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CHAMBER FORUMS

At Ward 6 forum, Parsons and Pollard discuss industrial recruiting, neighborhoods and community involvement

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Bob Parsons and Phillip Pollard

Incumbent Bob Parsons (L) and challenger Phillip Pollard (R) are both running for the Ward 6 city council seat in the Auburn municipal elections

On Monday night, Bob Parsons, the incumbent Ward 6 Auburn Council member, and challenger Phillip Pollard shared with citizens their background, community involvement and vision for serving neighborhoods and businesses in Auburn.

They fielded questions from Anna Hovey, CEO and president of the Auburn Chamber of Commerce, the sponsor of the event.

The municipal election is on Aug. 23.

Motivation

Parsons has sat on the Auburn city council for four years. He is a firefighter who has been employed with the city of Opelika for 22 years and said he ran for public office as a neighborhood advocate who figured it was his turn to “carry the water.”

“That’s how I continue to be in our city council meetings,” Parsons said. “I speak about, and I collaborate with my neighbors.”

Pollard has been a stay-at-home dad for the past four years. He previously worked for the City of Auburn for 14 years, and his last position was coordinator for the recycling division. He says he decided to run for the Ward 6 seat while talking to his son one evening.

“It was a promise to my son, and it kind of resonated with me,” Pollard said. “The more that I thought about it, the more important it is to me.”

Neighborhoods

The two candidates answered a wide range of questions including queries about the needs of Ward 6, their level of engagement with the city, their views on industrial recruitment, and areas in which the city could still improve.

Parsons said that Ward 6 isn’t seeing the same growth apparent in other parts of the city because of its residential neighborhoods.

“The restrictive qualities of the residential areas in Ward 6 are valued highly by the residents,” he said. “I’m tasked by the residents of Ward 6 to make sure that I advocate and protect the protections written into our zoning as they are currently written.”

Pollard, however, took a broader perspective, saying that the Ward 6 seat is one of eight voices that determines the needs for all of the city.

“Even though I am running for Ward 6,” Pollard said, “we function in the whole city. I guess the short answer will be there’s not a ton of Ward 6 specific issues that aren’t applicable to everyone.”

Pollard did express concern about the neighborhoods in Ward 6.

“I’m worried about protecting the characteristics of our neighborhoods,” Pollard said. “All our houses are either getting turned into rental houses or getting torn down and $2-million homes are getting put on them.”

Recruiting

Both candidates said that commercial and industrial recruitment is vital to Auburn’s growth.

“We’re not a sleepy little village in the shadow of Auburn University anymore,” Pollard said. “Being able to stand on our own two feet and have business development come in is going to be vital to us.”

Pollard was “fearful” about giving “outrageous tax incentives” to anyone who wanted to come into the city. “We want factories that are going to be stable and long-term,” he said. “I want to make sure that we’re being picky and not just looking at the bottom dollar when these companies come in here.”

Parsons agreed with Pollard about how the importance of industry, and he spoke about what the city is already doing to help recruit industry.

“This town not only welcomes business, this town supports business,” Parsons said. “We have an economic development team that in my opinion is killing it out in our industrial area. We have upwards of 50 companies in our industrial parks, 26 I believe are international companies.”

When asked if there was anything the city could be doing that would increase the quality of life or strengthen the economy, Parsons and Pollard gave two very different answers. Parsons felt more trails would be beneficial; Pollard was more concerned about the disconnect between the city of Auburn and its schools.

“I do firmly believe that with the claims that the city has made in the past about being a bike-friendly city that we should live up to that task a little harder,” Parsons said. He said he would like “a culture whereby we can get from one point to another without always defaulting to a vehicle.”

Pollard was more focused on improving communication between the city and its schools.

“We’re all naturally going to be at odds with each other, but if we can bring that together a little bit more, I think everybody would benefit in the long run,” he said. “It’s such a cliché word, but I’d like to see a little more synergy and getting ahead on those things.”

Engagement

Regarding community engagement, Pollard said he attends many family-friendly events in the area.

“With my son being an only child, I was always looking for something to do with him,” Pollard said. “Especially before he started going to school, we went to every city event. I was always at something, whatever the city had to offer. I’ve gotten to coach every one of his teams and I think I’ve just had my finger kind of in a little bit of everything.”

Pollard said that even though he no longer works for the city, he keeps his finger on the pulse of things. He still gets email updates from the city and keeps up with anything that is going on.

For Parsons, the subject of community engagement was rather simple.

“I’ve been on the city council for four years,” he said. He added that prior to his role on the council, he wasn’t particularly engaged with city affairs but that being a firefighter had helped him understand the value of serving his city.

“That has really been a driving part of my continuing to involve myself civically,” Parsons said. “Since becoming a city council member, I’ve taken every opportunity that I can to meet with the wide variety of civic groups within our town,” he said.

Parsons mentioned several task forces he has been a part of, including the short-term rental task force, the diversity and inclusion task force, and the murals committee.

The last of the candidate forums is scheduled for Wednesday and will feature the Ward 7 candidates, Max Coblentz and Greg Lane.

On Thursday, the chamber will host a meet-and-greet for all the uncontested wards as well as the mayor. Doors will open at 5:30 for both events.

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