The four Pine Bluff City Council candidates who participated in a political forum on Tuesday largely agreed that the problems facing the city are not terminal and can be overcome.

The four Pine Bluff City Council candidates who participated in a political forum on Tuesday largely agreed that the problems facing the city are not terminal and can be overcome.

Sponsored by the Pine Bluff Commercial, the debate included Ward 1 challenger the Rev. Jesse C. Turner as well as Ward 2 Alderman Wayne Easterly, Ward 3 Alderman Bill Brumett and Ward 4 Alderman Steven Mays.

Ward 1 Alderman Thelma Walker as well as Ward 2 challenger Glen Brown Jr., Ward 3 challenger Reginald Johnson and Ward 4 challenger Lewis T. White were invited but were unable to attend.

The attendance was on the sparse side as a thunderstorm descended upon the Pine Bluff Convention Center just as the forum got underway at 6:30 p.m.

Moderator Larry Fugate asked several questions pertaining to the loss of population and the fact that a once lively city is now in a state of decay.

"I grew up in Pine Bluff and I know what it was like to see all of the stores downtown and to be able to buy something after 6 p.m.," Turner said. "We have become a day city, with everything shutting down on Main Street in the evening."

Turner said that the number of downtown buildings suffering from neglect is due to a lack of focus on important issues by the city council.

Brumett said that he wants to see the next $500,000 earmarked for the city’s restricted reserve fund to instead be set aside for condemned home demolitions.

"Right now we have a backlog of more than 600 houses on the condemned list and the current budget to pay for demolitions is not nearly large enough for us to get a handle on the situation," Brumett said. "The addition of $500,000 will help the city to begin to make a dent in this backlog."

Mays said that he wanted to see as many of the city’s substandard houses rehabilitated as possible.

"Some of these homeowners just need a helping hand," Mays said. "We need to get churches involved in working with their neighbors to help them get their homes fixed up."

Easterly said that the city Economic and Community Development Department is an important resource for residents who do not have the finances to be able to take care of their homes.

"They can help residents to make their homes livable," Easterly said.

Fugate asked the panel what they would do if re-elected or elected to combat squabbling among aldermen.

"There are personal agendas on the council but my agenda is helping people," Mays said.

Easterly said that there is a difference between being disagreeable and constructive disagreement.

"Sometimes there is a need for discussion and disagreement in order to come to the resolution of an issue," Easterly said.

Brumett said that he has done his best to be a mediator among his fellow aldermen.

Fugate asked the panel what they would do to tackle crime as well as the perception that Pine Bluff has a bigger crime problem than other Arkansas cities.

Turner said that his work with the Pen or Pencil Program has helped area children to see the value of an education and to understand the dangers associated with a lifestyle that leads to prison.

"When we have something good happen we need to make sure that it is shared," Turner said.

Easterly said that he gets irritated hearing people from other cities make jokes about Pine Bluff and its crime rate.

"Everybody else has people being shot but it is Pine Bluff that gets talked about," Easterly said. "As a whole the general populace is not in danger of getting shot here in Pine Bluff."

Brumett said that he has been impressed with the results shown by the city’s crime reduction efforts.

"We have seen a more than 16 percent reduction in the city’s crime rate so far this year and in some areas it is down by more than 20 percent," Easterly said. "For anyone who doesn’t believe the numbers it is helpful to look at the municipal courts. Their revenue from fines is down by $100,000 year-to-date because the number of crimes has gone down."

Mays said that he has worked with Neighborhood Watch programs to get drug dealers out of neighborhoods.

"I am doing what I can to make a difference while I can make a difference," Mays said.