JACKSONVILLE — Voters will get a mayor familiar with the office whether they choose incumbent Paul Becker or challenger Jim Lewis in the Nov. 6 election.
Lewis was mayor from 1995 through 2008. Becker was appointed to the post by the City Council in January 2011 when Bruce Garrett resigned in the face of a recall election.
"I like it. I would like to do it again," said Lewis, 67, who was elected to a four-year council term in November 2010.
If he doesn't win the contest, Lewis plans to remain on the council through the rest of his term. He also served on the council for nine years before becoming mayor.
"I appreciate being able to kind of direct the flow of things," Lewis said, referring to council meetings and city business.
Becker, 82, was elected to the council in November 2008.
"I have the energy and good health, so here I am. I enjoy doing the job," noted Becker, who said he would form a mayor's advisory committee if elected.
"I don't have any concerns with Mayor Becker. I think he has done a good job," said Lewis. "I figured I give the people a choice."
Following his appointment, Becker instituted regular office hours for the nonpaid post. He's in City Hall from 9 a.m. to noon most weekdays to meet the public and watch city operations. He said he will continue the practice if he wins.
Lewis said he also would hold regular office hours if elected.
The candidates see several major issues facing the city, such as how to manage and maintain four historical properties, including the courthouse, which the city will take over from Jackson County, and how to use $680,000 from a pending sale of land in the city watershed. Repair or removal of the reservoir dam, cited by the state as a potential flood hazard, also must be undertaken.
Becker sees the courthouse as the soul of Jacksonville. Suggested uses he's heard of range from city office space to a performing arts venue.
"It's going to take a lot of money to bring it up to modern uses," said Becker, who would go after both private and government grants to fund the work.
Lewis said the courthouse will need work soon.
"We've got a lot of deferred maintenance we need to address in the fairly near term," said Lewis, who would like to find tenants to help defray expenses.
"That's down the line, but we'd have to do ADA compliance if we want to go that way," said Lewis.
Both men said work on the reservoir dam should have top claim on money derived from the pending land sales.
Lewis said he would like to see the city regain water rights on Jackson Creek, but that can't happen without work on the dam.
"Eventually the city could well need more water," said Lewis. "Right now we are doing OK."
Most of the money derived from the land sale should be banked for future use, said both candidates.
Becker said there have been requests for a community center, but costs would be a concern.
"It has to pay for itself. It can't be a burden on the community," said Becker, adding he'd like to see a facility that could host weddings, conferences and business meetings.
Lewis said the city already has a number of places for public events. He'd like to see a community center as part of a new municipal complex someday, noting that city offices moved into their current space as a temporary measure in 1994.
Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.