October 18, 2013

Candidates float their ideas at forum

Charles Oliver

DALTON — From tougher standards in city schools to public transportation to how to better connect with the Hispanic community, candidates for the Dalton City Council and the Dalton Board Education engaged in a wide-ranging discussion Thursday night.

The Coalition of Latino Leaders (CLILA) hosted the forum, which was attended by about 60 people, as well as all four candidates who are in contested races in the Nov. 5 city election. The event was at the Delray Farms supermarket.

Steve Laird and Dr. Pablo Perez  are seeking the seat on the school board currently held by Mark Orr, who is not seeking re-election. Meanwhile J.K Ware is challenging incumbent Gary Crews for the Ward 4 seat on the City Council.

CLILA President America Gruner noted that many local Hispanics are afraid to drive, fearing that if they get caught driving without a license it could lead to their deportation. She said some hoped that a public transportation system could remove that fear.

Crews said if the community desires a public transportation system they need to come to the City Council to ask for it. He noted the city created a skate park several years ago after a Dalton Middle School student came to a council meeting and requested it.

“He had his arguments together. He pointed out how it would improve safety and give young people something to do, and council members decided he made a lot of sense,” Crews said.

Ware said he supported the idea of public transportation.

“I believe Dalton needs to develop a 21st century infrastructure system, and public transportation is part of that. So that’s something I would fight for,” he said.

Several audience members asked how elected officials could get Hispanics more involved in the community, especially the school system.

Laird said one of the difficulty parents, especially Hispanics, face in getting involved in the schools is the hours that they work.

“Maybe we need to look at hold some events that accommodate their schedules, breakfasts or evening meetings,” he said.

Perez said schools could reach out more and require that parents sign off that they have reviewed their children’s work.

“We need to set high standards for our students and our schools,” he said.

All the candidates agreed that the city government and city schools should look at ways to improve communication with Spanish-speaking residents.