The four Lebanon mayoral candidates made their final public remarks last Thursday before early voting begins Wednesday during a mayoral forum hosted by Cumberland University.

The candidates answered a series of questions aimed at the city’s functions and needed improvements, growth, challenges facing the city and what makes them the ideal mayor.

“I served two terms on the city council. I was elected mayor pro-tem twice,” candidate Rob Cesternino said. “I am, by far, the most experienced in the roles that I think are important to the city, and that’s managing your money. That’s leading department heads. That’s creating a mission, a vision, goals and objectives and actually executing that.”

Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash challenged Cesternino’s claims, noting he was first elected to the Wilson County Commission in 1994, serving as chairman of several boards and owned and operated Creative Photography for more than 20 years.

“I am the only one who served and provided leadership in a time of turmoil - tornado and COVID - which we are still working with. We had 4,000 volunteers for the tornado. We got the city picked up and back to running very quickly,” Ash said.

Candidate John DeMoor said his experience in private business gave him needed experience.

“My experience in television, radio and internet production has made me successful in creative marketing and sales, which makes me uniquely qualified to promote Lebanon as an exciting, vital place to work, play, raise a family and invest,” DeMoor said.

“I grew up in the business world here in Lebanon, so I do have that experience, and for the past 20 years, I’ve been an educator. I believe I bring qualities to the office that will take Lebanon to a positive future. One of those is the ability to communicate - let people know what’s going on in their city and let people know where their tax dollars are being spent,” candidate Rick Bell said.

DeMoor said he believed the biggest issue facing the city is flooding, which recently threatened the Lebanon Square.

“Identify the areas where the water is stagnant and collecting and causing a backup. Clear those areas as far as it’s going to take. I don’t mean put pipe all the down the Cumberland River, but pipe under the city - coming in the city, leaving the city,” DeMoor said.

Ash said he believed the continual growth of the city presents its biggest challenge, although it’s not out of control at this time.

“At this time, I would say the growth is manageable, but that probably is still our greatest problem,” Ash said.

Bell and Cesternino also addressed the growth and said planning was important in dealing with the growth.

“Without planning, you get overwhelmed by growth,” Bell said. “Growth doesn’t pay for itself, but then all of sudden, you’re in a financial situation.”

“One of the things we should be recruiting is some over-55 communities. If you’re looking at Wilson County Schools paying $9,000 per student and somebody comes in with two kids, with all of their taxes, we’re easily upside-down $18,000 from (the) get-go,” Cesternino said.

The candidates also addressed areas they believed the city performed well in, as well as areas that could be improved.

“We have a great workforce. We have a workforce that’s committed to doing their jobs to the best of their abilities,” Cesternino said. “I spent the majority of my life living on military bases. Our city is dirty. Our city is unkept, and it seems we’re always talking about the next shiny new objects when we don’t do the best job taking care of the businesses and citizens that are here today.”

“On March 3, what the city does well was very much displayed when the tornado came through. By the time the lights came on again, the city was already picking up waste trying to get roads open and make sure people were safe,” Ash said. “I think the one thing we can improve on probably is customer service.”

“I’ve lived here in Lebanon since 2003, and I find all the departments that I’ve interacted with are well run. They’re staffed quite adequately and the people are friendly,” said DeMoor, who said he believed the relationship between city officials and residents could be improved.

“I really think that’s the strength of our city - the people that work for it,” said Bell, who said he believed the city’s budgetary practices could be improved.

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