By Will Fairless
The Opelika Chamber of Commerce is hosting a forum for mayoral and city council candidates on Wednesday, Aug. 12.
The forum will be held at the Opelika Center for the Performing Arts (1700 Lafayette Pkwy, Opelika, AL 36801) from 6 to 8 p.m. Todd Shackett, the Southern Union State Community College president will lead the forum, which will include time for every candidate (for each of the 5 wards’ city council seats and for the mayor) to speak.
According to a press release from the Opelika Chamber, each candidate will be given four minutes to speak.
“We ask that [candidates] do not say anything negative toward or about [their] opponents,” the release stated, “This is a time to let the public know who [they] are, what [their] priorities are if elected, and the goals/vision [they] have.”
After everyone has spoken, time permitting, there will be an open question-and-answer session. The following form can be used to submit questions, which will not be read by the candidates until the forum: forms.gle/MEpzuWRSEJXDKfLt8.
Opelika citizens can attend the forum for free; to do so, they must register online at www.opelikachamber.com/events/details/candidate-forum-3917. For those who wish to view the event from home, it will be streamed live. The Chamber will soon release more information about what platform it will use to stream the forum.
According to a press release from Mayor Fuller’s campaign, Opelika has benefited from nearly 4,000 new jobs, new roads and improved infrastructure throughout the city, more than 2,000 new single-family homes and several completed projects during Fuller’s term.
“This is the best job I’ve ever had,” Fuller said, “I loved my years in the radio business but the satisfaction of seeing a person get a great job and what that means for their family makes our hard work worthwhile.”
Gibson-Pitts has a bachelor’s degree from Jacksonville State University in criminal justice with a concentration in juvenile delinquency. She has a master’s degree and an educational specialist degree in school counseling and counseling supervision from Auburn University. She has said that she plans on taking Opelika forward by focusing on affordable housing, small business development and creating a more inclusive community.
“I’ve always been active in the community and wanted to serve in a greater capacity,” she said, “Since being elected [to the Ward 2 city council seat], I created the Ward 2 Academy, which serves as an educational hub for families throughout the Jeter community, and have been a strong advocate for many of the upgrades in that area.”
Allen has a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and Economics from Alabama State University. He is the president of the J.W. Darden Foundation, whose goal is to perpetuate the legacy of J.W. Darden through scholarships and free healthcare provided by the Darden Wellness Center. Allen wants a board of education member to be elected so that they are more accountable to the people they represent. He plans to listen to the community’s wants and needs during his door-to-door campaign.
“I love Opelika. I’ve always done various community services, and this is just another avenue that I could take that I believe could be a help to the people of Opelika,” Allen said, “I would venture to say that over 75% of [Ward 1’s] residents know me personally through my occupations or my community involvements and will agree that I have the qualities needed to effectively represent them on our City Council.”
Brooks has an associate degree in applied science in early childhood development from Southern Union State Community College. He also has an associate degree in fire science from Chattahoochee Valley Community College and a bachelor’s degree in music education from Alabama State University.
“He will demonstrate with the upmost respect to strive for change by being readily available to listen and provide support and address the concerns and needs of the community,” a press release form Brooks stated, “He understands the challenges that one faces and will use his voice to create changes for all the citizens of Opelika.”
Johnson is the senior pastor at Freedom Life Worship Center and graduated from Opelika State Technical School in 1987. Johnson’s primary goal if elected will be to empower the people of Opelika with skills training and motivational coaching and mentorship. He said he wants to change the environment of Opelika for the better, create opportunities for people and make sure people get connected with those opportunities.
“The thing that really inspired me is that I see so much potential and opportunity in our community, especially in Ward 1,” Johnson said, “I have a solid vision for Opelika. I have passion for Opelika and Ward 1. I have a strategic plan to bring about change for the best in Ward 1.”
Lowe is a 20-year-old majoring in political science at Auburn University. He is an aspiring attorney and lifelong Opelika resident. He wants to push for safety, education and trust in the Opelika community, particularly by creating better diversion programs for young people.
“I feel I have a duty to the community, and when you recognize you have a duty, you just get it done,” Lowe said, “I would love to make sure that the pillars already in our community, like the Boys and Girls Club and the Covington Rec Center, are heavily utilized to help keep our young people involved in the community instead of involved in crime.”
Meniefield has worked as a residential specialist at the Lee County Youth Development Center and founded the nonprofit Time Served, which helps individuals with felonies establish new lives. She wants to focus on creating programs across the city to encourage children to stay active and out of trouble. She envisions the Covington Rec Center as a hub for youth involvement.
“There’s a lot of empty spaces in our ward that belong to the city. I want to turn those into something positive,” Meniefield said, “My ward has been deemed the worst side of town. I want to make it where people feel safe, people feel free to come and tell us anything and we can give them the answers they are looking for.”
Baker-Norris is the Vice President-elect of the Alabama Association of Public Personnel Administrators and the Diversity and Inclusion Chairperson of the East Alabama Society of Human Resources Management. She wants to focus on partnering with educational institutions to create more activities for young people and senior citizens, providing training to the Ward 2 workforce and addressing crime and poverty in Ward 2.
“I am so excited to have an opportunity to earn the vote of the people of Ward 2 and to be given a chance to serve them,” Baker-Norris said. “In a time of so much uncertainty, I am certain of this: I am called to serve.”
Oscar L. Penn III:
Penn is the President of the Concerned Citizens of Opelika, Vice President of the Lee County Voters League and is a member of several other community organizations in Opelika.
“I’m asking for your vote and support because I’m fighting every day,” Penn said. “My life is totally consumed with making a difference [for people] whether it’s getting one’s lights turned on or whatever the case may be, I answer the call. Many of you know my desire to serve with unconditional love. I’m all in for this community. I have been and always will be. I’m no respecter of person, everyone matters to me.”
Carter is a leading professional facilitator for leadership and diversity and inclusion programs for an international S&P 500 organization. He also leads Opelika Cub Scout Pack 858 as their Cubmaster, teaches a financial literacy course, cleans his adopted mile through Keep Opelika Beautiful, serves on the Property Maintenance Board of Appeals and serves his church, Cornerstone.
“[My] dedication is guiding new and experienced leaders to serve those around them,” according to a press release form Carter, “Serving has been at the forefront of [my] mission.”
Lofton is a retired veterinarian who graduated Louisiana State University with a bachelor’s degree in science before attending Auburn’s School of Veterinary Medicine. He teaches a Sunday Bible Study class at First Baptist Church and is involved in a number of community service projects, such as My Jerusalem, Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief and Samaritan’s Purse. He believes that his biggest attribute as a potential city councilman is his ability in communicating and listening.
“I believe that what people say is important,” he said. “My core values include integrity, honesty and financial responsibility. I have the desire and the time to serve the residents of Ward 3 and the Opelika community in whole.”
Thompson is an assistant research professor and director of the Juvenile Delinquency Lab in the Department of Psychology at Auburn University. She holds a master’s degree in divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary, a Bachelor of Science degree in human development and family studies from Auburn University, and a master’s degree in psychology and a Ph.D. in applied developmental psychology from the University of New Orleans. She wants to use her research and data-collection training to conduct an annual citizen survey from which she thinks Opelika would greatly benefit.
“My professional and academic pursuits, as well as many years of philanthropic work and civic engagement, have more than prepared me for this moment,” Thompson said, “It would be an honor to apply the skills, expertise and knowledge I have accumulated to better shape my community and do so with intention.”
Adams is the student minister and associate pastor at Providence Baptist Church. He graduated from Leavell College of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary with a bachelor’s degree in Christian Ministry and a minor in Biblical Studies. He later acquired a master’s degree in Theological Studies. He wants to keep Opelika one of the, as he describes it, safest and most inclusive towns. A specific project he has in mind is to build connector roads between the Sportsplex and Morris Avenue.
“I want to see the city of Opelika grow in a healthy way . . . it stays safe, stays healthy and stays prosperous,” Adams said, “[Opelika is] just an all-around great city, and I want to be a part of helping it stay that way for future generations.”
Canon was elected to the city council in 2010 and was re-elected in 2012 and 2016. He graduated from Auburn University, The Alabama Banking School and the LSU school of Banking of the South. He said there are several projects he wants to see through before he leaves the city council, which projects include completing the extension of the Sportsplex Connector from Andrews Road to U.S. Hwy. 431, improving efforts to regulate speeding on several streets in Ward 5 and helping find the best location for an additional public school in the north side of Opelika.
“I pledge to continue to represent fairly and impartially all the constituents of Ward 5 and all other Opelika citizens; and to listen to their concerns, to help solve their problems and will strive to keep Opelika the greatest city in Alabama to live, work, play, raise a family, go to church and to retire,” Canon stated in a press release.
Fincher is originally from Woodland, Alabama, and is in the process of completing his dissertation to receive a PhD in public administration and public policy from Auburn University. He will work to rescind the upcoming mayor and city council pay raises and pledges to return his $1,200 raise back to the city’s general fund if elected. He supports instituting a three-term limit for council members and the mayor. He is a strong supporter of natural recreational spaces in Opelika, citing Creekline Trails’ success on Giving Day as evidence that there is a demand for these spaces.
“I am entering this race because I believe Opelika needs a forward-looking city council that is willing to actively pursue and include input from all its citizens into how the city should grow and respond to challenges in this new decade,” Fincher said. “Opelika is filled with wonderful people, but I believe our current leadership is not in tune with the needs of everyday Opelikans.”
Rauch is a U.S. Army veteran who holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Auburn University and is currently the Vice President of the Community Foundation of East Alabama. He wants to increase accessibility, communication and transparency between the city council and the people of Opelika. He wants to expand and diversify industry in the Opelika Industrial Park, provide resources to Opelika city schools and prioritize infrastructure improvements, among other things.
“The Army taught me how to be an effective leader, and I believe the best way to illustrate the city of Opelika’s ‘Vets Choose Opelika’ initiative, is to have a veteran serving on the Opelika City Council,” Rauch stated in a press release, “I believe it is a responsibility of elected officials to continually engage those that elected them. Your city council member should be the person you can turn to should you have questions or concerns.”