NEW ALBANY — Local candidates at a political forum addressed a wide range of issues facing New Albany, from the opioid crisis to infrastructure.
The South Central League of Women Voters presented a forum for candidates running for local offices in New Albany and Georgetown Thursday at Silver Street Park, including New Albany mayoral candidates. This was the second of four local forums presented by the non-partisan organization. The candidates gave introductions and answered questions collected from the audience.
All three New Albany mayoral candidates attended Thursday's forum, including two-term Democratic incumbent Mayor Jeff Gahan, Republican candidate Mark Seabrook and independent candidate Dan Coffey. All of the New Albany clerk and city council candidates participated except Democratic District 1 candidate Jennie E. Collier, Republican District 3 candidate Alex Bilbrey and Democratic District 6 candidate Lisa Chandler.
LVW President Barb Anderson, who moderated the forum, said she was pleased with the crowd at the event, including both candidates and audience members. The forum series kicked off in Charlestown two weeks ago, where none of the Republican candidates showed up. The New Albany forum filled up three sets of bleachers, and many attendees sat or stood in the back.
"Our emphasis in doing this is bringing government to the people, and we want you to understand that we think the most important input that can be had can be had from the people who elected you, so in that, we're doing a series of these," Anderson said.
Gahan said he and his staff have put a lot of effort in bringing improvements to the city "across neighborhoods and across the downtown and into the families." He emphasized achievements in areas such as infrastructure, road repair, park improvements and investments in police and fire, in addition to redevelopment projects such as transforming the Reisz Building into city hall. He also discussed working with the city council to create balanced budgets.
"Moving forward, we have a fantastic future ahead of the citizens of New Albany," he said. "We've been here for almost eight years, and I couldn't be more excited about the future of New Albany. I'm looking forward to November."
Seabrook, retired co-owner of Naville & Seabrook Funeral Homes, is a former city councilman and three-term county commissioner. He said if elected, he intends to be clear about investments in infrastructure, and he doesn't want there to be any surprises. He said he intends to be "open and transparent about city finances — you'll know where the money comes from or goes and how that decision was made."
"As I've traveled through the city of New Albany, walking and talking to citizens, they all want to know how the money is spent, how the decisions are made to spend it and if it's being spent wisely and how to be involved, whether it's meetings like this or council meetings," he said.
Coffey, who has served 20 years as New Albany's District 1 city councilman, said he would like to see the local government take a more active approach in addressing issues such as drug addiction and homelessness in the city. He expressed concerns that the city focuses too much on downtown building projects instead of issues facing the "average person."
"It's nice to have big, beautiful buildings, and I'll be honest with you, I get fired [up], because we spent millions and millions on buildings downtown," he said. "And once we get it done, we don't own it — another organization owns it, they get the money, but you pay for it. Are you getting the best bang for your buck there? The real building blocks of any community is its people. It's not a building, and we are falling well short in our duties to perform in that area."
One major topic of discussion was about how to address the opioid crisis on a local level. Gahan discussed the issue of the large amounts of opioid pills prescribed in the community.
"It's a very difficult problem, because that's a drug doctors give you a prescription for lots of times," he said. "How do we move forward with that? Just recently we had a meeting with folks at Walgreens and a meeting with our health director here in Floyd County, and we kind of huddled to scratch our heads to see exactly what we can do. And a lot of it is public awareness."
Seabrook said when it comes to the community's struggle with drug addiction, "help" is the "magic word," and he would like to see more longterm and short-term solutions in the community. He said he would like to see a committee of law enforcement, city officials, volunteer groups and church leaders to address the issue.
"I think the schools do an excellent job at monitoring the buildings, but once those kids go home, they are surrounded by environments sometimes that just aren't good. I think that we need to be very progressive and step forward, admit we have a problem and work with leaders like Salvation Army, Red Cross and church groups to take care of the homeless," he said. "If you fix part of that, the rest of it will be better."
Coffey said the community needs to "acknowledge we have a problem" when it come to drug addiction. He said there is a need for additional education in schools on the issue.
"We cannot sit there and act like its not there," he said. "We're losing too many people, and the sad fact is that we're losing our children — not to the drugs but to the results of the drugs and their family."