On June 29, The Times-Journal and several other print and radio media outlets asked candidates for the Fort Payne City Council to participate in a forum, each answering the same questions. In normal times, we would host a big public event attended by all of you, but as you know, this isn’t the year for packed auditoriums.

I found it to be very enlightening, as 17 of the 18 people participating in the council race entered individually, not knowing what was going to be asked of them. This prevented the simple regurgitation of someone else’s prepared remarks -- and made it far more interesting to watch! Elections should be about who has the best ideas rather than just another popularity contest or a reflection of who has the biggest money backer to pay for the most signs.

I’m not going to tell you who to vote for. That would be pretty insulting to candidates who advertise in this paper, plus it would be beyond awkward to deal with someone for four years if I told you they weren’t deserving of a chance. I don’t want any of them holding a grudge. It’s not unfair or inaccurate to say that some of them appeared to have a better grasp of what the job involves. In their defense, public speaking is most folks’ worst fear so I imagine they entered that room handicapped by a mindset of dread. I encourage you to watch the videos from the event and decide for yourself. They are posted on our website and Facebook page.

It was these candidates’ job to argue their case for why they are the best men or women for the job. It’s your civic duty, dear reader, to educate yourself on who these people are, what they plan to do and whether they possess the qualities needed to move Fort Payne forward. I encourage the fresh faces to attend some council meetings and read our coverage to get up to speed because being likeable is not the same as being prepared to manage millions in taxpayer dollars. There was no applause, just a mostly empty room with about eight media people giving zero feedback on whether they nailed it. It’s gotta feel like you bombed if all you get at the end are polite smiles.

It’ll be hard to choose just five because we have some fine people stepping up to serve our community. I salute each of them for wanting to serve. Most folks just gripe while leaving the actual hard work and personal sacrifice to someone else. Most of us want to be liked, but city council members get the occasional cold shoulder on tough calls. If they anger some big shot promising to throw piles of cash at whoever opposes them in four years, they’re probably doing their job.

Thirteen of these people will only get to watch 2021 council meetings from the audience. I sincerely hope this won’t prevent them from continuing to care and seize opportunities for leadership. How exciting to see so many people concerned about Fort Payne!

These candidates would normally be out right now knocking on doors, asking for votes and kissing babies. But seeing as how Fort Payne residents are eluding a disease that has killed more than 14,000 of their fellow Americans in the last 14 days, most of us would naturally shoo them away from our front porches. It will be interesting to see how they get their message out and how they get separation from the rest of the pack.

Current Fort Payne City Council President Brian Baine must be relieved he is running unopposed for mayor. That’s got to be a huge relief, but now he must live up to the high expectations of citizens during ridiculously uncertain times. I’m confident he will give it his best. Baine watched all of the council candidates as they gave answers at this week’s forum, no doubt imagining all of the possible combinations of a team he’ll have to work with as he brings new energy and ideas to City Hall. Thank you, Mayor Larry Chesser and retiring council member “Red” Taylor, for your public service over some very challenging years.

It’s an understatement to say that the August 25 election is important. This pandemic has shown us just how quickly decision-making and political heat is diverted down to local officials in a time of crisis. Let’s encourage these candidates and give them our feedback and ideas of how they can lift DeKalb County ever higher as a great place to live, work and play.

— Steven Stiefel is a staff writer at the Times-Journal. His column appears in Saturday editions. Email: steven.stiefel@times-journal.com.

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