The Meridian Board of Realtors invited mayoral candidates to participate in a forum Tuesday.
"Just wanted to have our members have an opportunity to ask questions of the candidates and get a better feel of the candidates," said member Terry Winstead. "Obviously, the office of mayor and what happens to the city of Meridian is very important to all of us, both as citizens and to our livelihood."
"To us, you know, the safety in Meridian, for one thing, is a big issue," said member Margaret Nelms. "And mostly, the moving forward of Meridian, to make Meridian a more desirable place to be, and growing. We want Meridian to grow."
Seven candidates are challenging Republican Mayor Cheri Barry. Five of the eight who will be on GOP, Democrat and general elections ballots participated.
Each spelled out their priorities, which in most cases, were many. For one candidate, though it all comes down to creating revenue.
"Casino gambling would answer all our problems," said Bill Compton, Jr. "If you don't like to gamble, don't go to the casino."
Tackling crime is at the top of the list for several. Democrat Percy Bland said the signs he spotted on the way to the forum scare home buyers away. He suggests more police precincts in residential areas.
"If we have more substations within the community, more officers out of their cars, on bikes, patrolling, they'll have better relations with the community," said Bland.
Democrat Rod Amos says he wants a comprehensive approach to solving crime, and says throwing money at the problem isn't the answer.
"Get the entire community involved," said Amos. "Look at various departments within the city to sort of work in terms of quality of life here in Meridian."
Barry said she wants to add five additional police officers each year and says the crime rate is declining. She said she believes partnerships she has built in the past four years hold the key to economic success for the city's future.
"With the governor, lieutenant governor, Dick Hall, the transportation commission, the insurance commissioner, Mike Chaney, we have wonderful partnerships. They know that my heart and soul is in building Meridian and growing the best city we can have," Barry said.
Independent Wally Hudnall said he believes the city should return to a weak mayor-strong council government, with a city manager. And he promised to be a one-term mayor, due to health issues. Hudnall says he wants to lay stepping stones for future leaders.
"The mayor doesn't appoint all the jobs," said Hudnall. "Or the school board. You're better off with the old form. The new form? We've been backing up the last 25 years."
Candidates Randle Jennings, Walter Patton and Doug Nichols did not attend the forum.
Municipal primaries are May 7. If necessary, runoffs would be May 21. The general election is June 4.