Dozens of Carolina Beach residents gathered Monday night at the Courtyard by Marriott in Carolina Beach to listen to candidates for the town’s council and mayorship express their ideas on the town’s big issues.
Visions and Views 2015, a political forum sponsored by the Pleasure Island Chamber of Commerce, featured six of the town’s seven candidates for the two seats available on council (candidate T.D. Scaringi was not present) and the two candidates for mayor. They fielded questions from three moderators from local publications, including Port City Daily.
During the first half of the forum, the town council candidates took the stage: Patrick Boykin, Tom Bridges, Tom Elicson, Tammy Hanson, Lonnie Lashley and incumbent Steve Shuttleworth. They answered questions on a variety of issues, from offshore drilling, which they all oppose, to parking to public safety.
One of the issues that the candidates differed on was the extension of the town’s boardwalk, the centerpiece of the revitalization of their central business district. It currently ends at Harper Avenue, but a variance request to extend it further north, to Pelican Avenue, has been submitted by the town to the Department of Coastal Management.
“I am in favor of extending the boardwalk,” said Hanson, who currently serves on the town’s Planning and Zoning Committee. “I think it would be a huge asset to revitalizing our central business district.”
Shuttleworth, who has been involved in the boardwalk’s development during his time on council, echoed her sentiment, noting that the full length was part of the town’s original plan for the area.
Some of the other candidates, meanwhile, favored a partial extension but not as far north as Pelican Avenue.
“I’m against extending it past the (under construction) Hampton Inn,” said Lashley, who has served on previous councils. “I think the northern end of the Hampton Inn is as far as we want to go.”
“Anything beyond that, I would have to be convinced there’s a good business case for it,” said Boykin.
While there were some differing views on certain issues, all the candidates were civil throughout the forum and agreed that the voices of the residents and the future of Carolina Beach were the most important things to remember, no matter who was elected.
The second half of the night, featuring the mayoral candidates Bob Lewis (a former Carolina Beach mayor) and Dan Wilcox, the incumbent, had a few more disagreements.
One of the major issues they expressed opposing views on was the transparency of the town’s government. According to Lewis, some of the changes he’s seen in the last couple of years have worried him.
“When I was mayor, I initiated recording closed session meetings. I think council has recently stopped recording them,” he said. “Now we have people working through group text messages (instead of via email, which is public record), and I think that’s something that you’re never going to be able to control.”
Wilcox rebutted by saying they don’t record most closed sessions because a lot of them deal with personnel issues, which are not public record and can lead to liability cases. He defended his current government, saying they’ve made strides in keeping the government’s dealings open.
“We don’t take votes in work sessions anymore. We only take votes in an open session,” said Wilcox, referring to the difference between town council workshops, which are usually held during the day, and meetings, which are held at night and therefore have greater attendance. Both are open to the public.
“I’m telling you, we’ve come a long way with transparency,” Wilcox said. “We’ve worked hard at it.”
Those in attendance didn’t have many questions for the candidates when it was time for them to ask their own questions, but many spectators and candidates alike commented on how civil and clean this year’s races have been compared to ones in recent years, which often got contentious.
“Everyone is dedicated to the cause of improving Carolina Beach,” said council candidate Elicson.
“I think everyone that’s running is running because they have the best interests of Carolina Beach at heart,” said incumbent councilman Shuttleworth.
A similar forum featuring the two candidates for Kure Beach mayor, incumbent Dean Lambeth and current town commissioner Emilie Swearingen, will be Wednesday night starting at 6:30 at the Kure Beach Community Center. Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 3.