Tuesdays night’s candidate forum was organized and hosted by Indivisible Wilkes, a local non-partisan group. Jerry Swaim, former Wilkes County school principal and former member of the Wilkes Board of Elections, was moderator and asked the questions. Candidates received copies of the questions in advance and had two minutes per answer, with Indivisible Wilkes Chairman Gwen Shafer as timekeeper. About an hour was allowed for the North Wilkesboro race and the same for the Wilkesboro race.
Five of the six candidates on the ballot for three North Wilkesboro commissioner seats this fall answered questions in a candidates’ forum Tuesday at Wilkes Community College’s Pit Auditorium. The participants were Michael Parsons, Tiger Posey, Andrew Palmer, Otis Church and incumbent Bert Hall. Not present was Chad George.
Jerry Swaim, former Wilkes County school principal and former member of the Wilkes Board of Elections, was the moderator and asked the questions. Candidates were given copies of the questions in advance and had two minutes per answer. Indivisible Wilkes hosted the forum.
Questions and portions of answers follow:
“If elected, what single issue is most important to you?”
Tiger Posey: Attractive affordable housing. “I work for Habitat for Humanity, but before that, I had an understanding of the need for affordable housing in our community…. For those we are trying to recruit to our community, we have very few affordable housing options.” He said this includes housing “for those young folks we want to bring back to our community.”
Michael Parsons: Water, sewer and street infrastructure. He said he supports the current plan of the North Wilkesboro commissioners to build a raw water intake on the Yadkin River. “We also have some real infrastructure issues concerning sewer and water lines and we also have some roads that need to be addressed…. You’ve got to have the infrastructure if you’re going to have the growth.”
Andrew Palmer: “Get the economy moving and get more jobs…. I am a big fan of amenities…. We need to see what kind of things we don’t have that we could have,” including by working with the Wilkes Economic Development Corp. “I like to buy in Wilkes as much as I can, but I find myself going out of town for things.” He cited the need for more economic opportunities for local young people.
Bert Hall: Building a new town fire station that is functional and affordable. “Since I’ve been on the board, we’ve been talking about building a new fire station.” He said the current station is highly inadequate. “We’ve got to decide where we are going to put it. I think the fire department should have a big say on where it goes.... I think the police station is fine where it is.”
Otis Church: Water and sewer lines, streets, sidewalks and parking lots. “Our sewer lines are in terrible shape and we need to replace them. It will cost several million dollars to do it.” The replacement needs to occur in sections “and pay for it as we go.” He cited the need to repave many streets and public parking lots. In addition to repairing sidewalks, many more sidewalk ramps are needed on curbs.
Do you support elimination of pay and other compensation for members of the North Wilkesboro Board of Commissioners? Why or why not? The North Wilkesboro mayor is paid $5,820.88 annually and the commissioners are paid $5,093.40 apiece annually. They all also have the option of receiving medical insurance through the town.
Andrew Palmer: “I don’t have a problem with people being paid, but at the same time if we cut it out, it wouldn’t bother me personally. I didn’t run for the money.”
Bert Hall: “I don’t think any of us sitting here ran for the money if you look at how much money it is. We do have insurance benefits,” as do Wilkesboro Town Council members. “I think as long as the towns can afford to pay a stipend, they should.”
Otis Church: Commissioner salaries help pay for gas, “but if we get in a budget crisis, yes, we need to cut salaries.” He didn’t realize commissioners were paid when he filed for office. He said he already has insurance and isn’t concerned about getting it through the town.
Michael Parsons: He agreed that no one runs for North Wilkesboro commissioner for the pay. He said town board members should have the option of not accepting benefits. He already has insurance through his business. “The benefits are not in such a manner that it makes it unreasonable for town to compensate the people who serve.”
Tiger Posey: “Service is service and to serve your community I’m not sure that you necessarily need to be compensated.” He said he’s not running for office to receive compensation.
What steps can municipalities take to address the impact of climate change on a local level?
Tiger Posey: Reduce motor vehicle emissions by making a municipality more bicycle-friendly. He said he is part of a Health Foundation-led effort that found a public bike sharing program to be very viable locally.
Michael Parsons: Except for things like encouraging planting trees, “I’m not sure that climate change is something the North Wilkesboro commissioners can actually address…. I’m not sure that it’s something that needs to be a high priority” for the town board.
Andrew Palmer: He said he agrees with a lot of what Parsons said. Palmer also said the town should do what it can to prepare for droughts, flooding, forest fires and other impacts of weather extremes.
Bert Hall: “There is very little the town or anyone in a town our size can do about climate change” or change our carbon emission levels. Hall said he’s seen all sorts of weather extremes in the town. “I think climate change is a natural occurrence,” but humanity has contributed to some degree.
Otis Church: “I agree that there isn’t much we can do about it,” or any more than is already being done. He noted that the town already is picking up recyclables.
What proposals do you have to address the problem of littering?
Otis Church: Education is needed to discourage littering. A town employee already picks up trash all day long.
Bert Hall: The town has an employee who works three days a week picking up trash. “We have ordinances that address littering, but you just about have to catch the person in the act to charge them.” Probably 25% of it comes from fastfood.
Andrew Palmer: Education in schools for kids and awareness campaigns for adults are possible ways to address it.
Michael Parsons: “We already have town ordinances and state statutes that address littering.” He recommended education, especially in the schools. Use the town website to encourage keeping streets clean.
Tiger Posey: Encourage people to take pride in their town by not littering. Put particular emphasis on intersections with stop signs, including by putting trash receptacles there. Encourage people to report littering when they see it.
Would you support a change in alcohol laws to allow or disallow sales of alcohol before noon on Sunday and why?
Otis Church: “We’ve already changed our laws in North Wilkesboro to allow” it now.
Bert Hall: “Actually, what we did is that we allow restaurant to sell mixed drinks at 10” on Sundays. “I don’t think it matters – at 10 or 12 (noon). If people are going to drink, they’re going to drink. It does help the restaurants open on Sunday mornings. My preference is to go to church on Sunday mornings.”
Andrew Palmer: “From what I can see, our laws are in line with towns like Boone, Charlotte and Asheville. I think this was a business decision. I don’t think we can afford to run anybody off who wants to come to town on Sunday morning” and have a mixed alcoholic drink.
Michael Parsons: “I did support” allowing alcohol sales earlier on Sunday mornings. “It was a business and economic decision.”
Tiger Posey: “Go with the vote. That’s how it was voted, so go with it.”
How can a commissioner or mayor help support and improve our schools?
Tiger Posey: “The best way to help schools is to get involved” by being a mentor. “The best way is for anyone in a leadership position to get involved in the schools” as a volunteer.
Michael Parsons: The current town board stepped up and provided funding to make sure each student at North Wilkesboro Elementary has a computer. According to the school superintendent, there was an increase in the learning scores at the school as a result.
Andrew Palmer: The town can help with safety at a school with the utilization of the police department.
Bert Hall: “The town stepped up and spent $22,000 on computers so that everyone at North Wilkesboro Elementary could have access to a computer. The fire department and police departments make regular visits to interact with students. Our mayor regularly goes to read to students at the school…. Providing infrastructure is another way. We ran a sewer line all way to C.C. Wright Elementary a few years ago and put them in the town.”
Otis Church: The town did landscaping work at North Wilkesboro Elementary. Town officials have told principals at C.C. Wright and North Wilkesboro elementary schools to let them know if they have a need and they’ll try to meet it.
What would you want your town to do regarding homelessness?
Andrew Palmer: Donate money to the Catherine Barber Homeless Shelter to help with building a new shelter. North Wilkesboro and Wilkesboro officials should meet to address the best way to help the homeless, including through zoning ordinances.
Bert Hall: “Right now there are two groups in our community that are seeking funds to build a homeless shelter. I think those two groups need to get together and it will be a much better organization.” The homeless shelter needs to be somewhere where it can be policed and people staying there shouldn’t have to leave at 6 a.m. as they do now.
Otis Church: “I do not think the Town of North Wilkesboro should provide a homeless shelter…. But, a lot of people think that we the Town of North Wilkesboro” threw out the Barber homeless shelter. “That is not true. We have supported them.”
Michael Parsons: The town has limited funds and should encourage religious and other nonprofit organizations to support the current or any future shelter to help homeless people get back on their feet.
Tiger Posey: The town should provide support to organizations like Crossfire United Methodist Church that stepped up to help the homeless.
Dr. Ron Cohn of Wilkesboro asked the last question when they were accepted from the audience. Cohn asked the candidates if they favor North Wilkesboro and Wilkesboro having the same standards for planning and zoning regulations?
Otis Church: With all the ordinances related to planning and zoning in the two towns, they all need to be standardized. “From a financial standpoint, it would be better to have one planning board for both towns.”
Bert Hall: “We’ve met jointly with the Town of Wilkesboro to discuss doing a Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) that does standardize. It would be a lot easier for developers and the (Wilkes) Economic Development Corp. to sell our community if both towns had similar or the same ordinances. However, our towns are different. We have different cultures.” Some things such as sign ordinances and building codes can be standardized for economic development, but it would be hard to make all of the ordinances the same.
Andrew Palmer: The two towns should do as much as they can to work together. People who come here from elsewhere don’t understand the difference between the two towns. “I would favor letting the people decide look into that with some sort of referendum on the ballot.”
Michael Parsons: “Having served on the (North Wilkesboro) planning board for four years, (I know that) the UDO has been around and talked about.” He said he supports having a limited UDO between the two towns that addresses building and other general codes “so we’re all playing by the same rules” with developers and people moving here. “There’s too big a difference between the two towns in their current cultural states, and too many differences between what they want for a broad spectrum UDO to be a viable option at this point. I hope at some point it could” be a viable option.
Tiger Posey: He said he supports having a limited UDO to make it easier for developers and this should be done on a regional basis.