Name: Wayne Harper
Occupation: Retired as Athens police chief
Education: Associate degree in criminal justice from Jefferson State Community College; bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Montevallo
Political experience: None
Community involvement: Member of First Baptist Church of Athens, member of American Legion Post 49, Athens-Limestone United Way Board of Directors, Fraternal Order of Police, International Chiefs of Police Association, North Alabama Chiefs of Police Association, Athens-Limestone Triad-S.A.L.T. Council, FBI National Academy Associates-National and Alabama chapters and Athens Masonic Lodge 16.
Personal: Wife, Vonnette; children, Laurie, Len and Annette; 12 grandchildren; three great-grandchildren.
The News Courier: What is the biggest issue or issues facing District 5 and what specific plans do you have to address them?
Harper: The most frequent concern I have heard from District 5 residents has been the need for infrastructure improvements and preservation of our older neighborhoods. District 5 has some beautiful older neighborhoods that need to be protected and strengthened.
Residents are concerned with the number of rundown houses surrounded by junk and litter that are encroaching into neighborhoods. Many of these homes are vacant for extended periods with no improvements attempted.
I will work with neighborhood leaders, city inspectors and police code enforcement officers to monitor and clean up violations and cite repeat offenders.
There are a number of streets in District 5 that are in need of resurfacing. Potholes and poor drainage issues can quickly become a safety issue if not addressed. I will work with the council to see that resources are available to make needed upgrades and maintenance.
NC: Following the closure of the Pilgrim’s Pride plant in 2009, many businesses on North Jefferson Street shuttered and residents pulled up roots. What specific plans do you have to revitalize the corridor so it can thrive again?
Harper: The decline of the North Jefferson Street business area actually began some time prior to the closing of Pilgrims Pride, although the closure sped up the process. The revitalization of this area will require vision, long-range planning and significant capital investment.
To be successful, any revitalization effort must also target the surrounding residential neighborhoods. The mayor and council should seek the assistance and advice of successful developers who have built in other areas of town for fresh ideas.
In the past, the city has given incentives to a number of industrial developers. These developers usually represent large industrial projects. Why can’t we give incentives to small business also? Small business employs the majority of our nation’s workforce, yet seldom receives any assistance.
The city should encourage and assist in any way developers who are interested in revitalization of areas such as North Jefferson. The city must be willing to upgrade infrastructure, help clean up neighborhoods and make the area as appealing as possible to investors.
Revitalization of any area must be a partnership between the city and the private sector.
If elected, I will ask the mayor to appoint a committee of city managers, businesses and neighborhood leaders to investigate and research methods used by other cities.
NC: The Athens Historic Preservation Commission is tasked to ensure the integrity of the city’s historic districts remains intact. However, do you feel the commission could better serve the city by increasing its scope to include all historic structures within the city limits?
Harper: I do not feel the authority of the Historical Preservation Commission should be expanded because of past problems with property owners. Public input from all interested parties should be considered, but final decisions should be made by the property owners.