Candidates for Selma mayor get candid about why they want the job

(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
Published: Aug. 22, 2016 at 7:57 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 22, 2016 at 10:05 PM CDT
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Greg Bjelke (left) and Darrio Melton (right) (Source: WSFA 12 News)
Greg Bjelke (left) and Darrio Melton (right) (Source: WSFA 12 News)
Jerria Martin (left) and James Perkins (right) (Source: WSFA 12 News)
Jerria Martin (left) and James Perkins (right) (Source: WSFA 12 News)
Mayor George Evans (Source: WSFA 12 News)
Mayor George Evans (Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)

SELMA, AL (WSFA) - The race for Selma mayor continues to create lots of buzz leading up to Tuesday's municipal election.

Five people, each leaders in the community in different ways, want the position, and they're making a final push to voters as to why they're the right choice to lead the historic city.

Mayor George Evans is running for a third term, and he is up against State Rep. Darrio Melton, Selma city councilman Greg Bjelke, local minister Jerria Martin and former mayor James Perkins.

Melton has been a state representative for District 67 for the last six years. He also worked on the federal level for six years before becoming a state legislator.

He says his experience on upper levels of government is unique to the Selma mayoral race and office.

"I think it's time we have a leader in place who can bring all parts of our city together in order for us to move forward. And until we do that, Selma will be at a standstill," Melton said.

While he's had success in Montgomery, Selma is where he was born and raised, and he wants to bring the same momentum and accomplishments to his hometown.

"Our brand is not the brand I think it should be and our politics in Selma are not the politics that I think we should have here in our historic city. Our future is hanging in the balance, and I believe it's going to take leadership to move us into the 21st century and provide the essential services of government that are not being provided right now," Melton said.

One of Melton's top concerns is law enforcement. He said there's a reason Selma has been listed as the most dangerous city in the state. He believes officers need higher salaries and the department needs to be expanded in order to start dealing with the issue of crime.

He also wants to see infrastructure improvements and believes Selma has not received the attention it needs to keep it thriving and growing.

Code enforcement is also on his to-do list of enhancements because he feels there are too many dilapidated homes and buildings that need work to meet the necessary safety standards.

"While we may be a small city, Selma is internationally known. It's time to be the Selma that people talk about. We always talk about being the magnet, well let's be that magnet and have people come into our city and grow and thrive off of the history that we have here," Melton said. "We're asking people not to relive their past. We are to remember it. So when we move into the election on August 23rd, we're asking people to step out of their past and step into their future."

Greg Bjelke is a current Selma city councilman, representing Ward 3. He has served on the council for five years and has learned a lot about city government and the needs of the city.

He's a local businessman who has been in the plant business for nearly 40 years.

"I've lived in Selma all my live and I just want to see the city do better," Bjelke said. "I'm frustrated. I'm tired of sitting on my hands and knowing what needs to be done and feeling like my hands are tied behind me. There are so many little and big things that I know I could fix that will just make an immediate, huge impact."

He strongly believes the city's code enforcement needs reworking and tightening, adding that the dilapidated house process and weed abatement process need shortening.

"How can we recruit businesses and industry here when we haven't cleaned up our own home," Bjelke stressed.

He also wants to tackle crime by finding more police funding. He feels officers should have shorter hours, better equipment and higher pay.

"I know I can find the financing for that," Bjelke said.

He says he's determined to turn the city around and represent every citizen.

"I don't care what side of town somebody's on, what kind of club they're in or car they drive. I want to serve Selma and all the people. I'm going to fix the town, and I'm not going to play favorites. We're going to get in there and get the work done," Bjelke added. "I'm tired of seeing Selma at the top of the page and at the bottom of all the polls."

Jerria Martin, a professor of religion at Wallace College and a local minister, has been going door to door, speaking with thousands of Selma citizens.

She wants the opportunity to give Selma a fresh start.

"For years, our motto for the city has been 'From Civil War to Civil Rights and Beyond.' So my question is, when are we going to get to the beyond? It seems that Selma has no identity outside 1865 or 1965. We need to come together to give Selma that new identity," Martin said.

She's helped bring more than $2.5 million in grants to the area through the Black Belt Community Foundation. She's served on the board since she was 17.

Martin started a local non-profit organization called Circle of Life Ministries, which reaches out to the low income community and ministers to those in the jail and in nursing homes.

She came back to Selma after graduating from Princeton with a master's degree and was frustrated when it took her six months to find employment. She called it unacceptable.

During that time, she was also robbed while volunteering on Plant Street and says those experiences allow her to have a nuanced and informed understanding of Selma's problems.

Martin has developed a plan to revitalize city hall with priority-based budgeting that she says will free up funds for raises for city workers, infrastructure improvements and youth development programs.

"I'm being proactive because in the past eight years, in the past 16 years, Selma has been reactive so it's time for us to take a proactive approach. I can bring some young, fresh insight to the table," Martin said.

Since she started to campaign 10 months ago, she traveled to Jamaica to meet with their tourism council and to Niagara Falls, Canada to meet with the mayor to put together a tourism plan that will raise the city's revenue by $4 million by 2020.

"I'm running because I'm not a politician. I don't have the baggage. I'm in this because of my love for the city of Selma and all of Selma's people," Martin said. "I'm a grassroots leader and I think that's what Selma needs right now."

Martin says Selma has had a fiber optic system in place for two years, but she feels it is not being properly utilized - one of many opportunities she believes the city can better seize and capitalize on.

"I look around downtown and I see so many empty buildings but I also see so much potential. I can look and see a computer store here or a new restaurant there. We can have that vision and right now, it seems like Selma has been lacking that vision," Martin said. I have the heart for the people. I promise I won't stop until every community, every citizen realizes his or her full potential to bring about positive transformation to our city."

Mayor George Evans is running for re-election and seeking his third term as mayor. He says he's proud of what the city has accomplished under his leadership and wants to continue making strides across the board.

"I wanted to run again because we are at a point right now in our history where there's a lot of things that we have on the books that are a work in progress that are about to happen," Evans said.

This year's budget, $17.2 million, is the highest Selma has had since 2008, Evans says, calling it a huge sign of progress.

The city and country were in a recession when he first took office and city government had to find ways to balance the budget, but during that time, Evans pointed out that the city did not cut services or make any layoffs.

"The first four years that I was mayor, we were in a recession along with the whole country. These four years have brought us back to level funding. The next four years are going to be the best four years for our city and I would like to be a part of that success story so that people can realize that we have really come a long way and we still have room for improvement. But we're making remarkable gains that are second to none," Evans said.

Evans worked as a teacher, coach, principal, federal program coordinator, superintendent, city council president and mayor and feels his track record speaks for itself. He says since he has been at the helm, the city has never gone backwards, only forwards.

He believes he is the best qualified of the candidates running for mayor, adding that his "thirst and hunger to make a difference" has allowed him to change the city for the better, with the help of local leadership.

He touted $10 million in grants received in recent years and infrastructure improvements to the Riverwalk and amphitheater and the fiber optic network surrounding the city in a 20 mile radius, which can be offered to colleges or businesses.

He also stressed the impact of the international attention Selma received during the making and release of the critically-acclaimed movie Selma.

A one-screen movie theater is now operating in town, which was not the case when he first became mayor.

Evans also addressed the priority of public safety and improving code enforcement and says there are plenty of jobs in Selma, it's just a matter of improving training and education so that residents can take advantage of the positions.

"I believe in our city and I just know that I would like to be a part of finishing something that was started so that our city can be proud and change the quality of life for all the citizens in Selma," Evans said. "I don't think any of the candidates who are running has a record that can stand near mine in terms of a success story of making things happen and making things better."

James Perkins, a local pastor and former mayor, is running again and says he has the skills, experience and vision Selma needs.  He served two terms as mayor from 2000-2008.

He's been feeling a "pull" when he passes by city hall and wants another opportunity to serve his community. He feels he can help attract more business and industry to the area.

"Now I'm looking at a community that looks much worse than it did when I initially took office. I feel hurt and pain for our people. I want to offer to the community the experience, the capacity that I bring to this job, my ability to work across the political isles to get what we need in Selma. I am convinced that when we do that, we will not have to go out and beg for developers and investors," Perkins said.

He has emphasized the importance of advancing technology and using it to increase job opportunities, lower crime and identify infrastructure issues.

"Imagine citizens driving down the street and seeing a pothole and being able to notify city government immediately," Perkins said.

He feels Selma needs to deal with the issue of division in the city and do a better job of getting its streets cleaned up and improving code enforcement. He also stressed a better integration of city government and education.

"The city needs to bring early college program back," Perkins said. "The mayor and council need to support the superintendent to improve the quality of education. Selma need to elect a mayor, council and school board that can work together with common interests and goals."

He believes Selma is ripe for investment and opportunities and says his goal is to "reopen" the city for business.

"I see real needs that the people have and I recognize that I have a set of skills, experience and a vision for the community to help our city move beyond where we are today," Perkins said. "I have a clear vision for the community. I've expressed it verbally and put it on paper and shared it community-wide. I have relevant experience and a positive track record of using my experience to move our community forward. And also integrity. I think the person who hold this office sets the tone for the entire community."

Selma residents will be also be voting on city council and school board seats at the polls on Aug. 23.

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