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Special Election For Mayor Is Tuesday

WATER VALLEY – Voters will go the polls Tuesday in Water Valley to elect a new mayor in a special election after long-time mayor Larry Hart stepped down last month. Candidates Donald Gray, Mickey Howley, Terry Rockette and Herbert Rogers are running for the position in the non-partisan election on December 19. A runoff election, if necessary, will be held on January 9. 

This week’s Herald features the second part of responses from each of the candidates during a Mayoral Candidate Forum held on Nov. 30. During the forum, the candidates each answered five questions prepared by the Water Valley Business Alliance. The candidates also fielded questions from the public. In last week’s Herald, response to the first three questions was printed. The remaining responses are included in this article:

Question Four – What Initiatives Would You as Mayor undertake to enhance the educational experience for the students and assist the 

teachers and staff?

Rogers –  “Education is an issue that every mayor must make a top priority in order to build a foundation for the future,” Rogers answered.  “When we protect kids, provide better schools and stronger neighborhoods, we prepare our future leaders. We are creating a better quality of life for our residents and that is the responsibility of the mayor.”

Rogers added that if elected, his responsibility to the community will extend beyond the traditional duties of police, fire, street and parks. 

“There is much that a mayor can do outside the classroom to improve educational achievement inside the classroom,” Rogers continued. 

As far as identifying specific initiatives for education, Rogers said the city involvement is limited, but being a team player is important. Rogers also said the city hasn’t always been a team player in recent years, citing lack of cooperation in the countywide economic development effort as an example. 

“To be successful, we have to work together and that will be my first priority, especially with the school,” Rogers added. 

Gray – “First of all, we elect a school board. We try to hold them accountable, they hire a superintendent, who they hold accountable,” Gray said about city involvement. “As far as what the mayor can do, we certainly will do anything within our power to support the school system.”

Gray said what it takes is community support, citing volunteers roles community leaders can play as an example.

“We need to be involved individually, government can’t just solve all of our problems. I wish it could, but it won’t. The more government has been involved in public education, the worse it has become,” Gray explained. He also shared his work experience, spending six years as a teacher. 

“We can be the mentors, the mayor and aldermen and our citizens. Volunteer your services,” Gray urged. “As mayor I will be willing to do anything that I am asked to do to support our schools, because those children are our future,” he added.

Howley – “We believe educating young people is the most important thing you can do,” Howley said, explaining that he had formerly worked as a teacher and that his wife is a professor at the University of Mississippi. 

The first thing we can do is a little infrastructure work.  If your kid is going to school, they have to walk in the street. They can’t ride their bicycle and they can’t walk on the sidewalks. There are no sidewalks going to the high school,” Howley told the group attending the forum. He also said grants are available to fund safe sidewalks to schools.

“Something the city has to do and it is something that we really haven’t been doing is advocate for education.  If you are in a leadership position in the city, show up for the board meetings and see what is going on. Talk with the board members, talk with the superintendent, talk with the principal, talk with the students,” Howley added. 

Howley also said kids want some kind of program where they can have an apprenticeship or mentorship to learn how to work. He also said the city can partner with clubs and programs at the school to help build community leaders. Howley also said providing education programs for adults could benefit the community.

Rockette –  “As a youth advocator and mentor, this is one thing that is really next to my heart,” Rockette said about working to improve education.

Rockette said one improvement could be adding after-school programs at the school to provide help for students who are struggling with the tough curriculum taught at the schools.

“Math, I get a lot of people who call me to ask for help tutoring with math,” Rockette said. 

Rockette said implementing youth programs outside of the school could also help improve education and reduce criminal activities and teen pregnancy. 

“Leadership and mentorship is lacking in the community,” Rockette added, explaining that tutoring is needed but a lot of parents can’t afford to pay for it and citizens can’t afford to tutor for free. 

“We ask what is wrong with our generation now. What is wrong with our generation now is a lot of us not doing our part. We can do more,” Rockette said. 

Fifth Question – Why Should The Voters Elect You Mayor?

Gray – “Experience, I have experience with working with our government for the last eight-plus years as alderman-at-large. I have helped with the budgeting process and in every area of our local government,” Gray said.

Gray also said his experience includes being active in the community, serving in his church, the Chamber of Commerce, the county’s first economic development board, Rotary Club, professional organizations and former president of the Magnolia Youth League.

“I have some skin in the game, I have been involved in a lot of activities over the years,” Gray continued.

Gray also said his current role as interim mayor also involves daily interaction with city departments and employees.

“I have built a good relationship with our department heads. It is a trust issue, I trust them to do the job that we require them to do and they trust me and our board to back them up if we need to,” Gray explained.

Gray also acknowledged that improvements are needed in the city, including fully staffing departments.

“We are working on that. We are giving our department heads a little more leeway in taking control of their departments and managing their departments. I am not taking credit for that, this new board has been innovative and creative,” Gray continued. “I work with them and I want to continue to work with them. I am a person that can meet and respect anyone until you disappoint me,” Gray explained. “I don’t prejudge you and I hope you don’t prejudge me.”

“I will never talk about any of these men and if any of these men are mayor, I will support them 100 percent because they will be my mayor. But I am asking you to make me your next mayor. I think with the experience that I have we can continue to build on what we have already started and we can make our town better,” Gray said.

“But it is not just the mayor, it is everybody in this room that has to work together,” Gray said, adding that he will respect the opinions of all citizens and business owners who live outside the city who have invested in Water Valley.

Howley – “It’s a big ask,” Howley acknowledged about asking for support for mayor.

“You didn’t grow up with me, don’t know my family. You didn’t go to school with me. I showed up here in my 40’s,” Howley said. He added that he started as Main Street Director when he was 48 years-old.

“It’s a big leap of faith, I don’t go to church here because I am Catholic,” Howley added about asking for support.

“I would ask you to judge me on the effort that has happened here and the results, that is what I am asking you to judge,” Howley told the group. 

Rockette  – “I am going to ask for your vote because this city needs someone strong, determined, full of energy and willing to work. I have been an advocate for diversity here,” Rockette said.

“This city was created in the 1800s, I have been the first African-American to run for this position. My skin color has been a problem for some. I am asking you to not judge me due to my skin color, judge me due to the involvement I have had with a rainbow of people here in the city,” Rockette continued. He also cited his effort to start programs in the community and his role as a business owner as strong attributes to serve as mayor.

“We need to figure out a way to work together, not offend anyone and have someone that can relate to people across the board. We need someone that can go to Washington or Louisiana and get businesses to come in. Someone who is able to relate to all people, someone who loves people, someone who loves the City of Water Valley, I ask you to vote for me on those,” Rockette said.

Rogers – “I am highly involved in the church,” Rogers said about his background. “Water Valley needs a strong leader and if anybody knows me and has been around me for the last 30-something years I have been in Water Valley, I am a straight-forward person. I will tell you just like it is. I won’t lie to you, because I feel like you would rather hear the bad,” Rogers said. “That is what you need for a good leader.”

Rogers also shared his work experience, starting at Holley Carburetor in 1970. He said he has held lead positions during his career.

Rogers said he has been trained in many areas that are important to the city including infrastructure issues like wastewater and electrical.

He also cited his experience as a first-responder, answering calls ranging from tornadoes to vehicle accidents as well as fires. 

“I have a love for people and I have a love for the people in Yalobusha County and Water Valley,” he added.

“I am running for mayor because I believe we can do better, I know in my heart we can do better,” Rogers continued. 

Members of the audience were allowed to ask questions during the remaining time in the forum.

Audience Question One: Where are your campaign funds coming from?

Gray- “I started funding mine 100 percent out of my pocket. I have had a few close friends that have made small donations to my campaign,” Gray answered.

Howley – “I have had friends and family and local people donate to me. We raised several thousand dollars,” Howley said. He said he had a fundraising campaign asking for donations.

“Most of the people live here, but not all of them. My mother gave me some money and my father did too,” Howley added.

Rockette – “Since this is my second time around, I didn’t want to ask anyone else for money so I funded mine 100 percent myself,” Rockette answered, referring to his earlier run for the office in May.

Rogers – “I funded mine in the first go-round 100 percent,” Rogers said, also referring to his first run for the position in the May primary.

“I funded mine in the second round 100 percent,” Rogers answered, adding that he had declined financial support from friends.

“If I am elected mayor, I am going in there with a free heart that I don’t owe anybody anything,” Rogers explained. 

Audience Question Two- If there is a rule, would you enforce it equally regardless of whether or not the person went to your church or was your friend?

Gray – “Absolutely, everyone is equal in God’s eyes and everyone is equal under the law,” Gray answered.

“We had a little incident that I would have loved to have said yes to and done a favor. But that favor was on private property. When the department head called me, I asked what does the policy say. ‘He said we can’t do it.’ I said don’t do it. You can’t play favorites,” Gray added.

Howley – “I second that, you can’t play favorites. My father was a police officer for 53 years and he said if the evidence said they are not guilty you let them go, but if they did the crime, you bust them,” Howley answered.

“That is how it works, everybody gets equal treatment before the law and that’s why we are all in this together. And if that is not happening, then there is a real problem in this town,” Howley said.

Rockette – “Being a part of Fort Hood military base in my 10-plus years in law enforcement experience, we are trained to go directly by the book, what is written down in black and white. That is what I do, I go by that,” Rockette answered.

Rogers – “I have been an environmental safety manager for nearly 20 years. I have written many policies and procedures. The purpose of the policies and procedures is to keep everybody honest. If we have a policy or a procedure, we will follow it,” Rogers answered.

Audience Question Three – What is your job experience?

Rogers – “I started at Holley Carburetor in 1970,” Rogers told attendees. His career at the company included working as a foreman, computer technician and maintenance man.

“My last position was electronics technician,” Rogers explained.

Rogers said he moved to Water Valley to work for Coltec after a Holley Carbu-retor plant closed in his former town of residence. He later worked for BorgWarner.

Rogers also said he volunteered at Velma Fire Department after moving to Water Valley, helping build the department.

“I was chief for 26 years at a volunteer station and kept the same firemen for 26 years. The ones that were with me when I started are still with me,” Rogers added.

“In order to be chief, I went to the state fire academy and took every class that I could because I am not satisfied with just being chief, I have to be the best chief,” Rogers continued.

Rogers said he also worked as an EMS driver and serves as the county’s deputy EMA director.

Rogers said he had 43 years with Holley and BorgWarner and left BorgWarner to work for Ajinomoto Windsor in Oakland where he is a staff level manager.

Rockette – “I studied at the University of Iowa,” Rockette said before listing his work history. 

“My 10-plus years came in law enforcement. Another 11 to 12 years have been in teaching as well as counseling. When I moved back here to my home, there wree no jobs in my field so I worked in Memphis at a youth organization,” Rockette continued.

“My law enforcement experience gives me the experience of enforcing laws, my counseling experience gives me the ability to talk to any race, any gender, anyone across the board,” Rockette said.

Howley – “I started working in 1971, but I was 12,” Howley said. He said his first job was on the back deck of a shrimp boat.

“I did that as a kid, it’s seasonal work,” Howley added. He worked the back deck of the boat for 10 years and ran the boat for 10 years years. He also attended school during that time, attending the University of New Orleans and was an English major.

Howley said he also worked on vehicles, working for car dealerships for many years.

“I worked for Mercedes Benz, I have worked for Cadillac, I have worked for Chevrolet. For a number of years I ran a Porsche dealership body shop in New Orleans,” Howley continued.

Howley said he next moved to Oklahoma and earned another degree in education. During that time he continued to work in the car business. Howley said he also taught for three years.

Gray – “I was the youngest of eight kids so I milked cows until I was 13 years old. Then my brother and I cut grass,” Gray said. 

Gray said he graduated from Coffeeville High School and immediately started working to save money for tuition. He attended Northwest and earned his degree from Mississippi State in 1977.

After graduating, he coached and taught for six years in Coffeeville and painted houses on the side.

“Loved the coaching and teaching, but Mr. John Ashford came to see me and offered me a job with Farm Bureau. I have been with Farm Bureau Insurance for 34 years and have loved every minute of it. I meet so many people, that is what I love doing, helping people and solving problems when we can,” Gray continued.

Audience Question Four – How much time do you plan on spending as mayor of Water Valley?

Rockette – “From my understanding now the position is part-time, so if they extend it to full-time I will accept full-time,” Rockette answered.

Howley – “I took the Main Street job as a part-time position. When the economy hit the skids in 2009 I ended up taking the Main Street job on a year-by-year basis at the very beginning of 2009,” Howley said.

“It was a part-time job, but I always felt it let me work it full-time, let me really work the job hard and maybe something would happen,” Howley explained about his work experience as Main Street director.

“That is how I am going to approach the mayor’s job, it has been a part-time job, it’s been a second job for people who had other businesses. I am going to do it full-time, we need a full-time mayor. We need somebody who shows up early in the morning and gets after it where it is priority number one. That is what this town needs. It is not a part-time town, I will be full-time,” Howley continued.

Gray – “I will be part-time. I still have a kid in college and a part-time position does not pay enough to pay the bills. But I will spend the amount of time needed to be the mayor, whether it will be at night or early in the morning. I have been in the office I can’t tell you how many hours during this temporary time,” Gray said about his current service as mayor pro-temp.

“I am fortunate enough that Farm Bureau allows me flexible time, I will be part-time though, it is a part-time position,” Gray added.

Rogers – “In the beginning, I will also be part-time. When I chose to run for mayor, I talked with my staff and they made it very clear that I could arrange my hours to allow me to do this job proficiently,” Rogers said.

“As time goes, I am hoping to retire one of these years. At that time I will become full-time,” Rogers added.

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