Among the items on the Nov. 5th 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 3 candidates. The interviews and profiles were complied and written by Natalie Simms. Next Monday, we will feature candidates running for Ward 1 of the Rome City Commission.
ERROR REDACTED: We were wrong in reporting the way the homeless ordinances almost came up for a surprise vote in an August meeting of the City Commission. The error has since been removed.
Bonny Askew is a native Roman and recently retired from International Paper after almost 40 years of employment where he worked in environmental control and byproduct processing. He previously served on the Rome City Commission from 1982-1984. He graduated from West Rome High School and attended the United States Naval Academy for two years, and graduated from the University of West Georgia, with a B.A. in Political Science. He is a member of the Rome Exchange Club, 100 Black Men of Northwest Georgia, the NAACP and One Community United. He is a graduate of Leadership Rome and has volunteered as a youth basketball coach for the YMCA, a baseball coach with the Recreation Department, a Scout leader with the Boy Scouts, and a Band parent with the Rome Band program. He and his wife Adrianne have been married 38 years. They have four children and four grandchildren. They are members of Thankful Baptist Church, where Askew serves as vice chairmen of the deacon board.
William (Bill) Collins is a native Roman who has served on the Rome City Commission for 23 years and is currently mMyor of Rome. He is the owner/operator of Collins Auto Clean Up for the last 40 years as well as Collins Cleaning System and Collins Care System Transport Services LLC. He graduated from West Rome High School and Coosa Valley Vocational Technical School. He also serves as chairman of the Board of the Kelsey/Aycock/Burrell Center and is a member of the Noon Optimist Club, Rome Floyd Chamber, Rome Rotary Club and NAACP, among others. He has been married to Faith (Wilson) Collins for 42 years, and they have three children and five grandchildren. They are members of Life of Jesus in Action Holiness Church.
Craig McDaniel is a native Roman who has served on the Rome City Commission since 2016. He is a commercial Realtor with Toles, Temple and Wright and President Emeritus of Georgia Northwestern Technical College. He is a graduate of West Rome High School and holds a BS in Business Management from Carson Newman College; master’s degree from Georgia State University; specialist degree from the University of Georgia; and doctorate from the University of Georgia. His past community involvement includes past chairman of the Rome Floyd Chamber; past chairman of the Rome Floyd Development Authority; past chairman of the Redmond Regional Medical Center Board of Directors and 18-year member of the board. He a recipient of the Heart of the Community Award. He currently serves as chair of the Redevelopment Committee, City Commission representative to the Alcohol Control Commission, member of the Public Safety Committee and Business Development committees.
J.J. Walker Seifert is a local attorney who started Seifert Law PC in 2015. She is a graduate of Mercer University and Mercer Law School. She has been involved with Junior Service League of Rome, Hospitality House, The Free Clinic and Cancer Navigators. She loves running and has completed 30-plus half marathons and one full marathon since 2014, after beating lymphoma in 2013, and relapsing but beating it again last year. She and her husband, Will, live in College Heights with their two children, Cole and Carson-Claire, both students at Rome High.
Q: 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?
ASKEW: “I applaud the new projects in the downtown area. I think diversity in the downtown area is key to the continued success in the area. I think the backlash experienced was the result of perception as much as content. As with the homelessness ordinance, things work out better when all parties involved are brought to the table and agree to work together.”
COLLINS: “The Downtown Development Committee and BID Committee are made up of residents and business owners who have worked hard through their decisions to make Downtown Rome one of the best ‘downtowns’ in Georgia. Ninety percent of what goes on in Downtown Rome are the wishes of the makeup of those two committees and residents of that district, and I support their decisions. This gives everyone in the downtown district a chance to weigh in on what happens in downtown.”
MCDANIEL: “I think the solution I proposed that was approved has gone a long way in solving much of the angst of downtown merchants. I have spoken to a number of people who live, work and play downtown and the feedback I hear is positive. We have an issue now with unsupervised children and teens downtown. The 11 p.m. curfew we imposed may need to be tightened. We have over 300 people residing on Broad Street and it is also a retail and business district. Our challenge is to determine to what extent it will be an entertainment district. We need balance or we will lose our merchants.”
SEIFERT: “I’d encourage local business owners and citizens to become involved in the decision-making process…make it a collaborative effort between the commission and our citizens. With growth comes challenge; our downtown is flourishing and thus there are challenges in how to accommodate patrons, business owners and keep downtown safe. I am grateful for challenges that come with growth as opposed to despair from a fading downtown and economy. Creative problem solving is a key component in addressing challenges, and that is what I hope to bring to the commission.”
Q. The commission OUR ERROR REDACTED 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?
ASKEW: “Closed caucus meetings usually deal with personnel issues that should not be discussed in public. Ordinances that are going to be presented should not be talked about. Regular caucus meetings are open to the public and can be televised. Discussions there usually involve personal opinions which shouldn’t always be published to preserve the spirit of debate.”
COLLINS: “I think it’s good to have transparency in all that we do. I don’t think that we rushed or need to rush important business of the people that we serve. We could take steps to televise and record minutes of caucus which I think would be a good thing.”
MCDANIEL: OUR ERROR REDACTED. “We go into private session to discuss personnel matters, real estate acquisitions or pending litigation. I have always encouraged citizens to attend committee meetings, caucus and city commission meetings. Our attorney is always present and holds a tight rein when we go into private sessions.”
SEIFERT: “I would explore this option of televising the caucus as well. The caucuses and meetings are generally open to the public, while sometimes a closed caucus is necessary for a number of reasons, including the ability to speak freely amongst each other. However, for transparency reasons, I do believe that there should be minutes taken, while perhaps not being automatically publicized, but available should an open records request be properly submitted with cause.”
Q: In the past four years, what is Rome’s biggest success story? What event or structure or other? And why is it so dynamic?
ASKEW: “Rome’s biggest success in the past four years is not political. It lies in its people. Events like One Community United’s One Tablet, Rome High’s state championships and the way Rome came together to support them, and other numerous unnamed events in which Rome came together as one.”
COLLINS: “Balancing the budget for each of the last four years and maintaining a great working environment at the City of Rome. Losing retirees and replacing them with good employees is a tough job. My hat is off to (Sammy Rich) and the commissioners – great job. Diversity in leadership roles has been a good thing for our city. It shows we continue to grow. With myself being the first black mayor and our chief of police being the first black, it says a lot about our city that I am proud to call my home.”
MCDANIEL: “I think there are several. The success of the Rome Tennis Center at Berry College. The announcement of the East Bend development. The approval of the ESPLOST to build a College and Career Academy at Rome High School. The SPLOST vote that gives the community a little over $5 million for industrial development. The opening of the new animal facility on North Avenue. The academic and athletic successes throughout the Rome City School System. Our latest achievement is the new focus that is being placed on dealing with issues related to homelessness. I am very proud of the role the Rome Police Department played in getting that issue brought to the forefront.”
SEIFERT: “TRED (Trails for Recreation and Economic Development) has done amazing things – the GE trails, plans to connect several existing trails, potentially extending to the Silver Comet Trail eventually, creating greenways and ‘blueways’ by utilizing our rivers for recreation – hiking, walking, running, cycling, kayaking, paddle boarding and more make Rome a great home and a great destination to visit. I also think that the Rome International Film Festival has been hugely dynamic by bringing the film industry to Rome as well as being a great event for locals.”
Q: 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?
ASKEW: “As a recent graduate of Leadership Rome class XXXVI, I understand the efforts being made in economic development. It makes sense that the city of Rome and Floyd County should be more involved in recruiting new industries to the area. I do not believe that the Chamber of Commerce should, or will, be left out. Their experiences and contacts are invaluable and should be appreciated. Again, its a matter of working together and that’s something that Rome does well.”
COLLINS: “As an incumbent, I felt it was the right thing to do. It’s an opportunity for us to change our focus on recruitment to bring new industry into our city/county that would create new jobs and opportunities. I support this because my hope is that my grandchildren and great grandchildren will stay/return to Rome after secondary education to live and work. This allows the chamber to work even harder for existing industry.”
MCDANIEL: “The comments I heard from economic development professionals, business leaders and others during and after the vote were favorable. I supported the change. We need new, good paying jobs and other than a handful of announcements spread out over a 20-year period, we weren’t getting them. We have a great Chamber of Commerce. I am a past chairman and have been involved in some capacity for almost 40 years. I don’t believe the chamber is the proper vehicle for the recruitment of industry. We also need land designated as industrial property and a spec building. If you are 20 miles off the interstate, you need something to compensate.”
SEIFERT: “I was on the chamber board recently (2016-2017). In my experience, the Chamber was doing a great job and results were evident (Lowe’s Distribution Center, Suzuki (where my husband is IT Administrator). However, the city voted to take over that process from the Chamber. Regardless of cost, efficiency, or efficacy, the new model is now being implemented. At this point it is moot to opine on a decision already made. As commissioner, I’d be a good steward of the resources allocated and get the best return on investment by bringing great industry and jobs to Rome.”
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 Oct .7. 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
So what’s next:
- Tuesday candidates forum: “Rome residents are invited to a Candidate Forum to hear from candidates for the six nonpartisan City Commission seats up for vote in the Nov. 5 election. It will be held Tuesday, Oct. 1 at 6:30 p.m. at Thankful Baptist Church’s Russell Family Life Center at 935 Spider Webb Drive.”
- Thursday: Floyd County Democratic Party’s candidate “meet and greet” at 7 p.m. at the Community Room at the Northwest Georgia Housing Authority, 560 N. Division St., NW. All candidates are invited.
- 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.
- Nov. 5. Election day.