More of the same or more of the old same.
In a nutshell, that’s what Brighton voters will need to decide when they head to the polls to elect a new mayor.
Stephanie Chapman-Washam, 46, is not the incumbent, but she has been the vice-mayor since 2016 and an alderwoman since being appointed a year before that.
She said one of her main accomplishments as a board member was helping secure grant money to alleviate drainage issues, something about which residents of seemingly every small town complain.
The grant does require matching funds from the town.
“I would hate to see that not followed through on,” Chapman-Washam said.
Gus Smith, Chapman-Washam’s 74-year-old opponent, served as Brighton’s mayor from 1993 to 2003, when Jeff Scott defeated him. Scott served until 2015 when he resigned and Sarah Crocker, the current mayor, was appointed.
Smith describes himself as “real conservative” and said he is running because spending is out of control. He claims a lot of money in reserves that was there when he left office in 2003 is now gone.
“They don’t save money and they don’t have any idea how to save it,” Smith said. “They’re still just steadily spending, spending. I can see spending but you’ve got to set some aside.”
Chapman-Washam doesn’t see things that way.
“As far as what we spend, I think we’ve come a long way with our police and fire departments,” she said. “Replacing expired equipment is not overspending, it’s a necessity. There are small things that can be cut, but I don’t think we overspend that much.”
The way the candidates have gone about campaigning is as different as their views on the town’s finances. While both haven gotten out into the community in person, their strategies diverge when it comes to social media.
The “Stephanie Chapman-Washam for Mayor of Brighton” Facebook page has more than a dozen posts in recent weeks about the election and other matters. The last post on Smith’s Facebook page came in January when multiple people wished him a happy birthday.
Smith says some people on Facebook have said he wants to defund the Brighton Police Department.
“People ask me about that,” Smith said. “I have no intentions of defunding or doing away with the police department. Some of these new people don’t know me and they believe that stuff. I think Facebook could get me beat. If it does I’ll accept that.”
Chapman-Washman said after talking to many Brighton citizens on the campaign trail she believes being an ex-mayor who many longtime Brighton residents know cuts both ways.
“Because Mr. Gus was mayor some people already know him, which is a good thing and a bad thing,” she said. “Some of them want him because he was born and raised here and I’m from Munford (she moved to Brighton 16 years ago) and some of them don’t want him because he was the mayor before. I know what people want and don’t want.”
Chapman-Washman acknowledges there are some things that could improve within the Brighton government. She says communication with the community and between town officials needs to get better.
“It’s a part-time job, but I plan on doing it as a full-time job,” she said. “I want to be up there at city hall just to be available to the citizens. I don’t want to micro-manage, but having someone up there to overlook look things would be good.”
She believes Brighton, which sometimes gets overlooked in the Tipton County hierarchy behind Covington, Atoka and Munford, has a lot to offer. Brighton has the lowest property tax rate ($1.00) in the county, award-winning schools and what she calls “that small-town feel.”
Still, she thinks commercial growth is crucial to the town’s long-term financial health.
“I want to grow it,” she said. “That’s a big problem. We only have a few businesses so when it looks like we’re spending a lot it’s because we don’t have a lot of (tax) revenue coming in. I don’t want to raise our property taxes every year just to keep up with public safety.”
Because Smith has been out of Brighton government for 18 years, he said he needs to look at the town’s finances before getting too specific about his plans if elected. He does believe, however, changes need to be made.
“Our streets are in pretty bad shape and there are other odds and ends we need to do,” he said. “I hear complaints all the time. I’m going to have to get in and see how the finances are before I do anything. We have a good police department and fire department. It looks like they do a good job. There are several things I want to look into, but my main thing right now is finances and seeing what we can afford.”