The Gazette sent a list of nine questions to each alderman at large candidate for the Feb. 7 special election.
Below are items to consider when weighing the candidate profiles published in this issue of The Gazette.
• The submissions were published as received without any editing.
• The questionnaires did not contain a word limit for responses.
• The Gazette does not favor one candidate over the other.
Candidate: Melanie Allen
Education: Heritage Scholar; DuPont Scholarship winner; Studied history, economics and business at Emory, USA and SpringHill; My most valuable and practical education has been as a self-employed business owner and as a mom!
Home address: I am blessed to live near the Inner Harbor in Ocean Springs.
Campaign web site: MelanieAllenForAlderman.com
Occupation/employer: Was senior partner/owner of a communications company, specializing in technical writing and corporate communications
Home phone: 872.0846
1. Why are you running for office and what are your top priorities, if elected?
I am running for the office of Alderman at Large because I believe in the honor of public service. We are each responsible for contributing more than just tax dollars to our community. At this time in my life, with my son grown up and my life settled & rooted here in Ocean Springs, I have the business skills, education, energy and time to commit to being an active & working Alderman for the entire City. My priorities have been the focus of our campaign: Smart Government, Tight City Budgeting Based on Results, More Citizen Input, Support for Local Businesses, Increased Volunteerism, Revised Noise Ordinance, Managing our Recreational Facilities to Produce Income and Staying True to Our Small Town Roots.
2. What strengths will you bring to the Board of Aldermen that the current body lacks?
I have spent my career as a communications specialist. This has often meant focusing on bringing people with differing opinions together to work together to reason out a common voice. We are seeing the strains of our City's growing pains at City Hall right now: our Aldermen's meetings have sometimes been reduced to arguments & raised voices. I liken that to watching your parents fight in front of you: it is embarrassing, makes us uncomfortable and we all deserve better. I know how to express strong opinions in a calm voice. I know how to bring people together to realize what we have in common instead of only focusing on what divides us. I have the skill set of leadership, experience and education that makes me the right candidate for these next two years.
3. In the last two years, what do you feel are the best three accomplishments of Ocean Springs government? Conversely, what are the three things you would have done differently?
Good question! The top three accomplishments of our City leaders in these past two years are:
(1) continuing to leverage our City money using State, federal and other grant funds so that we have gotten the most local impact for our tax dollars. Our City leaders have had enough sense & expertise to allocate staff resources to secure additional funding that has improved infrastructure, recreational facilities and the city's "look" & marketability;
(2) turning the wetlands at Hwy 57 and Hwy 90 into what will soon be a spectacular sports & recreational facility for our athletes of all ages. Truly, our leaders have taken lemons and turned it into lemonade by getting the appropriate permits to finally develop that property into what our community has been waiting on for a very long time;
(3) During the recent threat of the BP oil spill, our Ocean Springs government leaders took very pro-active steps to protect our natural resources and shorelines. We were looked at as the leaders in this effort all across the Gulf Coast. This said everything about our community's priorities and values. Well done!
Three things I would have done differently:
(1) I would have worked with the County and other entities to make certain all needed road improvements, bike lanes and sidewalks leading to the new public high school were completed well before the opening of the school;
(2) I would have worked the Front Beach improvements project (the concrete walkway, the plantings and the drainage) in a manner that made more sense to citizens...i love the concept but have real concerns about the long-term viability of the sidewalk materials used and why native, indigenous plants require an extensive irrigation system;
(3) I would have asked for more volunteer participation in the "Streetscapes" improvement project downtown: I believe that when you "give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; but if you teach that man to fish, he feeds himself forever"...this same principle applies to beautifying downtown: the City did a really wonderful thing by developing this project and it has added to making Ocean Springs "the place" to be on the Gulf Coast. But our City budget is now burdened with the maintenance costs of many projects as a result. If we had used some of these funds to assist business owners and homeowners in beautifying their own properties, the extended maintenance costs would be minimized and responsibility would shift back from the government to the citizens.
4. How do you define yourself politically, and how does your political philosophy show itself in past achievements?
I am a Republican, and served on the Republican Executive Committee when I lived in Alabama. I am disgusted with national politics on all sides. I feel a total disconnect with many of the politicians who "represent me" in Washington, D.C. I believe in term limits and have no tolerance for citizens who do not vote. I must say that when elected, my focus will be on ethical, efficient small government...when you approach issues strictly from a political perspective, you have a built-in level of conflict because politics always has at least two parties maneuvering for control. Governance requires the ability to bring sides together to forge workable compromises.
My political philosophy shows itself in my past achievements in that I support conservative management of public finances and in my I belief in limited, efficient government. Any one of us who have had dealings with federal budgets knows first hand about the waste of our tax dollars because we have seen it personally ourselves. This cannot be tolerated. I know how to balance a family budget and a business budget. I know how to say the words "we cannot afford this right now." I did this with my son, with my business and I'll do this for Ocean Springs.
5. Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected that you suspect may cost you popularity points with voters?
Another good question. My answer is simply this: I will never vote based on popularity. I will vote on behalf of the citizens of Ocean Springs. I am running for this two year position, for Troy's final two years of his term. I am not ever going to consider how a position I take will effect any future run for office. I just refuse to think that way.
A "hot topic" right now is the pending revision to the City's noise ordinance. We must address this, and we will not make everyone happen no matter how the code is revised. A work force of residents and business owners need to be charged with creating a new updated noise ordinance, then try it for about three months, then revisit the issue and revise the draft code to make it even better. We must regulate the level of "bass vibration" as well as general sound. There are free apps for iPhones and smartphones that will turn any phone into a sound meter. Using technology whenever possible makes complaint investigation an objective process, rather than a subjective one. Let reasonable people create a reasonable and workable code. Lets govern from the citizens up, rather than the reverse.
6. What will you do to educate and involve the community in city affairs?
I believe in the use of social media to keep in communication with the citizens of Ocean Springs. This doesn't mean just blogging with the three or four people who sit in their pajamas at home every day and write amusing little comments on all the local blogs...I mean once elected, actively using my Facebook page for citizen comment, using an interactive website and by personally visiting in each ward each month of my term. We need to educate our citizens about how they can contribute to the community in ways other than just their tax dollars. It is a shame that our schools do not require classes in Civics anymore...i think we could sure use that again to promote citizen involvement!
7. How would you improve the ethical standards of city government?
I have no tolerance for dishonesty or the lack of ethics. Public service is an honor in my opinion. You represent your fellow citizens when they elect you. You need to stand tall and accept that honor by your actions in everything you do once elected. Elected officials are held to a higher standard of behavior and I am willing to embrace that responsibility. Our elected officials need to be up front and disclose any and all business and/or personal relationships that might seem "grey". Like we all teach our children: your reputation follows you through your entire life. I will bring these principles to my role as Alderman at Large.
8. Tell us something about yourself that would surprise us?
I once had a brief career playing golf professionally...now, I have the bad back, neck and left knee associated with someone who started playing golf obsessively when I was about 10 years old!
Golf taught me discipline and focus, and to play your shots in life honestly from where they lie. Also, that I married one of my professors when I was in college...he was a proud son of Mississippi who grew up picking cotton with his brothers and might have never gone to college had he not gone into the military and got to use the GIBill for education when he got out. Though we ended up divorcing after more than a decade of marriage, we stayed best friends and when he passed away in an accident just two years ago, I gave the eulogy at his funeral. he was a good man and a great father to our son.
I have a wide variety of supporters from all political parties. I am humbled by the support of the ocean Springs community. A former Alderman who is endorsing me advised me to not seek endorsements because he said they help you with people who like the person endorsing you but then the people who don't like that person will have a reason to not vote for you. I'm smart enough to take good advice like that!
Thank you for this opportunity to converse with the voters in Ocean Springs!
Check out our website MelanieAllenForAlderman.com to see why Melanie should be our next Ocean Springs Alderman at Large!