Two lifelong residents with some experience in local government are contending to become the second mayor of Smiths Station, Ala., a fledgling city in Lee County.
John “Buster” Bessant, a businessman and member of the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission for eight years, is challenging Lee County Board of Education member F.L. “Bubba” Copeland in the Tuesday election to fill the seat held by Mayor LaFaye Dellinger. Her term ends on Nov. 4.
The election also will fill three of five seats on the City Council. In Place 2, Davin Bostic, a webmaster for Auburn University, and real estate agent Adam Littleton oppose incumbent Morris Jackson. In Place 4, incumbent Richard (Rick) Cooley, a Vietnam veteran and retired educator, is challenged by Diane Holman Stein, an administrative clerk for the city of Smiths Station. Army veteran Mike Kane faces incumbent Richard “Dick” Key for the Place 5 seat.
Incumbents George Stringer Jr., in Place 1, and James Moody, in Place 3, are unopposed.
With eight years on the Planning and Zoning Commission and now serving as vice chairman in the 15-year-old city, Bessant said he has seen a need for good leadership during some missed opportunities in his bid for seeking the mayor’s office.
“We have missed some good opportunities and we need to capitalize on good sound business decisions,” he said.
Copeland, 42, calls Smiths Station his community where he was born and raised.
“I feel like I can make a difference in my community to improve my city,” he said of his run for the office.
Bessant said one of the major issues facing the city is a promise of sewer service that wasn’t delivered to all. “I have knocked on many doors that still remember that,” he said.
Some homeowners live in subdivisions with failing septic systems and they are pumped quite regularly, he said. “That is one of my priorities,” he said.
Bessant, 62, would like to see the city increase revenue with building permits. Those fees now go to Lee County. “That is something we can do with housing in our city limits now,” he said. “We need to capitalize on those fees staying at home.”
The average house could cost about $2,000 for permits. The city would need a certified building inspector to offer the service.
Top issues in the city for Copeland are sewer service, transparency in government and security.
Sewer service is needed to attract growth.
“Yes, there is service in some areas but not enough to make a big, huge difference,” Copeland said.
The tax base isn’t large enough to expand sewer service but Copeland wants the problem areas and commercial developments to grow.
The city needs to work with the Lee County sheriff to enforce codes. Help is needed in enforcing the noise ordinance.
As mayor, Copeland plans an open-door policy as long as people call ahead to make sure he’s in the office. “I will get with them within 24 hours, whether it be on social media or by telephone,” he said.
Bessant said voters can expect complete transparency if he is elected. People don’t know what’s going on in the city and they have been completely left out in the dark. “I’d like to take that to another level,” he said. “We need to have town hall meetings — I would say about every quarter — to invite the public,” he said. “I’m not just saying put it on the bulletin board. Get it out to the people and try to get people involved. Let them know what’s going on and try to get some input from them.”
In the mayor’s office, Copeland said he would like to start a chamber of commerce to help attract more businesses to the city.
Copeland said he also would like to complete work on soccer fields and improve the overall cleanliness of the city. With no centralized trash pickup, he said the city relies on the county for some services. “I think we need to work on providing our own services,” he said.
With 11 years and two terms on the school board, Copeland said he is the only candidate with a background as an elected official.
Bessant said voters should elect him because he has a love for the community where he raised children and has a passion for the area despite some tough times.
“I have been through the fires of life. I have seen the mountaintop and deep in the valleys, and I know that life is going to bring me some more,” he said. “I can treat triumph and disaster both as imposters. You treat them both the same.”
Treating triumph and disaster as imposters are words from the poem, “ If” by Rudyard Kipling. “Many times, I have to go through certain things and I remember that,” Bessant said of the poem. “I need to be just like that man.”
For Copeland, he believes voters should elect him because he can make a difference. “I can get things done,” he said. “I have a track record of doing that through the school board I have served on over the last 11 years.”
Copeland said he supported the building of a new high school and vision to improve test scores. “Voters have entrusted me twice to run the school system,” he said. “They are asking me now to run the city.”
He also was endorsed by Dellinger, the current mayor.
“I think that is a strong indication she trusts me,” he said.
F.L. “Bubba” Copeland
Education: Graduated from Smiths Station High School, received an associate degree from Chattahoochee Valley Community College in Phenix City and attended Auburn University.
Experience: Member of the Lee County School Board where he has served two terms, managed multiple retail grocery stores and owns The Country Market on Highway 379 in Salem, Ala., and also serves as an ordained youth minister at First Baptist Church in Phenix City.
Family: Single father of a 14-year-old son.
John “Buster” Bessant
Education: Graduate of Smiths Station High School, attended Troy State University in Troy, Ala., for 18 months and attended classes at North Alabama University.
Experience: Self-employed as builder of floor and roof trusses and served on the Planning and Zoning Commission for eight years. He also served as past presidents of Phenix Russell Lions Club, Gideons International and Phenix City Girls Club.
Family: Married to Kim for 36 years and have five grown children, ages 26 to 42.