WEST POINT — In Monday’s West Point mayoral candidate forum, both candidates cited previous voting records, facts and figures to support their positions.
The public’s interest, the Daily News team fact checked statements of particular contention. Here’s what we found:
• Incumbent Mayor Drew Ferguson said, “What I find very unique in that is that when our West Point development authority was asked to donate $100,000 for the creation of a science lab, again (challenger Deedee) Williams was the lone dissenting vote.”
FACT: Meeting minutes and documents provided by the West Point Development Authority show that John Asbell, THINC College and Career Academy board chairman, initially asked for a $200,000 grant, although the grant application is not dated. On July 27, 2015, the board voted to make a $100,000 contribution to THINC. In July, $50,000 was to be donated to THINC, with two following incremental donations of $25,000. Williams was the lone dissenting vote.
• Challenger Deedee Williams said, “We were asked to pay $50,000 initially. The entire board was against it. Two months later, we’re asked to pay $100,000. I hadn’t attended any other meetings in the meantime, but somehow, the focus had shifted totally.”
FACT: In meeting minutes provided to the Daily News, there is no record of a $50,000 grant application, nor a vote. The meeting minutes only provide action items and do not denote discussion, so there is no way of knowing if the “focus totally shifted.”
• Showing her concern for the amount of money the West Point Development Authority poured into THINC, Williams said, “$100,000 from this community? … LaGrange gave $50,000, I believe. So for us to give twice the amount that LaGrange has given is just unreasonable when two, maybe three students from this area are in the program.”
FACT: According to the Troup County School System, 35 students at the THINC academy are from West Point. It’s also worth noting that this year, the academy only accepts grades 10-12.
• Speaking on the city’s economic growth, Ferguson said, “I think we’ve proven time and time again, with a lower cost of doing business, we have created jobs, and we have more than doubled the revenue streams of this community over the past 10 years.”
FACT: In 2003, the city of West Point took in a total of $2,548,236 in revenue, according to the city’s budget for that year. A decade later, in 2013, the city raised $5,078,780 in revenue. That’s a 199.3 percent increase — almost exactly double — over a 10-year period.
• Ferguson accused Williams of not supporting diversifying the local economy outside of the automotive sector and voted against a deal to help attract a K9-training business. Williams replied, “whenever something comes before me as a vote, if I don’t have all of the information, I’m not going to vote for it.”
FACT: According to West Point Development Authority meeting minutes dated Aug. 26, 2014, the board members were provided facts and statistics that showed the company would create 90 jobs with an average annual wage of $80,000 — so there was, in fact, data supplied to the board members regarding the project. Williams, though, was absent at that meeting and did not vote for, or against, the deal.
• Additionally, when speaking about the $100,000 grant the West Point Development Authority donated to THINC, Williams said Ferguson brought in Randy Jackson, Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia’s senior vice president for human resources, to convince board members to make the donation.
“In the second meeting, you asked Randy Jackson to come and kind of twist our arm, I suppose,” she said. “Maybe you didn’t ask him to do it, but when a person comes and says, ‘OK, if you don’t do this, if you don’t give us this money, you know we can go and let LaGrange development authority do the next bond issue.’ And the bond issue, you know what that means, right? That’s how we get our money.”
— In a statement to the Daily News on Tuesday, Patrick Sands, a spokesperson for KMMG, said, “Drew Ferguson asked Randy Jackson to come to a West Point Development Authority Board meeting to educate and explain the purpose of starting up the THINC College and Career Academy. In addition, he could answer questions and concerns the board may have regarding this subject. The meeting was a positive meeting and the West Point Development Authority Board voted to become a supporting partner toward THINC, like other economic development groups, companies and businesses that are all supporting the future of our students.”
Tyler H. Jones is a reporter at LaGrange Daily News. He may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2155.