Editor’s note: In an exclusive to the Daily Mountain Eagle, Jasper mayoral candidates David O’Mary and Greg Tinker sat down for a conversation with DME Publisher James Phillips Friday afternoon at the newspaper office. The following is a report …
Editor’s note: In an exclusive to the Daily Mountain Eagle, Jasper mayoral candidates David O’Mary and Greg Tinker sat down for a conversation with DME Publisher James Phillips Friday afternoon at the newspaper office. The following is a report from that conversation.
Residents of Jasper will vote in a mayoral runoff Tuesday between candidates Greg Tinker and David O'Mary.
First on the agenda for both O'Mary and Tinker, if elected, will be a hard look at the city's finances to examine avenues of improvement and identify methods that are currently working.
"I’ll spend probably the first 90 days on the ground, with our people, talking about what we do, how we do it. None of us ever get so good that we can’t get better. I’m going to try to instill that in everybody," O'Mary said.
Tinker said he wants to "lead by example."
"I want to be more inclusive and invite people to come into the process ... and also be inclusive in the community," Tinker said. "I think the more the community is aware of what’s being done, how it’s being done and why it’s being done, the better off we’re going to be."
Industrial development will be at the top of their list as well. O'Mary said while industrial development is critical, he thinks recruiting small manufacturers to the city would also be beneficial, particularly given the topography of Walker County.
"The challenges that we face in Jasper is the lay of our land is ugly. It costs a lot of money to prepare sites," O'Mary said.
Tinker said he does want to recruit new industry and also focus on the current businesses the city has in place.
"I have a great interest in talking to the people that are already here ... and enhancing those who are already here," Tinker said.
The candidates also discussed the importance of retail recruitment. Tinker said he believes networking will help bring the businesses the public desires to the city.
"[We need to work] really hard to convince those retailers, those restaurants, the other kinds of places we want to shop, to come here through a cooperative effort," Tinker said. "I just think more things get done through cooperation and networking than in any other way."
O'Mary explained that population affects the decision of many retailers to come to Jasper, as business needs to be steady on a daily basis — not only on the weekends when the city is more crowded.
"The food establishments that people want and the movie theater that people want, there’s nothing wrong with that. It would be great to have it, but these owners have thresholds that they have to cross," O'Mary said. "If we don’t get our hands around getting disposable income and jobs in this city, we’re going to see some losses."
Along with retail recruitment comes housing development. O'Mary said the loss of jobs in the coal industry, combined with other factors, has essentially eliminated the county's middle class, making it difficult to recruit housing developers.
"In the last three or four years, I’ve had multi-family housing developers talk to me and walk away from this market because they can’t see the demand. ... They look for return on their investment," O'Mary said. "If there’s not demand there, that tells you disposable income is not at the level it should be."
Tinker said while the elimination of the middle class is a growing problem around the country, he believes it is critical to make every effort to recruit developers, and he has hopes for housing development in the downtown district that is currently under revitalization.
"It’s difficult to get executives to move here and live here if there’s not adequate housing. It’s difficult to attract mid-level management if there’s not housing, and there isn’t," Tinker said. "If we’re really going to develop our town, we’re going to have to have better housing."
With new employment opportunities in the city, such as positions at the Yorozu metal stamping plant, the candidates said demanding higher educational standards and technical training will be key in preparing a strong workforce for the city and county as a whole.
Tinker said socioeconomics is a driving factor contributing to challenges in the educational system.
"That effects the school system all the way through because those kids [from a different socioeconomic status] sometimes, with the deficits they have, maintain those deficits throughout," Tinker said.
He added that the new facility should be a generator for further educational growth.
“I think it has to help. ... If you’ve got a facility like that, it effects your psyche. That is a starting point, as well, to say we’ve got this facility, so let’s pursue the excellence our facility portrays," Tinker said.
O'Mary said the new school won't necessarily ensure higher academic standards; rather, he suggests taking all aspects of the educational system into consideration to improve performance.
“We’ve had a very significant decline in our academic performance. ... It means that our young people may not be getting all that we can give them," O'Mary said. "Will brick and mortar fix that? I say no, but I’m glad we have it. It’s a fantastic structure. ... We’ve got to examine what we’re doing to try to move back to where we were at for the benefit of our young people, and then what it means for growing our community."
Both candidates said little can be accomplished if the image of Jasper isn't examined to find the city's strengths and expand on them — making the city an attractive place to live and raise a family.
Tinker said he wants to start by giving the city a fresh, aesthetically appealing website.
"I think we’ve got to be on the cutting edge of getting our social media platform up and running in a way that’s very inviting because nowadays, if anybody’s going to go anywhere or do anything, the first thing they do is they look at the website," Tinker said. "They look and what you have to offer, and it needs to be inviting. It needs to be attractive."
O'Mary said it comes down to branding — finding Jasper's niche and using that as an advantage for growth.
"We have to make our city have its own image to stand apart from our competition. ... What we do with branding, we differentiate Jasper from other cities. We put an image out there that people can identify with," O'Mary said. "If we don’t have something to differentiate Jasper, then we’ve just become a generic product."
Tinker and O'Mary said if they are elected to serve as mayor of Jasper their faith will be paramount in all decisions. O'Mary said he has been a Christian since he was 14 years old, Tinker since he was 12.
"It’s just who I am. It’s my character. That’s the way I will operate in the mayor’s office if I’m elected," Tinker said.
O'Mary added, "My faith is at the core of what I do. It drives how you interact with people."
In reflecting on the campaign, O'Mary and Tinker said the journey has been long, and they will respect the citizens of Jasper in their decision on Tuesday.
"It’s hard work, really hard work," Tinker said. "When people give you money and you know it’s hard-earned money — it’s just the most humbling thing. What I’ve tried to do is in every penny we’ve spent is to have that person in mind. ... It’s just been an honor to be in this position."
O’Mary said, "I’ve walked across this city, and I’ve been dealing with people in this city for a long time. ... You have to do this for reasons other than looking for a job.
“I think has probably been the most high profile campaign that we’ve had. ... I’m sure Greg got in it to win; we got in it to win."