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VOTE411 Voter Guide

Opelika City Council Ward 3

The Opelika city council is the legislative body of the city. It passes laws and ordinances, and creates citywide policy. The city council is made up of five members, chosen for four-year terms each from one of five districts.Opelika City Council members elected in 2020 will receive and annual salary of $13,200.

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    Michael Carter

  • Robert Lofton

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    Kelli Thompson

Biographical Information

What is your occupation?

Being a leader can be difficult. Share a situation where your leadership was tested and you had to make a tough decision.

What will be your top three priorities as an elected public servant? How will you work towards achieving results in those areas?

Describe at least one situation that you were involved in where transparency and accountability were lacking.

Opportunities exist for Opelika to be a leader in sustainable/green initiatives. What plans do you have, if any, to lead Opelika in a more sustainable direction?

What are your plans for green space and recreational opportunities in the city of Opelika?

The Office of Inclusion and Diversity serves as a vital resource for building unity, equity, and inclusion in the Auburn University community. Do you believe that the City of Opelika needs a similar group?

The pandemic has been hard on locally-owned businesses. How can the city assist these businesses? How should the city encourage and incentivize minority and women-owned businesses to move here and assist all businesses in weathering the pandemic?

As Mayor or council member, you will have approval authority of the city school board. What qualities are you looking for in a school board member?

What do you think of the city's response to COVID-19? If you are elected, what is your plan to protect Opelika residents and visitors?

COVID-19 has highlighted the benefits of streaming public meetings online. If elected, will you commit to live streaming public meetings?

Opelika Main Street recently hired consultants to give recommendations about downtown Opelika. What do you think are the most important results of the consultation?

Are in you in favor of downsizing the local police budget and reallocating resources and money to other social service programs in the city?

Campaign Phone Number (334) 300-8035
I am a Corporate Professional Development and Leadership Facilitator for an international S&P 500 company with about 24,000 team members. I teach classes in person, and virtually around the world.
Mergers put you to the test regardless of the side you are on. It creates uncertainty and anxiety. Leading a team during this time to stay motivated, but also empathetic to their needs is important. Making the decision to terminate people during a merger is difficult, but I had to remain honest, upfront, and willing to assist them to go on to their next chapter. This includes references, resume building, and allowing them to be able to have interviews if the business is able.
I stand on four pillars: Lead, Live, Work, Play

Lead - Active listening is an important part of leading a team or a community. I propose that we establish a regular citizen survey. The important part is creating a plan to move forward on the feasible items. This will help with the budgetary process as well as showing the citizens of Opelika that we will listen and act.

Live - We need to ensure our citizens of the ward and City have safe affordable housing. This includes ensuring that we have the continued infrastructure improvements, and enhancements to our historic district.

Work - We need to bring companies to our new technology & innovation park. I will commit to promoting the education of our students and workforce in coding and advanced computers skills.

Play - Improve our green spaces and recreation centers to ensure they are up-to-date facilities that all ages can enjoy. This includes walking trails, facility improvements, and increased activities.
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I believe we do need to be more sustainable, however there are a lot of costs that go into it as well. I would need to make an educated decision that would benefit the City and the citizens.
I believe Denson Road Rec Center as well as Floral Park need some improvements to become centers of the community once again.
I facilitate inclusion and diversity classes on a regular basis as part of my career. I believe that the need for an individual to lead the City in the effort of building unity, equity, and inclusion is essential. As for the formal need of an "Office," I don't know if that is necessary for the size of our City. The aspects of Inclusion and Diversity have to be integrated as part of the City's culture and daily operations.
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School board members are an important aspect to our community's education. We need to ensure that we have a diversified background in education, administration, and somebody that is willing to listen to the concerns citizens. We can not have a board that has the same thought processes. This will result in a board that just says "yes." Challenges and healthy conflict will promote a better board.
We as leaders need to follow what we ask. When we are out in public we need tonkeep our distance and have a mask on. Our City has done a good job in promoting this to our citizens with simple flyers on business entrances asking for a mask when you enter.
I believe and support that any and all public meetings should be streamed online. Opelika has recently starting making this step forward however the quality of the videos are not sufficient. We need to improve the video quality and advertise the videos where citizens know how to access them. Placing this information on Facebook, YouTube, the City website, as well as other social media platforms is imperative.
Bringing more residents to downtown Opelika will create the need and desire for additional businesses.
I am not in favor of downsizing the budget of the Opelika Police Department. I do however believe that there is always room for improvement. Mental health and unconscious bias issues need to remain in the forefront with continuous training and reminders. Our community and police department are being proactive in trying to prevent issues that we see in the daily news. Having the appropriate coverage and training requires a significant investment. Reducing the funding of our police would result in some unintended consequences.
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Campaign Phone Number (334) 787-9603
Campaign Website http://kellitforward3.com
I am an Assistant Research Professor and Director of the Juvenile Delinquency Lab in the Department of Psychological Sciences. I mainly study juvenile delinquency and the treatment related outcomes of youth at the Mt. Meigs residential facility. My lab is the result of a successful public-public partnership between the Department of Youth Services and Auburn University for nearly 20 years. I am proud to carry on the legacy of this long-running outreach program. I feel incredibly honored to be trusted with such a valuable resource by my mentor, Dr. Barry Burkhart. I am most proud of the excellent work of the dozens of undergraduate and graduate students who work with me. Collecting data in applied settings can be a challenge to say the least. But, knowing we have the data to show that these young men do, in fact, improve over the course of treatment is worth every bit of effort. My job has more than prepared me to work to find innovative solutions to complicated social challenges.
When I moved back to Alabama after completing my doctoral degree, I was beginning a new career, one in which I had invested more than a decade of my life. Networking would be critical to the success not only of my new career, but also to my sense of belonging in a new, but familiar, space. I searched for networking groups for young professionals and was pleased to receive invitations to join several. However, each time I was astonished at the lack of diversity in the room. I always look around the room. I struggled with whether or not to join these groups during this time. I did not want to miss out on any networking opportunities, but I also have a foundational value and commitment to placing myself in diverse spaces. I simply don’t feel comfortable in non-diverse spaces. I decided not to join any leadership or networking organization that did not align with these values. This meant sacrificing some networking opportunities in the area.
One of my main priorities is bringing an annual city-wide survey to the citizens of Opelika. As such, I created a short survey to guide the direction of my campaign because YOUR issues are MY issues. A city council member cannot know how to represent your needs without asking in a regular, systematic, and efficient way what those goals are and how we can work together to meet them with the valuable tax resources trusted to us. Leaders must go out and seek this information from the community in order to respond. Leadership is only as good as the work that is being done. I have been using this survey to prove that I am more than ready to get this work done if elected. The survey, however, is merely a tool used to make local government more accessible and accountable to the needs and concerns of its citizens. My remaining priorities will be to respond thoughtfully and creatively to the feedback received. Opelika’s lack of an annual citizen survey means this is somewhere we ought to start.
I believe most people find the processes guiding local government to be unfamiliar. I certainly have felt this way myself at times in any number of cities I have lived in across the country. This can feel like a lack of transparency and accountability at times. And I believe that the leaders elected to these positions have the task of making this more accessible. We shouldn’t expect citizens to have to attend city council meetings to stay informed. That feels like an undue burden of citizenship to me. Rather, we should be doing the hard work of putting ourselves out in the community and communicating what we are doing and how we are using the resources trusted to us. When we don’t make these efforts to communicate, it can feel like we have something to hide. This is something I would like to address if elected as a local leader.
I think one creative solution that many other cities our size have successfully tried is some kind of local solar power buy back program. It starts with making it easier for low and middle income families to install solar panels. These programs often, in turn, allow residents to sell back excess energy produced by their solar panels to the city. This not only helps reduce the local resident’s energy costs, but also helps reduce the city’s burden to produce energy or to install and maintain solar panels belonging to the city. There are also so many creative ways council members can hold future developers wishing to build in our area more accountable to making commitments to more sustainable and green building initiatives. We must start with a commitment to do such a thing on as many levels possible.
As mentioned before, I have been conducting a Ward 3 Survey as part of my campaign. The results of the survey are very clear - people want to see Floral Park used more! Several people have commented that Floral Park is under utilized. I believe green spaces and recreational spaces are the lifeline of a neighborhood. Ward 3 is rich in these resources and many residents mention this being a feature that draws them to settle down in this part of Opelika. I believe the city as a whole would benefit from the same sense of pride that Ward 3 takes in their parks and green spaces. So, we should invest in these spaces equally in all other wards in the city. My survey results also suggest residents love the Sports Plex, but would like more public transportation options to get there. Several people mentioned some form of economic barrier preventing them from fully enjoying the benefits of the Sports Plex. I think we can be more creative as a city to address those barriers.
I believe any and all intentional steps a city can make toward building unity, equity, and inclusion benefit the community at large. I have a lifetime of experience in starting groups for diversity and inclusion in spaces where they did not exist prior. I have been diligently doing this kind of work in this area for many years as well, making me more than prepared to utilize these skills for the city council as well. I am one of the founding board members of the Auburn/Opelika area PFLAG chapter. We were recognized for our meaningful contributions to diversity and inclusion in the area in 2019 with the Outstanding Community Organization Award from the Auburn University OID. I have personally seen, and been an active part of, this community’s growth in its commitment to equity over the last couple of years. I am committed to doing what I can to continue that trajectory and to put my good networking skills to use in helping bring a similar group to the City of Opelika.
I think the city should do what it can to signal to future small business owners, especially those with increased burdens to entrance such as minority and women-owned small business owners, that we will have your back during this time. I’d start with the guiding principles of my campaign - listening and responding. I’d reach out to those local minority or women-owned businesses and start some kind of task force. I think the best people to speak to these needs are the individuals themselves. They know what they need, and we need to find ways to support that. The next step then is to review the creative solutions other cities have implemented and work together as a team, city and business owners together, to meet these complicated challenges.
A commitment to diversity and equity would certainly be foremost. And not just a verbal commitment, but a record to back up supporting efforts to do so. A person with a strong foundational value towards diversity and equity would be someone who we could trust to make the kind of decisions that benefit our community as a whole. I would also be looking for experience. And to be clear, when I say experience, I am not speaking necessarily in quantity of years, but in the quality of leadership and mentorship experience the candidate has on their resume. Finally, I would be looking for someone who could demonstrate a record of thoughtful and creative responding. Our public schools face complicated challenges and the leaders entrusted with its direction ought to be flexible to these demands.
I feel the city and state’s response has been lacking. Leadership at these levels is vital at a time like this. For example, I think the city and state should have been quicker and stronger in mandating a mask ordinance. These were simple measures that could have been taken much earlier. These are issues of public safety and that is the specific purview of the city council. When we elect leaders to our city council, we are trusting that they will make the right and good decisions to protect the public at large. We are trusting that they will listen and follow good advice to make informed decisions. Decisions guided not by politics, but by science and a commitment to public safety. I find the nonpartisan structure of our local government to be very liberating in that regard. If elected, I promise to do what I have always done as a scientist and an academic - review the data and make an informed decision. I would also utilize local experts at EAMC and AU when making these decisions.
Absolutely! I will be doing some live streaming from the campaign’s Facebook page in the coming weeks to model this commitment. We are all learning new and creative ways to communicate and stay connected, while also remaining committed to public safety during a pandemic. I would expect the city council to be just as flexible in adjusting to communicating and staying connected.
I found the recommendation to improve accessibility to be consistent with the results of my Ward 3 Survey. Residents would like to see improved pedestrian access to the downtown area. This includes improvements to the sidewalks leading to the area. Residents want more street lights to safely walk back and forth downtown after sundown. The consultants were also clear that the city has done well with the downtown area and I would agree the best thing we can do is to protect that progress. A progress that is being threatened by the broader economic impacts of the pandemic. Again, many people in my Ward 3 Survey report loving all of the local, small businesses that define the downtown area. They are clear in wanting to see more investment in local, small businesses. I think that would also mean, as the consultants imply, investing in protecting those local small businesses that we already cherish here. By doing so, we send a signal that the city is committed to your success as a SBO.
We can and should be more creative than this. I believe we can increase and reallocate resources and money to social services which benefit the police department in a way that doesn’t require also downsizing the police budget. Local law enforcement have an incredibly difficult job and are often spread quite thin in doing that job. I do not believe downsizing budgets of law enforcement will aid in this difficult task. What does sound like a good idea to me is investing in the social service programs we know make the job of the police easier. There is social science to guide us in these decisions which I am uniquely acquainted with given my particular area of research expertise. I am prepared to listen to this science and work together with law enforcement leaders to do the creative things that make our entire community safer. Keeping in mind the individuals wearing those uniforms are also members of our community in need of informed decision making which protects them as well.