State, county, city officials break bread in Phenix City

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For second year in a row, officials invited to luncheon coordinated by Phenix City Councilman Arthur Day

By Blenda Copeland

A day before the state legislature began its current session, three state elected officials stopped in Phenix City for lunch with local elected officials from Russell County.

Monday’s luncheon was organized for the second time by Phenix City Council Arthur Day as a way for the dignitaries to become acquainted with one another.

The invitees included, among others, county judges, city council members, Phenix City’s and Hurtsboro’s mayors, Russell County commissioners, the sheriff, the city school superintendent, and other active citizens like Tony Taylor, Mel Long and others.

The event included introductions, lunch and concluding remarks by Day, newly elected city councilwoman Vickey Carter Johnson and State Senator Billy Beasley.

“It was people like you who made me want to run,” Carter Johnson told the audience as she stood at the microphone and referenced her highly publicized bid for office. She also said she now knows what it feels like to have gone through the election process and talked about how the community needs to continue to love one another.

While he stood at the mic, Beasley mentioned upcoming issues in the current legislative session like prisons and proper road maintenance. He also said he believes this year’s session may be a little shorter this time, noting it is an election year.

In tableside interviews, Beasley said ongoing issues in Alabama continue to be children’s health insurance programs, prisons and adding more correctional officers and increased benefits for those employees, and regulation of child care programs (particularly Christian-affiliated day care centers, for instance, which are currently exempt from regulation). He also said if possible, he’d like to see a pay increase for state employees and public school teachers. He added that he’s personally opposed to privatization of the prisons.

State Representative Berry Forte echoed Beasley’s list, underscoring in particular the children’s health insurance programs, the state’s prisons and education: “We need to give them a raise,” he said of the state’s teachers.

State Rep. Chris Blackshear also mentioned roads and infrastructure. Speaking of how to raise revenue for such projects, Blackshear said despite fears of raising taxes, he personally thinks there enough “organic revenue” already existing in the budget to address various concerns, although it may have to be adapted.

“I think we’ve got to find the money,” he said of the budget.

Yet, if in the end it does come to raising taxes locally, “If you have to, you’re reinvesting in your own community that you live in,” Blackshear said, regarding gas taxes, for example.

On the prison population problem, Blackshear said he’s of the mindset that more could be done to look at the juvenile programs that can deter minors from eventually entering into the prison system.

Also sharing the table with the three state officials was Phenix City’s new District 2 councilwoman, Carter Johnson, who reviewed some early visions.

Following through with her campaign words, Carter Johnson said she intended to get business cards of the state level officials. Acknowledging she already knows Blackshear, she said she looks forward to inquiring about state funding availability for some projects she mentioned on the campaign trail. She also plans to begin talking to people in the municipality to forge a Community Support Committee to help her identify concerns and issues and to help beautify the city, as well as to help underserved areas of the city.