyd Planning Commission, is president of the Coosa Valley Fair Association, past president of the Exchange Club of Rome and previous board member of the Family Resource Center. He is a member of First Presbyterian Church of Rome, where he has served as deacon and elder. He and his wife Jan, have three children and five grandchildren.
Milton O. Slack, III (incumbent) was first elected to the Rome City Commission in 2008 and has served two years as Mayor Pro-Tem. A lifelong resident of Rome, he graduated from Main High School. He is a former Army reservist and retired after 34 years of employment with Sears with 26 of those in management. He received business education through Sears Management classes and later attended Shorter College. He has accrued 312 hours of training from the University of Georgia Harold F. Holtz Training Institute for Elected Officers, The Carl Vinson Institute of Government and The Robert E. Knox Jr. Municipal Leadership Institute. He is has worked with the United Way of Rome for a number of years and is currently a member of the Rome Exchange Club and served on the Board of Directors for the Coosa Valley Fair Association. He has served as a mentor at Main Elementary School. He is a member of North Rome Church of God. He and his wife Clemontene have two children and three grandchildren.
Sundai Stevenson (incumbent) was first elected to Rome City Commission in 2015. She serves as a Property Manager for LHP Management. A native of Calhoun, she has lived in Rome for 27 years and is a graduate of Leadership Rome. She attended Calhoun High School, Dalton Junior College and Florida A&M University. She currently serves as Chairperson of the Rome and Floyd County M. L. King Jr. Commission, a board member of the Open Door Home, Advisory Board of Elevation House, Good Neighbor Ministries Board Member, Kelsey-Aycock-Burrell Board Member, among other activities. She is a Ministry Leader at Thankful Baptist Church. She and her husband, Rick, have been married 29 years and have two children and one grandchild.
QUESTION: Downtown Rome is seeing major projects coming together, from the new Lofts to new townhouses and the District project on West Third. And yet merchants are still coping with backlash from the parking controversy, new smoking ordinances and low turnout of community events. How do you propose we turn that around?
BOJO: “First of all, there are a lot of good people working on this problem. The lack of parking is a problem and there is no single solution. Fine tuning the ordinance will need to be continued until all of the bugs are worked out. Approximately 1 out of 5 Georgians die from smoking related illnesses. There needs to be reasonable accommodations while protecting others from the effects of second-hand smoke. This needs to happen for all 31 square miles in the city of Rome.”
COCHRAN: “We need to heavily reinvest in our downtown. A good start would be giving Broad Street a makeover. The sidewalks have not been pressure washed, the traffic poles need painting, the curb is crumbling, the grass in the median is dead, the backs of the street signs are rusted, and the brick in the sidewalks is loose in some areas. How can we expect private businesses and citizens to reinvest in downtown when the city won’t reinvest in downtown? We need to put more money back in the pockets of the owners by eliminating the BID tax and look at incentivizing redevelopment in some form of a modified TAD.”
IRMSCHER: “It seems that whatever backlash resulted from the new parking and smoking regulations have resulted in positive gains for most of our downtown merchants. Even though I voted against some of the regulations, I understand that there have been financial gains.”
SLACK: “I don’t have the plus or minus figures but downtown seems to be very active. I have spoken to several residents from Atlanta who think that Downtown Rome is an eating and partying destination. As far as new smoking ordinances, there are state ordinances in place, so we just designated areas where smoking is allowed. We need to let the processes continue to evolve.”
STEVENSON: “Actions have recently been implemented to better the downtown parking experience including free parking on Broad Street up to three hours daily, new directional signs, parking deck lighting improved, the decks cleaned up and more police presence has been added. The Downtown Development Authority has tried new ideas for the monthly activities but because the Saturday activities have been ‘hit or miss’, changes are in the planning stages for 2020. The smoking ordinance was put in place because data provided by our local health community supported the danger of 2nd hand smoke. I would rather err on the side of safety and take the necessary measures needed to protect all citizens.”
QUESTION: The commission tried to rush the urban camping vote onto the meeting agenda without notice to the community. For transparency purposes, what steps would you take — if any — to get the caucus meetings televised as well as transcripts/minutes of the caucus meetings taken and presented to the community?
BOJO: “The Georgia Open Records Law states that all meetings are open to the public when a quorum is present. I will never participate in any meeting that is not an open meeting. I intend to be open and transparent with everything. I’ll certainly look at or consider any ideas or suggestions to improve communications between the public, news media and the commission.”
COCHRAN: “The Urban Camping vote has not been the only vote that has been rushed without public input. I think because of this all caucus meetings should be televised, live streamed on Facebook, and have recorded minutes. The only exception would be if the commissioners were discussing the hiring, firing or promoting of personnel. I also think the city should have a YouTube channel dedicated to public meetings, where all meeting videos would be categorized for easy viewing. This would allow anyone to easily find a meeting. The technology to accomplish this is readily available and free.”
IRMSCHER: “All caucus meetings are transparent and open to the public. We invite community members to attend all of our caucus and commission meetings. As a matter of fact, all of our commission meetings are televised. Those with concerns can register to speak. Better yet, let your commissioner know your feelings so that they can be brought before committee or the entire Board of Commissioners.”
SLACK: “Every committee meeting, every caucus, and every Commission meeting is open to the public. We extend an invitation to the public at our Commission meetings when we announce upcoming committee meetings. Now if you’re talking about the Commission going into “private time” during Caucus, we only do this to discuss personnel or property matters. This is done to prevent legal ramifications.”
STEVENSON: “Caucus meetings, as well as, all of our City Commission meetings are open to the public. Not only are our caucus and regular meetings open to the public, so are the committee meetings where the decisions are made to bring items to the full commission. The public is invited and urged to become participants in areas that interest and/or concern them. It has been my experience that members of the Rome City Commission are always willing to listen to the citizens of our community. If the citizens desire the televising and transcribing of minutes, I believe the commission would give it due consideration.”
QUESTION: In the past four years, what is Rome’s biggest success story? What event or structure or other? And why is it so dynamic?
BOJO: “One of Rome’s biggest success stories in the past four years is the Tennis Center. The economic impact of this facility since 2013 is approximately $22.8 million. Also, the Air Show has generated $3.6 million. In addition, the Corky Kell Classic impact to the community has been priceless. All three of these projects have given Rome invaluable television coverage across the Southeast.”
COCHRAN: “Rome’s biggest success story has been its small businesses and not-for-profit community. In spite of an enormous amount of red-tape and undue burdens, they have continued to persevere and succeed. The businesses and not-for-profits are dynamic because they truly care about what they are doing and will sacrifice to accomplish their goal. The City of Rome, however, is not as dynamic. The last visionary infrastructure project that the city completed was the 1986 Broad Street streetscape. We lack the vision to understand what our potential future can be. I want to change that by transforming our rivers, trails, downtown, and infrastructure so we can become a great modern city.”
IRMSCHER: “We have many success stories. The list is endless. Working in concert with the county has benefited the entire community plus downtown living, more affordable housing, upgrading our parks and trails, arts and entertainment quality, government and business working together, vibrant downtown, sporting events, Eco-Center, Tennis Center and more.”
SLACK: “The Rome Tennis Center has already added over $1.3 million to our economy. The future looks very bright! We are quickly growing in esteem with the USTA and with the international Tennis Community. This is really a ‘Plus’ for our community. We’re looking forward to the future of your Tennis Center.”
STEVENSON: “I believe that our Tennis Center is one of our biggest success stories. Just a few weeks ago, the center received an Award of Excellence of Facilities from the United States Tennis Association. During 2017-2018 the center’s tournaments were responsible for a $9.8 million economic impact on our city. With the additions of covered courts, our center will become more competitive nationally when bidding for new tournaments.”
QUESTION: It took a few weeks but a majority of Rome’s city commissioners eventually signed on to the new economic development model that will cost the city, county and development authority much more than the chamber model. In your opinion — as an incumbent or challenger — was this the right move to make and why? Or, if opposed, why note?
BOJO: “The decision to go with this model has already been made. This model has proven to be successful in other communities. I intend to work with what has been decided to help make it work in our city. My goal is to make Rome the #1 city in the #1 state for doing business.”
COCHRAN: “I strongly oppose the move. We haven’t landed a large manufacturer in more than seven years yet we just doubled down by committing all of our resources on landing a new large manufacturer, while at the same time leaving our Chamber of Commerce hanging out to dry. Large manufacturers want to be close to an interstate. Even if the road to I-75 is completed, and that is a big if, it will take a generation to build. Instead, we need to focus on strengthening our healthcare, higher education, small business communities and helping our existing manufacturers stay strong and competitive. You either have to change your game plan or you keep getting beat.”
IRMSCHER: “It seems that changes were in order. I believe the city felt that we needed to get it right the first time. Consequently, a lot of questions and different scenarios were discussed. We have the new model in place and I have full confidence in the success of our new team. New industry is the economic driver of a community. We all know the old saying, ‘It takes money to make money.’ A homerun will cover the cost of doing business and provide the growth and high paying jobs with good benefits that we deserve.”
SLACK: “As a commission we try to be efficient in making decisions by gathering as much information as possible. When we were presented with enough information, we came to a decision to proceed. There was no fighting as was reported, just a need to know. We are making decisions for the long term, and for the good of everyone!”
STEVENSON: “The move was made. Could things have been handled a little differently? Yes. I have a high regard for our past chamber CEO, as well as the present Chamber executives. When the past CEO resigned, the new model was created and put into action. Under the old model, the city contributed approximately $70,000 a year to the Chamber. Under the new model, the City contributes a third of the budget which is $150,000 a year. The added cost to the city will be approximately $80,000 a year. One can ask, ‘What are jobs worth to our community?’ I believe the extra $80,000 is a worthy investment.”
Community Watch’s video interviews with all nine Rome City Commission candidates, Wards One and Three.
The candidates were interviewed by Dr. Jon Hershey and Greg Shropshire of Georgia Highland’s Community Watch program in a series of recordings conducted on Monday, Sept. 23, at Heritage Hall. Produced by Jeff Brown, the five-part series is now available via YouTube. Each part is linked below as well. Their questions included economic development, why each is running for office, homelessness, downtown parking, city schools and the bus decision, minority opportunities in local business and addressing safety concerns in the community and historic preservation. Each candidate was given around 14 minutes.
- Ward 1, Bill Irmscher, incumbent, and Ward 3, Bill Collins, mayor/commission, incumbent. Part one
- Ward 3, Craig McDaniel, incumbent, and Ward 1, Milton Slack, incumbent. Part two
- Ward 1, Sundai Stevenson, incumbent, and Ward 3, J.J. Walker Seifert, challenger. Part three
- Ward 1, Jim Bojo, challenger, and Ward 1, Mark Cochran, challenger. Part four
- Ward 3, Bonny Askew, challenger. Part five
About the Nov. 5 Elections:
- Any registered voter in the city of Rome. Registration for new or lapsed voters ends Monday. Check your status here; better yet, confirm in person at the elections office.
- Both the Ward 1 and Ward 3 races are “citywide” meaning you can vote for up to three candidates in each ward.
- What to watch for: ‘Bullet voting’ or ‘slingshot voting.’ That’s where people vote for just one candidate in a ward race even though they are eligible to vote for three. The idea is to “maximize” that chances of that preferred candidate. It has been used here before.
- Also on the ballot: The Sunday Brunch Bill which extends the hours restaurants can serve alcohol by 90 minutes, starting at 11 a.m. vs. 12:30 p.m. Background
- Monday, Oct. 7: Final day to register to vote in the municipal elections if you’re a new or lapsed voter.
- Oct. 14: Advance voting begins.
- Oct. 17: Political Forum for Rome/Floyd County. The event is free and open to the public. Candidates from Wards 1 and 3 are invited to participate. Also 2020 candidates for Floyd County Sheriff will be allowed a brief statement to introduce themselves. The purpose of the forum is to give Rome voters an opportunity to hear candidates discuss the issues of importance to them in this election. Attendees ask questions and in exchange, the candidates will be able to answer. Thursday, Oct. 17, at the JoAnn Harbin Community Room, Willingham Gym, 560 N Division St., Rome. A social hour with light refreshments begins at 5 p.m.; the forum begins at 6. Sponsors: Rome/Floyd County NAACP, AARP – Etowah Chapter #4021, Rome Alumnae Chapter- Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., Northwest Georgia Housing Authority, Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Rome /Northwest Georgia Inc. and 100 Black Men of Rome/Northwest Georgia Inc.
- Nov. 5. Election day.