Candidates for North Wilkesboro mayor, two North Wilkesboro commissioner seats and two Wilkesboro Town Council seats introduced themselves and shared their views on a variety of topics during an event Thursday evening.

Attendance at the three-hour question and answer forum at North Wilkesboro’s Yadkin Valley Marketplace peaked at about 50 people during the session for the four mayoral candidates — Michael Cooper, William Hamby, Marc Hauser and Robert Johnson.

The first session was for Wilkesboro Town Council candidates Nellie Archibald, Russ Ferree and Lee Taylor. North Wilkesboro commissioner candidates Otis Church, Angela Day and Joe Johnston spoke in the last session.

Each candidate made opening and closing statements and responded to questions asked by Dane Mastin, moderator and Wilkes County sheriff from 1990 to 2020 and now interim Jonesville police chief. L.B. Prevette, a local leader who is active in national organizations that address social issues, was timekeeper.

The forum was organized by the Wilkes Journal-Patriot. Questions were prepared by the news staff of the newspaper, with question suggestions requested and received from the public.

Questions varied among the three sessions, but several dealt with the same topics. Shared topics included economic development and combining Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro services/merging the two towns.

Both Wilkesboro Town Council and North Wilkesboro commissioner candidates answered a question concerning a study that identified a lack of rental and for-sale housing in Wilkes.

Portions of the responses of candidates to these questions and their closing statements will be published in the next two issues of the Wilkes Journal-Patriot.

Early, one-stop voting for the three town races is from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 14-29 weekdays only and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 30 at the Wilkes Board of Elections office on the third floor of the Wilkes County Office Building in Wilkesboro. A person can register to vote and vote at the same time and location in early, one-stop voting.

Election Day is Nov. 2, with municipal polling places open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. The deadline is 5 p.m. for returning absentee ballots in person and 7:30 p.m. to return military/overseas ballots electronically.

Opening statements of municipal candidates during the forum were:

Nellie Archibald

Nellie Hubbard Archibald, as her name appears on the ballot in the Wilkesboro race, said she has lived in Wilkesboro most of her life. After graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1985, she was away for a few more years working at the News and Observer in Raleigh and then the Charlotte Observer.

She and her husband, Jim Archibald, raised their children, Mary Frances and Pat, in Wilkesboro. She retired as Wilkes Journal-Patriot advertising manager last year after her family sold the newspaper.

She served on the Wilkesboro Planning Council before being elected to the Wilkesboro Town Council in 2009. Archibald said she didn’t seek re-election due to work and family responsibilities. She said that as her children left home for college and careers and other responsibilities eased, she ran for a council seat and was elected in 2017. She is an incumbent.

Archibald said parks are among her responsibilities and she helped get new playground equipment, pickle ball courts and more. She was elected to the N.C. League of Municipalities board last year, representing towns in the district for Wilkes and nearby counties. “We try to keep as much local control as possible for towns and keep (towns) out of Raleigh politics,” she said. Archibald is on the Wilkes YMCA board and she and her husband are active members of First United Methodist Church of North Wilkesboro.

Russ Ferree

Russell F. Ferree, as his name appears on the ballot in the Wilkesboro race, said he was born in the old Wilkes hospital in North Wilkesboro and raised in that town. He said he is 71, but added that this doesn’t mean he isn’t receptive to new ideas. Ferree is an incumbent.

“I have no political ladder to climb and don’t want one. I have always kept one eye on the tax rate so that we can keep our taxes low and the other eye on the future. I’m interested in bringing new jobs to our community so our children will have a reason to come home.”

Ferree said there have been many improvements in Wilkesboro in the last few years, both seen and unseen. “We have a good town — a safe, clean place to raise our children. I do believe that that the future is very bright.” Ferree cited park and greenway expansions, mountain bike trails and other things that are important to all age groups in the community.

Ferree mentioned the town’s wastewater and water treatment plant expansions, which he said will be very important in the future. He also cited plans to have the N.C. Department of Transportation convert U.S. 421 West to a “superstreet.”

He said Wilkesboro is a good, safe and clean town to raise children. “Hopefully our children will have a reason to come back home.”

Lee Taylor

Lee W. Taylor, as his name appears on the ballot in the Wilkesboro race, said he is married to Susan Pillsbury Taylor, a minister at Arbor Grove and Union United Methodist churches in Wilkes. He said he also is a pastor.

Taylor said he grew up on a farm in Bedford County, Va. His father had an insurance agency in town and let him and his brother do the farm work. “We learned a lot — one of the best educations I had.”

Taylor said he attended Virginia Tech but left after a year because he didn’t like it. “I joined the Army, just to see what I was made of more than anything else…. They taught me not so much what I want, but what I don’t want. What you don’t want is more lasting because what you want changes from day to day.”

Taylor said he retired from Wells Fargo after running bank trust departments in different cities in Virginia. After his first wife died at age 53, Taylor rode his motorcycle around the country for a couple of years. He said it was journey of self and a positive experience.

Taylor said that after that, he was hired to raise money for Sweetbriar College in Amherst, Va., and raised $25 million for the school in three years.

Mike Cooper

Michael Cooper, as his name appears on the ballot in the mayor’s race, said his first and best memories are in North Wilkesboro, where he grew up. His mother had a used bookstore on Main Street for 36 years.

“I remember playing in the playground at Smoot Park, going to movies at the Liberty Theater and watching fireworks on July 4. All of us are here tonight because we share those memories of North Wilkesboro. We remember what we were and what we can be again. I’m a product of North Wilkesboro…. I went on to live in Raleigh and Washington, D.C., but this was always my home.”

He practiced law at the McElwee firm on Main Street for four years and served on boards of the Downtown Partnership, Wilkes Hall of Fame and Wilkes Habitat for Humanity, Catherine Barber Homeless Shelter, Project Lazarus and Wilkes Recovery Revolution and two years as Wilkes Community Foundation president.

Cooper said that as mayor he wants to help residents compete in the economy and “help us bring this community back to life, but I can’t do it alone. This campaign is about asking for your vote, but it’s also about asking for your help. This journey doesn’t end on election day. That’s when the work begins. North Wilkesboro has a proud history, but that story isn’t over…. We get to help North Wilkesboro make history again.”

William Hamby

William Hamby, as his name appears on the ballot in the mayor’s race, said he was born and raised in Wilkes County and moved to North Wilkesboro 20 years ago. Hamby said he was a small business owner before and after moving to North Wilkesboro. He has been the owner of multiple small businesses.

“I see the struggles of small business people not only out in the county but in the Town of North Wilkesboro. Something has to be done. I decided at 73 years old and having never run for an office that it’s time for me to speak out,” said Hamby.

So, that’s the reason I’m running for mayor of North Wilkesboro,” he added.

Marc Hauser

Marc R. Hauser, as his name appears on the ballot in the mayor’s race,, said he and his wife, Carla, have three children, four grandchildren and another on the way. “I want to see North Wilkesboro prosper and realize its full potential for all of us to enjoy. There’s no reason our town can’t be as attractive, as inviting and as prosperous as surrounding towns in our area.”

He continued, “A few months ago, I knocked on about 90% of the businesses in North Wilkesboro. Time and time again, I heard how difficult it was to conduct business in and business with our town. Small businesses will be the backbone of future economic development.”

Hauser said businesses should be made to feel that they have an ally in the town, not an adversary or bureaucracy. He said present and future businesses need to know what the town offers to help them thrive, but this isn’t happening and it needs to change.

Hauser said parks and public areas need refreshing to make the town more inviting. He said police need adequate funding and competitive pay to recruit and retain good officers, while firefighters need up to date training and equipment. He said cooperation is needed to make quality housing available. It will take hard work and common sense decisions to accomplish these goals, he said, adding that he has the time, energy, desire and life and business experience to make it happen.

Robert Johnson

Robert L. Johnson, as his name appears on the ballot in the mayor’s race, stated, I’ve listened to the comments that have been made. I couldn’t disagree with any of them,” said Johnson, adding that he wanted to list a few of the accomplishments that occurred through his tenure as mayor.

He said he advocated for establishing and funding a series of live “concerts on the deck” in downtown North Wilkesboro that has grown every year since it started in 2008. He said he sought support for construction of the Yadkin Valley Marketplace, encouraged the improvements made to the intersections of Ninth and Main streets and Sixth and Main streets.

Johnson said he facilitated bringing new businesses to North Wilkesboro, including Samaritan’s Purse, Copper Barrel Distillery, Tenten Thai and La Fortuna restaurants, Key City Antiques, Roger’s Discount Furniture and Dom’s Bakery.

“With those things being said, I want to continue being the mayor that will and can continue to make this town prosper and grow as it has in my tenue.” Johnson is the incumbent.

Otis Church

Otis W. Church, as his name appears on the ballot in the North Wilkesboro commissioner race, said he is a candidate because he sees a great potential for North Wilkesboro to grow and attract business. “Our town has unfulfilled promises and unfinished projects that are standing in the way of progress.” Church said his goal is to work for the people of North Wilkesboro to help the town grow. “Other towns have done it and so çan we. It’s time for change and time for action.”

Church grew up in Wilkes and has lived in North Wilkesboro since 1992, left to serve in the U.S. Air Force and had a career in textile manufacturing. Church and his wife, Jo Ann Parsons Church, started and still own and operate A Baby Celebration, a business on Main Street, North Wilkesboro.

Church said he has served on historical and downtown partnership boards and is current chairman of the North Wilkesboro Planning Board. During his time on planning board, the town’s zoning ordinance was updated to meet state standards and a non-residence zoning ordinance was established. “With the new code and guidance, our goal is to upgrade existing buildings to make our town a more desirable place to establish a business.”

He said he also served the community as a member of the North Wilkesboro Lions Club, including as president.

Angela Day

Angela J. Day, as her name appears on the ballot in the North Wilkesboro commissioner race, said serving the people in her first four-year term has been an honor. “I have met wonderful people in North Wilkesboro. My heart is just full of how many good things we have here and what has taken place here, even today in our elections.”

Day owns and operates Ivy Ridge Traditions, which has been on Main Street, North Wilkesboro, for 22 years. “I have enjoyed every second of it.” Day said she has also been a real estate agent the last seven years, which she said gives her a view of the real estate world and housing that others don’t see.

Day served two terms on the North Wilkesboro Planning Board before she was elected a commissioner. She also served two terms as Downtown Partnership president. “I have been thrilled to attend the North Carolina Main Street program, as representative of North Wilkesboro.” She encouraged others to attend this also.

Joe Johnston

Joseph A. Johnston, as his name appears on the ballot in the North Wilkesboro commissioner race, said he is running after serving as a commissioner from 2013-19 because, like others, he expects more. He said that when he decided to not seek reelection earlier, he challenged the mayor and other commissioners “to be vigilant in maintaining what we had and to be thoughtful and insightful in adding to our future.”

He continued, “Then the pandemic hit. We slowed down as our government asked us and we should have, but “we stopped making plans, we lost some direction and I am ready to reset our goals and priorities.”

Johnston said he grew up in North Wilkesboro, went to elementary school at what now is Benton Hall, played football for Wilkes Central High at Memorial Park and has lived in downtown North Wilkesboro for 15 years. Johnston is a third-generation furniture maker in North Wilkesboro as president of the company he founded, Johnston Casuals.

“I am a leader, a manager, a planner, a cheerleader, a dreamer and a proven difference maker. I am for a strong, vibrant and clean downtown with appealing stores and upscale restaurants. I want North Wilkesboro to become a destination settlement for people who want to live and play here. Together this does not have to be a dream.”

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