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Saturday's City of Paris election: A referendum on Hashmi's leadership?

Dr. AJ Hashmi
Dr. AJ Hashmi

Four Paris City Council places are up for election on Saturday in what could serve as a referendum on Dr. AJ Hashmi’s 3-year tenure as mayor.

  • Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday.
  • For Districts 1 and 2, voting will be at the Red River Valley Fairgrounds, at the corner of East Center Street and Fitzhugh.
  • For Districts 3 and 6, voting will be at the Lamar County Services Building, 231 Lamar Ave.

The four incumbents — Aaron Jenkins in District 1, Sue Lancaster in District 2, John Wright in District 3, and Cleonne Drake in District 6 — have campaigned on the council’s success under Hashmi’s leadership.

The challengers — Joe McCarthy in District 1, Kelly Collins in District 2, Benny Plata in District 3, and Edwin Pickle in District 6 — say things have gone downhill and change is needed.

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(Click here to read each candidate’s responses to questions directed to them either at 1) the Republican County of Lamar County candidate forum or 2) from eParisExtra.)

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Hashmi, in District 7; Dr. Richard Grossnickle, in District 4; and Matt Frierson, in District 5, are in the middle of their second 2-year terms on the council.

The reality of this year’s city election is that Paris will have a new mayor — Grossnickle, Frierson, or one of the newly elected members — if at least two of the incumbents are unseated on Saturday.

Grossnickle and Frierson have been on the opposite side of Hashmi on many topics, which means Hashmi will need three votes (besides his own) from the four council seats at stake on Saturday.

It takes the votes of four or more council members to become mayor, and several of Saturday’s challengers are on the ballot because they were recruited by citizens wanting a change.

Hashmi’s former campaign manager, ex-councilman Bill Strathern, told eParisExtra.com that he coached the incumbents before the April 24 candidate forum, in which they talked about the council’s accomplishments under Hashmi’s leadership.

Hashmi is immensely popular among many in the city, but there also is unrest. Some think Hashmi has overstepped his authority by usurping the city manager’s authority on issues, effectively turning Paris into a council-strong mayor form of government rather than the Charter-mandated council-manager form of government.

The election results will be canvassed on Monday, May 19, followed by the new council’s selection of a mayor and mayor pro-tem for the next 12 months.

In that regard, the key points of contention over Hashmi’s mayorship have been:

  • The overhaul of the Paris Economic Development Corporation: Did the council — led by Hashmi and Strathern — destroy a PEDC that was bringing jobs to Paris and Lamar County, or was the PEDC out of control under executive director Steve Gilberty and in need of being reined in?
  • Lake Crook: Is the city council going too far by in pursuing improvements at Lake Crook that involve outside developers, and in using money from the $45 million infrastructure bond to extend water and sewer lines to Cox Field Airport?
  • Is the city council, again under Hashmi’s direction, on the right track directing infrastructure bond money at water and sewer lines, without new streets?
  • Is Hashmi re-defining the mayor’s job by usurping powers the Charter gives to the city manager?

By Charles Richards, eParisExtra

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