- Paris Flash
- Real Estate
Almost 100 people cast votes Tuesday for the runoff election between Dr. AJ Hashmi and Rhonda Rogers for the District 7 seat on the Paris City Council.
Until 2007, elections went to the person with the highest vote. .The City Charter was changed in that year to require a majority vote (50 percent plus 1), but this was the first time since then that the leading candidate didn’t have a clear majority.
For the remainder of the early voting period – Wednesday through Friday of this week, plus Monday and Tuesday of next week – residents of District 7 will be able to vote from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m .
Election Day itself is Saturday, June 18.
Hashmi led the voting on May 14 with 283 votes (41.2 percent) to 242 votes for Rogers (35.2 percent) and 162 votes (23.6 percent) for Kenneth Kohls.
A voting official said several people from other districts have come in wanting to vote, but were turned away.
Voters continue to turn out in high numbers for the District 7 city council race between Dr. AJ Hashmi and Rhonda Rogers.
By 5:35 p.m. today, 91 people had cast ballots today. With the 108 votes cast on Monday, that raises the two-day total to 199.
Polls remain open until 8 p.m. today.
Early voting continues from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for Wednesday through Friday and then for Monday and Tuesday of next week.
Election Day itself is Saturday, June 18.
Already, the votes cast are approaching one-third of the 687 votes cast in the primary last month.
Hashmi led the voting on May 14 with 283 votes (41.2 percent) to 242 votes for Rogers (35.2 percent) and 162 votes (23.6 percent) for Kenneth Kohls.
With no one getting a clear majority, a runoff was called.
It’s the first runoff race in Paris city politics. Until four years ago, the City Charter called for the one with the most votes to be declared the winner. The Charter was changed in 2007 to require a majority vote.
By CHARLES RICHARDS
Rhonda Rogers, who is in a runoff with Dr. AJ Hashmi for the right to represent District 7 on the Paris City Council, says it is crucial that voters return her to office.
Already, she noted, the council has two new members in Dr. Richard Grossnickle and Matt Frierson, who were elected to replace Steve Brown in District 4 and Will Biard in District 5 respectively after they completed their second consecutive 2-year term and could not run again.
“The city should never have three totally new people in a year. That changes the entire complexion of the council. And when that happens, the city staff doesn’t have a clue for months the direction that council is going to go,” she said.
Early voting began Monday and continues through June 14 at Lamar County Courthouse Annex (old post office) for the June 18 runoff election, which was necessary because no one got a clear majority.
Hashmi led the May 14 balloting with 283 votes (41.2 percent), followed by Rogers with 242 votes (35.2 percent) and Kenneth Kohls with 162 votes (23.6 percent).
In a question-and-answer interview the day before early voting began, Rogers said several crucial questions must be answered by the new Paris City Council.
Question: Why do you feel so strongly that you should be re-elected?
Answer: It’s not about me. It’s about what’s best for the city. How do we ever get the momentum to go forward if we’re constantly running in place? It doesn’t happen, and that’s a good chunk of the problem with our city government. It takes corporate memory to understand the full implication and to see the bigger picture. It’s not something you can pick up in a day or two. That’s why I think it’s critical that we have five holdovers. I think it will just take even longer if we don’t. Dr. Grossnickle and Matt both have a big learning curve, and two other council members (Jason Rogers of District 2 and John Wright of District 3) just have one year under their belt. Although they are quite knowledgeable and very intelligent, they still have only one year on the council.
Q: It was decided months ago that it would be left up to the new city council to select a new city manager. How do you feel by the process being delayed another five weeks because of the runoff.
A: What a shame. What a shame. We need a city manager. I do believe our finance director (Gene Anderson) has done a good job, but anytime you’re doing two fulltime jobs, it’s very difficult. Frankly, even though we have 50 to 60 applications for city manager, I don’t know if our next city manager is in that stack. I’m not saying it’s not. But if not, we must go recruit. And that means we have to go find somebody, and even perhaps steal them away from wherever they are now to get a good one. To do that is extremely time-consuming, and it will take a lot of negotiating, and it will take a decent salary. If we do have to to out and recruit further, either it will take a tremendous amount of time on council’s part, or we will have to hire a headhunter. From what I have looked at, some of that stack appears to have an interesting background, but they’re simply sending out resumes to everybody and every entity they can find to send resumes to. That’s what I’m seeing. A lot of them, they’re very highly educated, but they may not be a fit for Paris. We have to be very, very careful because whoever comes next I want to be the right person, to be here for a lot longer than three or four years. Personally, I would like the next person to be here 15 years.
Q: Steve Gilbert, executive director of the Paris Economic Development Corporation, says he would like to visit with the new council some things that McKinney did to make its city more business-friendly. Do we need a new city manager in place first?
A: That’s a hard thing because we want to move forward, and we want to do it now. And what if it takes another few months to get that city manager? Even if we find that city manager that we want in the next six weeks, it may take that person another few weeks to divorce themselves from the job they’re in now, get moved here, etc. And then it will take a good while for that person to get up to speed here. So I think we should proceed with caution with the PEDC at the same time we’re looking for a city manager. We want to move forward. And when the city manager comes on board, we will just have to work very hard top educate the city manager to go forward with us. And they will have to understand this is part of what we want to do, and the interview process: “Are you ready to work with us where we are?” And if they’re not … “Next!”
Q: What should the next city manager’s attitude be toward economic development?
A: It’s not the city manager’s job to bring economic development in, but he or she must be able to work very closely with the PEDC director so that we have a united front when we try to recruit new companies to come here. The mayor, the city manager, the PEDC they need to work together. They need to understand that they need to work together. I know my military background comes out, but we need to have procedures in place. Each entity knows what its specific task or responsibility is. If it’s everybody responsibility then it becomes nobody’s responsibility, and that’s when you get in the problem of overlapping and overstepping, and that comes across to the potential industries coming in here. That happened in the recent past. And we need to learn from that, put procedures in place that say this is your part.
Q: You have said a major reason that you need to be re-elected is because you have unfinished business. What’s the difference between unfinished business and putting off until later a decision that could be made now?
A: Unfinished business is hiring a city manager, and redistricting. You can’t redistrict before you have the census. By the time we had the census numbers in completely, it was March or April, and by the time we could meet with the firm helping us, it was May. And you’re spinning your wheels if you don’t wait for the new council members to come on. I’m not someone who puts off things. I am a “Let’s make a decision and go” person. I’m a believer, and I learned this in the Air Force, in studying a decision. I agonize over a decision, I look at every issue, I try to look inside the issues, and then I try to look at how it’s going to affect long term. Then we make a decision. Once that decision is made, you don’t look back. You go with it. You make the best decision you can at the time with what you have to go with, and you go forward. If you find out six months down the road you might not have made the best decision, then you tweak that decision.
Q: A couple of weeks ago, tempers flared and a motion to fund the city’s $7,500 share of a diversity training program failed by a 4-3 vote before you made a motion to table the proposal until the next meeting. What was behind your motion to put it off for three weeks?
A: There were several reasons for it. One was, let’s let tempers cool off and think it through. That, to me, is not postponing. That’s a tactic to get more information, let cooler heads prevail, and make the right decision. I’m a big believer in making a decision, but I want to make the right decision. And I want as much as is possible to have consensus on that decision, so we can all support it. Let me say, we definitely need the diversity program, and I don’t have any problem with the company selected, but I didn’t like the way it was presented. First, I don’t think we should micro-manage by telling our finance director where the money should come from. And second, I also have a bit of a problem with asking in April or May to pay for something out of this year’s budget. We have an extremely tight budget; we worked last August very hard meeting after meeting after meeting to get a budget we could live with, and in late May somebody comes up and says “Oh, by the way, I need more money.” I have a problem with that. I feel like they put us in a bad spot, because I don’t’ want to hold the program up until October because we need the program and we need to move forward. The PEDC has a lot more unallocated and disposable money than we have at this point in our fiscal year. I would be a lot happier taking it out of next year’s budget.
Q: You were OK with the company that the PEDC selected – a Seattle company that had the low bid of $59,900 rather than a Paris company that bid $89,000?
A: I was not invited to look at the entire program of work that any of the three companies submitted. The council was invited and I did go to the meeting for the presentation, but without going through all the input it’s hard to comment on it. The $30,000 difference in the bids that were submitted, that’s a significant amount of money. I understand that it’s feasible to use local vendors, and we do that where we can. But if we were going out for bids to buy gravel or rock, and there was a $30,000 difference in local or not local, I don’t think the city could justify the extra $30,000 for rock, just because you’re local.
Q: In his motion to come up with the $7,500, District 6 councilman Edwin Pickle said the money should come out of the council’s travel budget. You disagreed strongly, as did District 1 councilman Joe McCarthy.
A: First, I don’t like calling it travel, it’s training. It’s not travel, it’s not a boondoggle. We’re not asking for vacation money or a perk. Especially when you look at our term limits, we have to hit the ground running. There is an orientation every summer for new council members. They need to go to that and to go to every meeting. I have gone to two conventions since I’ve been on. I go to every meeting. I sit through every session that I can go to. I listen to all the keynote speakers that I can listen to, and between sessions I’m talking and listening to other people who are either council members or mayors or city employees. … I brought some brochures back and handed them out to different staff members that they applied to. So, let’s don’t call it a travel budget. That makes it sound like a perk or a boondoggle. It’s not. It’s training.
Q: You opposed Pickle’s motion as much for the negative impact it would have on training as much as anything else?
A: I’m a firm believer in training in every area. Without training, we flounder. We need it, and I’ve never worked for any organization ever that told me I have to pay for my own training. I’m sure I’m coming from a strong military background because the military is very, very heavily involved in training. I don’t believe you can do your job without the proper training. To me, to say we should pay for our own training is an elitist attitude. What that’s saying is, “If you can’t afford to pay for your own training, to do a job that you’re a volunteer for, don’t bother to apply!” I do not want to send that message to anyone in this city! We should not have to be wealthy to apply to be on the city council or any of our boards or commissions! That is wrong! Now, do I feel like you should take your spouse? Not at city expense. And I would be against a city council member being extravagant and running up a large bill. But as far as I can tell, none of the current council people have ever abused or misused that fund. Most of the time, the hotels that we go to when we go for a conference will have rooms for a price, and often those are not inexpensive, they’re not cheap motels. But it’s a good thing to be able to stay there because that’s where all the other participants are. And if you meet someone in the lobby or downstairs, or wherever you are, it’s so much easier to interact with the other participants and learn from them than if you’re traveling back and forth from another hotel. Now, I have been to two conferences and I have never asked the city to pay for my food. I have to eat wherever I go, and I know how to eat pretty inexpensively anyway. If it’s a luncheon with the keynote speaker – that’s different. But if it’s just on your own, I’ve never asked the city to pay for that. I’m not saying that’s good or bad, and I don’t know if it would be wrong to do that. I haven’t.
Q: Have your views changed on anything since your re-election campaign began in February?
A: I’ve really met a lot of the people in my district, and I’ve gotten to hear from them and hear what their issues are, and I’ve enjoyed getting to meet a lot of the people that I didn’t know before. Everybody has an idea, and everybody has a voice, and everybody’s voice should be heard, and we should listen to them. And I’ve tried really hard to listen to the people of District 7. And I think at this point, those who have talked to me, met me, know me, I think that they know I listen to them. People know that my votes are based on what I believe to be the will of the people. I don’t vote just the way I want to. I vote based a lot on what my district has told me they want. And now that I know even more of my district, I think they are comfortable calling me, e-mailing me and saying “This is what I’d like to see.”
send questions or comments about this article to
By CHARLES RICHARDS
So much for thinking that voter turnout might be light for the runoff election between incumbent Rhonda Rogers and Dr. AJ Hashmi for the District 7 seat on the Paris City Council.
Monday’s first day of early voting for the June 18 election drew to the polls 108 Paris residents — more than two and a half times as many as the 41 District 7 voters as voted on the first day of last month’s early voting period.
Already, almost one-sixth of the entire District 7 turnout in last month’s voting has been accounted for.
Early voting continues again today from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. — the second and only other 12-hour voting day during early voting. The Lamar County Courthouse Annex in the 200 block of Lamar Avenue will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesday through Friday of this week and again on Monday and Tuesday of next week.
Voting on Saturday, June 18, will be from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Ramseur Baptist Church, 3400 Lamar Ave.
The runoff was made necessary by the failure of any of three candidates to draw a clear majority of votes last month. Of the 687 votes cast, Hashmi had 283 (41.2 percent), Rogers 242 (35.2 percent) and Kenneth Kohls 162 (23.6 percent).
The percentage of the 2,746 registered voters in District 7 who voted in the May 14 election was just over 25 percent.
It was obvious by 11:30 a.m. Monday, less than one-third of the way through a 12-hour voting day, that a big early turnout was in the works, because 42 persons had already voted by then — one more than the 41 from District 7 who voted during last month’s 12-hour first day.
By 2:15 p.m., the total had reached 79.
Elections administrator Russ Towers reminds that every registered voter of District 7 is eligible in the runoff election, even if they did not vote in the May 14 election.
Kohls announced on Monday of last week that he was endorsing Hashmi and encouraging his supporters to vote for the director of cardiology for Paris Regional Medical Center over Rogers, who has been on the council for two and a half years.
If Hashmi and Rogers could get all those who voted for them last month to return and vote for them again, and all of those who voted for Kohls were to vote again in the runoff, Hashmi would need to get 63 of Kohls’ 162 votes to increase his percentage to 50.1 percent.
But every vote counts, so both candidates were likely trying to marshal all their forces – those who voted last time and those who didn’t – to exercise their privilege to vote.
Research by eParisExtra.com into last month’s voting showed that more City of Paris employees didn’t vote than did, and that many members of the city’s boards and commissions also didn’t cast a ballot.
send questions or comments about this article to
Four months ago, when Dr. AJ Hashmi announced that he was running for a seat on the Paris City Council, the city was full of doubters.
The head of cardiology for Paris Regional Medical Center was challenging Rhonda Rogers, the District 7 incumbent.
Was he a serious candidate? As a busy doctor with thousands of patients, did he have the time to be on the city council? Did he even have enough time to campaign?
And when former city councilman Kenneth Kohls also entered the race, the question for some was whether Hashmi could get enough votes to force Rogers and Kohls into a runoff.
Well, when the votes were counted after the primary on May 14, Hashmi was on top with 283 votes (41.2 percent) of the vote in District 7 to 242 votes (35.2 percent) for Rogers and 162 votes (23.6 percent) for Kohls.
The runoff between Hashmi and Rogers is June 18, and early voting begins Monday at the Lamar Courthouse Annex.
This will be the only race on the ballot, and only the residents of District 7 can vote. Any registered voter of District 7 is eligible, even if he or she didn’t vote last month.
With the campaign heading into its final two weeks, Hashmi answered questions about where his candidacy has taken him so far and what lies ahead.
Question: How do you feel about going into the runoff as the leading vote-getter in the May 14 election?
Answer: I feel it shows people want a change, and I am going to try my best not to let any of the people down who voted for me. We worked hard, and we are going to work even harder the rest of the way. I’m very thankful to everyone who voted for me, and to those who didn’t vote for me I hope to change their minds. I hope I will be successful not only winning the runoff, but doing improvement and significant constructive work for the city of Paris. I will try my best to have the most work done during my term of office, and you will see a Paris that’s better than it is now. I’m not going to make a big town out of it, but we want to make a cleaner, nicer, safer Paris which all of us desire.
Q: Do you expect as big a turnout for the runoff as in the primary?
A: It may be that the voter turnoff will be a little less for the runoff, but you know, I feel that the people will come out again and vote again, so I am looking forward to it. I have no reservations about it, and I’m hoping Mr. Kohl’s supporters will vote for me this time. They are the same people who wanted a change.
Q: When you announced for office, people were asking if you had the time for it.
A: I have visited almost every home that I could conceivably go and visit. I know all of the streets in my district, and I know almost all of the residents who live there. I will tell you it has been a great insight for me to walk around the streets and talk to Paris, because there are too many small problems which have not been addressed, and they may not have been a part of my initial election campaign. I’ve talked to residents about problems as simple as getting a stop sign where a stop sign is needed, or about a house number on the street in front of their house that has been wiped off, and if there is an emergency, there is a problem for emergency vehicles getting to that house. That is a significant problem to that person, and I think it is very important to realize that.
Q: How about your medical practice? Has it suffered as a result?
A: From the time I began to now, my patients have not suffered in spite of the time I’ve spent on my election. It is my promise to all of my patients that they will not suffer. And if you think I will not spend that much time after I’m elected, I will probably spend even more time.
Q: Has the campaign been tougher than you thought it would be?
A: It’s a very different feeling. I’ve been in a position where people come to ask me about whatever their problems are. Here, I’m on the other end of the stick. I’m asking for their vote and their support. So, yes, it’s been a little bit harder, but you know, whenever people feel that I have genuine interest in the city and I have no agendas of any kind, it’s not hard to convince people once they realize that. By the same token, it has been a phenomenal experience; it has been an eye-opener for me. I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting people and listening to their concerns, and I’m not going to forget those people who have voiced concerns about issues that exist, and I’m going to try to address them one by one.
Q: At the start of your campaign, you stressed the need to make Paris a cleaner city. How have your priorities changed over the course of the campaign?
A: I have learned more and more about the infrastructure of the city and I feel a lot more needs to be done besides making the city beautiful. We still need a nicer, more beautiful city, but a prettier city also requires a good infrastructure. We have an important short-term goal of hiring a city manager, and an important long-term goal of improving the infrastructure and developing a future plan for the city. I also feel strongly about empowering our residents and involving them in the affairs of the city.
Q: How do you go about getting citizens more involved?
A: I have a whole list of things written down. I have every intention of opening a District 7 office. We are going to create a white board where people will come in, from District 7 or anywhere else in the city, and write down their problems. There will be volunteers, and every time a problem is written down, it will be addressed and taken care of as best as we possibly can. My goal is to empower the residents and involve them in the affairs of the city. There is some degree of lack of trust on the part of residents, and once they are brought into the loop, I think we will see that start to change.
Q: You were brought to Paris five years ago to improve cardiac care at Paris Regional Medical Center. Was it difficult leaving a lucrative practice at a state-of-the-art cardiac facility in Tampa, Fla.?
A: It was very hard. The thing that convinced me most was that Andrew Knizley, the administrator of the hospital here, wanted to bring about a change in the cardiac program, and he felt I had done it before, he knew I was an enthusiastic individual, and he felt I could do it. And then I came. I felt I could make a difference, and that’s why I decided to stay and work. I’ve enjoyed living here, and I’ve enjoyed working at the hospital.
Q: What’s the key to turning around a bad situation?
A: Well, the first thing is, nothing beats hard work. The second thing is, if you want to promote something and you want to fix something, you have to volunteer yourself before you start asking others to. I’ll give an example, when I came to work at the hospital in Paris, I’m not going to say the hospital was not clean, but you know, certainly it required some extra work to bring it up to par from where I came from. So the first few steps we took, along with Dr. Khalid Shafiq, were to build that level up. Early on, I had a patient on one floor, and one of the family members was staying with the patient. Somebody came and changed the sheets of the patient, but the cot on which the family member was staying was not changed, which was a little disturbing to me. And so instead of asking someone to change the sheets, it took one time of changing the sheet on the cot myself. From then on, I never had a problem and you could see the changing results. I think it’s the same way with cleaning up the city. It will take some effort, but all of us, I think, feel that the cleanliness of the city can be improved, and I think everyone wants improvement. We are all going to need to work together to get the city to be a better place to live.
Q: You realize if you are elected to the city council, you might run into resistance as the “new kid on the block.”
A: I understand there might be resistance, but by the same token, a lot of people voted for me, and I am not going to let their vote go to waste just because I feel there will be resistance. I’m a hands-on person, and I don’t mind putting my heart into the effort, whatever it takes to improve the system. Once I strongly believe that the system will improve and we have seen results, then there is very little to stop me. I will put in my effort, and I’ll do my best. I will try to convince my associates on the city council to get my point across. And not only do I want to get my point across, but I want to listen to them, too, so that we have a very congenial atmosphere in our city council. None of the people on the city council and none of the residents would ever say that they would not want good things to be done in Paris. We all want good things to happen in Paris, and when we all want good things to happen, we can all work together in unison and create a better Paris for tomorrow.
Q: Did you have that kind of resistance at Paris Regional Medical Center?
A: Dr. Knizley brought me here, but there was a change in administrators, and the new administrator didn’t know me as Mr. Knizley had. I sensed resistance because we were talking about expenses to bring the facilities up to date. But I think in the long run they realized we were all making an effort and they needed to do their part, and their part was to spend the money to bring the best services to Paris and the best and newest equipment to Paris, and the best new facilities. After some degree of resistance, they did give in and we were able to secure it.
Q: Any resistance from other doctors in Paris?
A: No, I don’t think other doctors resisted it. They felt, however, that I would not be successful in obtaining all the finances from the administration to secure the type of facility I wanted. But there they were wrong because I was indeed able to convince them. But again, I think the administration also saw that we were improving the system. I mean, you just have to show results. Once you show good results, people are much more willing to follow you. And though it took some time and effort, once we got good results and people started seeing it, patients were willing to come and the administration was willing to spend the money. I demanded improved performance, but above and beyond my demands, various performance improved itself as well because everybody was working under much better conditions than they used to. We have a happier staff, and we have better results when we have a happy staff.
Send questions or comments about this article to