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Watch now: Decatur City Council candidates tussle over cannabis, neighborhood revitalization

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DECATUR — The six candidates vying for three seats on the Decatur City Council tussled over cannabis and neighborhood revitalization while touching upon overarching topics like population loss and violence in a series of debates this week. 

The candidates, incumbents David Horn and Chuck Kuhle, and challengers Ed Culp, Jacob Jenkins, Marty Watkins and Will Wetzel, each participated in two virtual forums, the first hosted by the Millikin Heights neighborhood organization Tuesday night and the second by the Herald & Review Wednesday night. 

Though civil, differences were clear on a number of hot-button topics, such as revitalizing the urban core of the city and allowing cannabis sales in the city. 

On the former topic, Horn criticized the city's current plan, which he said is not comprehensive and not keeping up with housing stock deterioration. 

"If we are not proactive, we're gonna find continual deterioration of our housing stock," he said.


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This garnered some pushback from fellow council member Chuck Kuhle, who said the council has gone from tearing down few dilapidated homes to several in the past few years. He said doing more is dependent on resources. 

"There's a lot of good things going on," Kuhle said. "Can you spend more? Yes, it's just where you want to allocate your money. We have a lot of different issues in the city, and you have to decide where you want to spend your money."

The other candidates also chimed in, saying that revitalization needs to be multi-faceted. 

"It needs to go past just tearing down houses, but actually building up resources inside neighborhoods that are being revitalized," Wetzel said. 

Culp said efforts need to include both "informal and formal leaders in our community."

"I do believe we have several neighborhood associations now that we should partner with and come up with a good fiscal five, six year plan on what we plan on doing with each of these neighborhoods and have them take a piece of this pie as well," Culp said. 

The candidates were divided on whether to reverse the council's 2019 votes to "opt-out" of cannabis sales and allowing cannabis related businesses within city limits

Horn, Jenkins, Watkins and Wetzel all said they would reverse the council's decision on both dispensaries and other cannabis-related businesses.

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Kuhle, who voted to not allow either, said he would stick with his original positions. Culp said he was not in favor, but might be open to cannabis-related businesses in the future. 

Horn, the only council member to support allowing dispensaries in 2019, said it would help fuel economic growth and generate tax revenue for the city, which could then be used on things like community revitalization. 

Jenkins suggested using cannabis revenue for anti-violence initiatives and to help pay down pensions. All proponents mentioned the natural synergies of the cannabis industry with the region's status as an agribusiness hub. 

However, Kuhle said the revenue is nothing compared to the cost. 

"If you do some research, you would make just as much money off of Chick-fil-a as you would a dispensary, okay? And you wouldn't have to worry about driving under the influence of chicken with a Chick-fil-a," Kuhle said. 

Kuhle invoked the death of Erma Graves, who was killed in an April 2020 crash involving a driver under the influence of cannabis. 

Jenkins said it represented an "old way of thinking" to "bring up the death of a black woman and an accident of that nature and cite that as the reason to why we should not have cannabis in this community."

Despite concerns over representation, most candidates said they preferred the current at-large city council format versus an aldermanic form of government.

Horn said he's neutral to a change in government format.

Though Jenkins indicated Tuesday that he was in favor of an aldermanic form of government, he acknowledged Wednesday that he's "gone back and forth on it" and is now neutral. 

Only Wetzel expressed full-throated support for a change, advocating for an at-large mayor and 10 council members who would be elected from districts across the city.

“If we miss, and we have historically missed, large swaths of Decatur, we cannot call ourselves fully representative in the current city council model,” Wetzel said. 

Asked about the gun violence plaguing the city, the candidates said there were no specific ordinances that could solve the problem, but that more funding for the police department and providing more resources and economic opportunities to distressed communities would help. 

Each candidate was asked what the biggest issue facing the city was, with Jenkins and Kuhle answering "crime," Watkins saying the "city budget," Culp saying "revenue loss" from economic and population decline and Horn and Wetzel saying "population loss." 

“As we continue to lose more and more residents, those of us who remain in the city will be forced to cover the difference," Watkins said. "I would make sure that we spend on what is needed, and that we don't move money from another source to make up that shortage, which would then leave that account short.”

The election is April 6, with early voting set to begin for Decatur residents on Friday at the Macon County building, 141 S. Main St., room 119.  


Meet the Decatur City Council candidates on the April 6 ballot

Meet the Decatur City Council candidates on the April 6 ballot

The Herald & Review is profiling the candidates for Decatur City Council. 

 

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