Four years ago, candidates for office in Canton wanted new faces. Two years ago, their platforms were cooperation. And this year, business development and recreation are the common threads among candidates.
“I think we also need to look at doing our best to attract new residents to Canton and new businesses to Canton as well,” said Patrick Willis, who is spearheading StepUp Canton, a program aimed at spurring economic growth in the town.
Willis, who ran unsuccessfully two years ago, said Canton needs to market its assets: its comparatively cheap property values, its friendly atmosphere and its family-oriented recreation.
All the candidates shared a similar desire to revitalize downtown Canton.
The town should also work with existing businesses to improve the appearance of local storefronts through grants to owners willing to redo their façades, said Alderman Ed Underwood.
“It’s just got to be a cooperative effort,” he said. Underwood cited his personal effort to improve the town’s appearance by picking up trash once a week while walking through town with his wife.
The candidates emphasized some form of combined effort between the town and business owners, many of them discussing the need for a business or merchant’s association to serve as a driving force for commerce.
When current Alderman Jimmy Flynn ran for office two years ago, he pressed for the creation of a business association, he said.
“That is what I will continue to push every chance I get,” Flynn said.
Fellow candidate Phil Smathers said such an association is key if the town hopes to bring specialty shops to Canton’s Main Street and beautify its downtown.
“Certainly, everybody’s moving for progress,” Smathers said. “We are expecting big things to eventually come.”
A couple of candidates even mentioned offering incentives to draw businesses to the area.
“We’re going to have to work as a team to get things going,” said candidate Cecil Patton.
Patton said the town must work with property owners and businesses to fill the empty storefronts along Main Street.
Stanley Metcalf also said he would like to see more local businesses on Main Street, adding that it is difficult to own a business in Canton, but incentives might entice people to open a store.
“In my opinion, Canton is an unfriendly business town,” said Metcalf, who owns a lawn care service.
It seems every time a business does something to promote itself, such as place a sign on the sidewalk, it breaks an ordinance, he added.
Willis and Underwood, another candidate and current alderman, both cited updating the town’s website as an important tool for promoting Canton to prospective businesses and residents.
“That gets the word out,” Underwood said.
From replacing its aging pool to lining up acts to play in the historic Colonial Theatre, Canton board candidates agree that the town needs to step up its focus on recreation.
“We’re going to have to take a hard look at that pool,” Underwood said. “We’ve got to have that pool.”
Flynn agrees that the pool needs to be replaced — a cost of more than $1 million.
The swimming pool only has about three years of life left in it, said Flynn, who wants to start a recreation fund to save money for the replacement. Flynn said the town should start other reserve funds for future projects as well.
Adding lighting to the ballpark complex, creating more paths for pedestrians and cyclists and repairing the pool are among Smathers’ list for recreation improvements.
One of Patton’s main campaign goals is to increase activities for kids and seniors. He said the town should offer games and keep the pool open later so that there is not a shortage of recreation opportunities for either age group.
The past two years
Canton has an unusual election cycle: all four town board members plus the mayor are up for election every two years. Two years ago, a slate of three new candidates prevailed in the election. A similar upset was seen four years ago. The widespread dissatisfaction that drove those elections does not seem as prevalent this year, however.
“I’ve got all respect in the world for the board that is in there now,” said Smathers, a challenger in the race. “To me, it’s been one of the best boards that has been seated in Canton in years.”
Smathers said he is not looking to oust one of the current board members. Instead, he is running for the seat currently held by Alderman Eric Dills, who is not in the race this year. Smathers was a longtime town employee and cited his experience working with the town budget.
“I am running on experience as an asset,” Smathers said.
Other candidates had more mixed reviews of the current town board, however, questioning whether it has accomplished enough.
Willis said if elected, he wants to work with other board members to create short- and long-term goals, which the town can work toward.
“I have not seen or heard what direction the town wants to go with,” Willis said, adding that he thinks the board can accomplish much more than it has in the past couple of years.
“Not everybody is going to agree on every issue … but if there is common goals that the board can come up with then they should work to get those goals accomplished,” Willis said.
Willis, who chose Canton as the place to raise his family, wants to see the town develop in a positive way.
Metcalf said he thinks the most recent board has done “a pretty decent job,” but he would not care if the whole board were replaced.
He would like to see more local people get involved, he said.
Currently, the Board of Aldermen holds its meetings at 10 a.m. on the second Tuesday of the month and 7 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of the month. Metcalf said he wants to change the time to make it more convenient for local residents to attend.
The incumbents running for re-election pledged to continue on the same course.
“For me and Jimmy and Kenny, we’ll continue working together (if we are re-elected),” Underwood said. “We haven’t kicked the can down the road.”
“I think we’ve been very progressive,” Flynn added.
Underwood said there is more they would like to accomplish, however, after coming on the board just two years ago.
“You couldn’t do everything in two years,” Underwood said.
The board began and will continue its sidewalk and street repair work, said Underwood and Flynn.
This board has spent more money on roads, fixing potholes and paving, than any other board in the past 10 years, Flynn said. It has cut expenses, held the tax rate steady and combined staff positions when an employee retired or quit to save money, he said.
The town has also begun replacing the sewer line along Champion Drive around exit 31 off Interstate 40. The line was undersized and as a result, lacked capacity for new businesses. Replacing the line had been a top goal of aldermen who were elected two years ago.
Kenneth Holland, a current alderman who is also running for re-election, did not return multiple calls requesting an interview.
Alderman: pick four
Ed Underwood, 62, retired army lieutenant colonel and retired state prison guard, current town board member
• Continue street and sidewalk repairs
• Clean up the town, including façade improvements
• Replace the pool
Jimmy Flynn, 61, safety director for Buckeye Construction Company and retired assistant town manager, current town board member
• Create a recreation capital reserve fund
• Establish a business association
• Keep tax rates down
Phil Smathers, 64, retired fireman and building inspector
• Start a downtown business association
• Improve local recreation, including adding more paths for pedestrians and cyclists and lighting at the ballpark
• Beautify downtown Canton
Cecil Patton, 84, retired Army sergeant
• Offer more activities for the elderly and children
• Maintain current local tax rates
• Work to keep businesses in Canton
Stanley Metcalf, 54, owner of Metcalf and Associates Lawn Care Services
• Make Canton more business friendly
• Change the board’s meeting time to promote more resident involvement
• Award contracts to in-state businesses
Patrick Willis, 31, historic interpreter at Thomas Wolfe National Historic Site
• Improve the town’s website
• Increase communication between businesses and local officials
• Market the town’s assets to draw new residents and businesses
Kenneth Holland, 64, retired pharmacist, current town board member.
• Holland did not return phone calls requesting an interview.
Mayor: pick one
Mike Ray, a former Canton alderman, is running unopposed. Current mayor Pat Smathers is stepping down after 12 years.