Diamondhead voters will head back to the polls this Tuesday, June 8, to determine who will be their next city councilman-at-large, either Republican candidate Gerard Maher or Democratic candidate James Hightower.

Mayor Nancy Depreo, Ward 1 Councilman Shane Finley, Ward 2 Councilman Alan Moran, Ward 3 candidate Richard "Ricky" Sheppard Jr. and Ward 4 Councilman Charles "Chuck" Clark, all Republicans, were all unopposed in either the primary or general elections.

Although there’s only one council race In Diamondhead city-wide, officials say they expect voting to be brisk on Tuesday due to the referendum on bringing the water & sewer district and fire district under the city’s control (see separate story).

We asked the candidates for councilman-at-large to respond to a series of questions. Below are their answers, in their entirety. The candidates are listed in alphabetical order.

James Hightower, Democratic candidate for City Councilman-At-Large

 1. What is your educational/professional background and how would you apply that to your office on behalf of the people of Diamondhead?

I have a Master of Divinity from Earlham School of Religion and a Doctorate in Psychology and Counseling from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. My career is in public service through being a pastor of local congregations and Vice President of the largest philanthropic foundation in Louisiana. Currently my wife, Susan Niemann-Hightower, and I own a counseling practice (Coastal Family Counseling) in Diamondhead.

Having lived life in the not-for-profit sector, I have served people by listening and leading and being a helper.

These skills have helped prepare me for service as the council member at large for the City of Diamondhead.

2. What neighborhood do you live in and why? Where are your favorite places to spend time in Diamondhead?

My family and I live on the back side of Diamondhead. Having experienced eight feet of water in our New Orleans home we rebuilt in Diamondhead where my wife’s family lives. At the time Susan’s Mom was a contractor who built our house. Why our neighborhood? High ground. Do we love our neighborhood. Absolutely.

Our children have grown up in Diamondhead. So many of our favorite places have centered around them. Swimming at the main pool, summer sports when they were younger. Golf lessons for a lifetime sport. Through the Mardi Gras Season we have enjoyed the social activities and have made so many friends through these activities.

3. What do you think the number one issue Diamondhead is facing right now and what would you do to resolve it?

Building the future of Diamondhead is the primary issue that has many facets. The city will soon celebrate its tenth anniversary. We are a young city. Basic issues are drainage and roadways and how the City continues to make improvements. Building a commercial district that appeals to residents and brings visitors to Diamondhead will in part determine our economic future. Increasing quality small businesses in our community is another goal for building the future of Diamondhead.

Collaboration is also needed for the future of Diamondhead. The ability of the City and the Property Owners Association to work collaboratively is crucial. In the same manner of collaboration how the various city wide services and the city government meet the common needs of the citizens as economically as possible will be of critical importance.

4. What is the one thing you like the most about life in Diamondhead?

Diamondhead is a beautiful and safe community with excellent schools to raise a family, as we are doing.

5. If you could change one thing about Diamondhead, what would it be?

I want to use my skills to help people listen respectfully to one another and make informed decisions before acting to both continue and improve our way of life.

6. If you could change one thing about the city’s zoning code, what would it be and why?

Diamondhead is a growing community. Rather than look at one specific code building smart is needed. Diamondhead is larger than was envisioned at its start. That fact makes it even more crucial that going forward we have smart growth that preserves our natural beauty and the quality of life we enjoy.

7. If elected, what three steps would you take to put our city on a firmer financial footing?

1. A revitalized commercial district.

2. A Towne Center with multiuse buildings for stores, remote workers and housing.

3. Continue efforts to make the City of Diamondhead government as cost effective as possible.

Diamondhead loses $165 million annually due to people leaving Diamondhead to shop. Growth that will keep those tax dollars at home is a must.

8. If elected, what would you do to involve residents in the decision-making process in Diamondhead?

I will listen to individuals and groups of citizens being as transparent as possible. I will seriously study the issues and bring that study to the entire community through participating in the already established ward meetings. . As the council member at large responding to all citizens according to the best information that I have will be the job you have entrusted to me.

I promise I will vote in the best interest of all of Diamondhead using all the resources at my disposal to gather information available to me. Then I will be willing to explain my vote to my constituents.

9. If you received a $1 million grant to use for the city any way you wanted, what would you do with it and why?

After conferring with my fellow council members and the city manager I would attempt to leverage those dollars so that more could be done with the $1 million.

Drainage is a persistent issue for Diamondhead. Using the grant to target that city wide issue would be a step in the right direction.

10. Why are you seeking public office and what do you hope to achieve?

Seeking public office is a continuation of the career I have always had. Public service where people are heard and problems are solved has been my life. I am grateful this office will help me do what I do best for all of our citizens.

Gerard Maher, Republican candidate for City Councilman-At Large

1. What is your educational/professional background and how would you apply that to your office on behalf of the people of Diamondhead?

I have a degree in Psychology with graduate courses in economics and financing.

I opened my own small business here on the coast in 2001- a real estate services firm called Gulf Coast Realty. Being a successful small business owner, I learned how to multi-task to get the job done, as well as how to manage the income expenses for my business. Being a business owner required me to comparison shop for the best programs to meet my business needs, to be a value to the business and accomplish the job. This would be important to the role of city councilman in order to be a good steward of the public’s money.

I do not want to see taxpayers’ money used without investigating to make sure 1) the designated use is necessary for the public good; 2) the work is being done by competent professionals who will do the job right; 3) the designated use is a benefit to the city.å

Also, being in real estate, helps me appreciate the homeowner’s quality of life. Selling homes isn’t just about a single property. It is about neighborhoods and quality of life in the community. It is about good schools, and an inviting atmosphere for business and stores to prosper in Diamondhead by offering services to homeowners. It is about protecting people’s private property rights while balancing the community’s needs. That seems to me to be what the City should be about too!

2. What neighborhood do you live in and why? Where are your favorite places to spend time in Diamondhead?

I live just off of Lola and Diamondhead Dr. North. It is a great place, and I love to walk from my house to Twin Lakes and enjoy the sites I see along the way. I play Trivia at The Red Zone on Tuesday nights, and I enjoy the fun atmosphere of that event with friends. I like going down to the Lazy Gator and watch the boats from their back porch and the downstairs. I enjoy using the pools in warmer non covid times and I like hiking throughout Diamondhead. I like that Diamondhead is convenient to the whole coast.

3. What do you think the number one issue Diamondhead is facing right now and what would you do to resolve it?

Diamondhead needs to have a beautiful entrance way, an upper scale hotel, and get drainage and roads repaired. The city is currently working right now on extending Noma Dr to go to a new commercial development area and waterfront. It is exciting times for Diamondhead and I believe that the city is headed in the right direction. With diligent effort and supportive council people, we should see the fruits of that effort in the next few years!

4. What is the one thing you like the most about life in Diamondhead?

It is a great community for everyone, from the retirees to families with children. There is something in Diamondhead for all including our Golf courses, sports fields, swimming pools, kayak launches, boat ramp, airport, tennis courts and many community events throughout the year. All of these amenities are our greatest asset in Diamondhead!

5. If you could change one thing about Diamondhead, what would it be?

The perception that Diamondhead is just for retirees. Nothing could be further from the truth, but that image lingers in the minds of people from outside our area. Also, we need to attract more people who currently work in mid-level management positions and end up moving to the Louisiana Northshore.

6. If you could change one thing about the city’s zoning code, what would it be and why?

I think it would be to the advantage to our community to have in some parts mixed use zoning with residential apartments above and commercial stores on the ground floor.

7. If elected, what three steps would you take to put our city on a firmer financial footing?

I think more than 3 things are being handled exceptionally by our present Mayor and City Manager. The city council hold meetings with advisors and accountants to make the city look at better financial stewardship. I would like to see these steps broadcast better to all the residents so they would know how hard the City leadership works to make the best financial decisions.

8. If elected, what would you do to involve residents in the decision-making process in Diamondhead?

In addition to using email and social media, we need to attract people to city council meetings either attending in-person or via Zoom. Perhaps we could utilize digital signs to direct our residents on where to go to find information on the latest news with the City.

9. If you received a $1 million grant to use for the city any way you wanted, what would you do with it and why?

We are always looking for grant money, and some of it comes in stages to get projects completed. If an extra 1 million were to be dropped in the city’s lap, we should address better drainage in those areas of the City that have problems.

10. Why are you seeking public office and what do you hope to achieve?

I have learned that you have to be able to think on your feet, to listen to people in order to come to a consensus or a solution. I think my years of experience teaching, managing and coaching real estate agents as well as being past president of our local Gulf Coast Association of REALTORS® has taught me that I know how to get things done. I am running for Councilman to help facilitate a smooth path between the city’s growth and the citizens’ needs.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 8. Voters in Ward 1 will cast ballots at Diamondhead City Hall. Wards 2, 3 and 4 will vote at the Diamondhead Community Center.

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