Voters will go to the polls on August 23.
We asked the candidates a number of questions about the issues, their ideas and their backgrounds. The candidates’ answers, in full, are included below:
Question #1: Tell us a bit about your background. How has it shaped you to serve in the office you’re seeking?
MARK CLOUSER: I have owned and operated a successful small business and served on several boards for organizations in our community. I am continually educating myself on our city with programs like Leadership Greater Huntsville and the Mayor’s Leadership Program. Over the past 32 years, I have lived and breathed Huntsville infrastructure as a city employee. In addition to all these things, I am also a lifelong citizen of Huntsville. I have a deep understanding of our city functions.
As a firefighter, I have been in the public service business for 32 years. Serving others is something I am passionate about. For decades as a first responder, I have helped others in times of distress. Instead of responding when people are in crisis, I want to proactively address the underlying issues on a large scale. I want Huntsville to be a place my children and grandchildren want to live and raise their families. Huntsville is growing, but I do not want district 4 to be left behind in that growth.
BILL KLING: I believe that my background as a former school board member, former news reporter, and former planner, helps me to continue the progress that has helped make Huntsville the Best Place to Live in the United States according to US News and World Report. The central areas of the city such as Merrimack, Lowe Mill, Mayfair, Campus 805, the Stove House, and the connecting of Merrimack Park to Brahan Spring Park to John Hunt Park are examples of the work that I have contributed to.
Question #2: Describe an issue you’d prioritize if you are elected. What immediate changes would you consider?
CLOUSER: I want to put Huntsville on a path to be a place where my kids and grandkids want to raise their families. I want to maintain sustainable growth in Huntsville while ensuring our infrastructure keeps pace with that growth.
Workforce development is something I have spoken about regularly in my campaign. Labor shortages are plaguing cities across America. Locally, we need to establish better relationships with the Home Builders Association, schools, and local businesses. A concentrated effort needs to be put on bringing the younger generations in to fill our labor gaps. Part of building that workforce is keeping Huntsville appealing to the generations growing up here, so they will choose to join the labor force locally rather than moving away. I want to put an emphasis on the development of our workforce.
Another point of emphasis would be addressing the opioid crisis. Overdoses are rampant in our community. Huntsville has a strong non-profit community. These organizations are already in place and are doing a great job supporting those in need. The city needs to partner with organizations like First Stop and His Way to support more of these individuals before a crisis ever strikes. We need to make sure the needs of all citizens in our city are met.
KLING: In the past I have pushed for and will continue to push for road improvements. That includes record amounts of money for street resurfacing for streets that we already have, as well as approximately $500 million to $600 million worth of new road construction within the next 20 years to improve traffic flow.
Question #3: What are some of the major challenges that the city of Huntsville faces? What will you do to address those issues?
CLOUSER: Managing infrastructure to match the growth of Huntsville has become a struggle for the city. We need to be more proactive in how we order equipment and fleet to keep garbage trucks moving, to get potholes filled, and to keep fire and police responding.
Another challenge facing Huntsville is encouraging workforce development to ensure workers are available for the businesses expanding in Huntsville. As I stated before, we need to establish better relationships with the Home Builders Association, schools, and local businesses. Again, a concentrated effort needs to be put on bringing the younger generations in to fill our labor gaps.
Guaranteeing the safety and security of citizens by supporting first responders and local community service organizations is a continuing challenge for Huntsville. First responders need to be properly trained and equipped for all situations. Crisis intervention training should be offered to all first responders to help when responding to mental health emergencies. We need the best people in place when a crisis strikes.
KLING: To me, our biggest challenge is going to be traffic flow. As Huntsville grows, traffic becomes more congested, especially with the great growth outside the city limits into the county and adjacent communities. Working with the mayor and the other councilmembers we have a minimum of $500 million, which may turn out to be closer to $900 million of combined City, Federal, and State funding that will be spent on road projects to improve traffic flow over the next 20 years. One key project is the ring road system. Currently, we have Rideout Road, which runs into Rideout Road extension, which runs north to MLK. Next, we continue going from North Parkway over to Hampton Cove for the Eastern Bypass, which will go south through the Arsenal to connect onto Rideout Road. This will allow for travel without having to go through stop-and-go traffic in the center part of the City.
Question #4: Who is someone you’ve been inspired by? What effect has that had on your life?
CLOUSER: Growing up, I did not have many role models in life until I met John Richard. John is my father-in-law, but I have known him since second grade. John always had a saying, “When something hard comes along, before you make the decision, sleep on it.” I learned from him to always put your family first, to always remain calm, and to never make decisions in anger. He has always been an example of what a good man should be. He treats others fairly and tells the truth. John knows a lot of people. You will have a hard time finding anyone who dislikes him. I try to emulate John daily.
KLING: Close to home, I believe that my father is someone who I have tried to emulate. He was very much involved in civic activities in Huntsville: Serving on the Airport Authority, and being president of the Huntsville Symphony. He loved the community, and was a successful, well-respected businessman here.
Question #5: What are you hearing from voters on the campaign trail?
CLOUSER: It has been great hearing directly from the people of district 4. It is amazing how, when you go door-to-door, the number of people who understand the inadequacies in our infrastructure. People say the same things over and over again. They don’t mind the growth of the city, but they wish the simple things such as better roads and trash pickup would be a priority for our council members.
KLING: I have been spending a lot of time walking the neighborhoods both before and after election time. People want safe neighborhoods, they want good roads, they want smooth sidewalks, they want recreational opportunities, and they want to get their trash picked up. They are understanding of the fact that new garbage trucks have been ordered, and that the Public Works Department and the rank-and-file employees are doing their best to pick up trash.
Question #6: What is your view of the job HPD is doing? Does the police department need to do more to improve public confidence and trust?
CLOUSER: I think police departments across America have a very difficult job. It is the job of the city to ensure all of our police officers are trained and equipped to do their job. Overall, HPD is moving in a good direction, but there is no such thing as perfect for any police department. I think part of the job of a police officer is to continually build trust and confidence within the community. Transparency is a crucial element to maintaining that trust.
KLING: The public is entitled to the opportunity to speak and to be treated courteously by their city government. Some of the ideas from the public’s concerns have been good ones. Mental health personnel are now being hired within the Police Department, police officers are getting mental health training, and capital money is being spent at WellStone Mental Health facility. Additionally, some of the speakers bring positive ideas and energy, and have been appointed to city boards, such as the Police Community Advisory Board, and the Community Development Board.
We have a new Police Chief. Both the current Police Chief and the previous Police Chief have worked very well on solving individual citizen problems that I have brought to their attention. Our crime rate is low for a city with our population. The Police Department faces a challenge covering over 200 square miles located in three different counties, and still the crime rate according to the FBI is very good. The police and public contact can be improved. One program that I like is the “Ride with a Cop” program, where a citizen gets to ride with a police officer for part of a shift. The citizen gets to see what the police officer has to deal with, and the police officer gets to meet that citizen on a personal basis. This helps to break down barriers. Additionally, we have over 150 Community Watch chapters throughout the city where neighborhoods get to interface with police department personnel. Again, we need a break down the barriers with all of us working together.
Question #7: How will you gather public input, and how will that inform your behavior in office? How would you get more people involved in government?
CLOUSER: Not everyone wants to come to a council meeting, stand up and talk. I think the best way to reach people is through neighborhood organizations and meetings. Open meetings will also be important, so citizens can voice their concerns.
This is a simple concept. I am there for the citizens. I work for them, and I am there to try to solve their problems to the best of my ability.
The best way to get more people involved is to make them part of the process, especially our younger generations. It allows these individuals to take a personal role and be responsible for the future of our city.
KLING: As a former news reporter, I have tried to stay in touch with the public. I conduct monthly town meetings, which I would continue to do. I conduct an annual postcard survey, which I will continue to do. I have a reputation for returning phone calls both at City Hall, and at home. I respect the fact that I work for the public, not vice versa.
Question #8: Tell us something about you that might surprise people…
CLOUSER: Because of my community service activities, I was chosen to carry the Olympic torch through Huntsville for the 1996 Olympics.
KLING: I met my wife, then a city employee, at one of my town meetings. That proves the old adage., “That it pays to keep your campaign promises,” and be accessible and have public meetings.