Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Municipal Elections 2023: Salette Andrews runs for Wilmington City Council

A small business owner and veteran, Salette Andrews is running for a seat on the Wilmington City Council. (Courtesy photo)

WILMINGTON — Salette Andrews is hoping to gain a seat on the Wilmington City Council; she is no stranger to local government as she served on town council in Oro Valley, Arizona, in 2008.

“[I] won with more votes than anyone in the town’s history at the time,” Andrews said of her previous run.

A small business owner and Air Force veteran, Andrews is seeking one of three open positions on council. A Democrat, she is up against incumbents Kevin Spears and Neil Anderson, as well as John Lennon, Kathryn Bruner, Marlowe Foster and David Joyner.

PCD asked candidates to address issues pertinent to their municipalities, covering issues such as balancing growth and infrastructure, traffic and tourism, parking and climate change impacts.

Andrews’ answers are included in full; responses are edited only for grammar, spelling and clarity.

The paywall has been dropped on candidate questionnaires to help voters make informed decisions ahead of Election Day.

To prepare, here are a few dates for readers to keep in mind:

  • Absentee ballots can be requested through Oct. 31 and must be returned Nov. 7 (or post-marked as such).
  • Registration to vote will be open until Oct. 13; afterward, according to the state board of elections, same-day registration will be available only during one-stop early voting.
  • Early voting begins Oct. 19 and remains open through Nov. 4 (3 p.m.).
  • Election Day polls open Nov. 7, 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

To vote early in New Hanover County, visit the Northeast Library (1241 Military Cutoff Road). From Oct. 28 to Nov. 4, voters can also go to CFCC Health Sciences and Learning Center (415 Second St.), Carolina Beach Town Hall (1121 Lake Park Blvd.) and the NHC Senior Center (2222 S. College Road).

Once early voting closes, voters will need to go to the location listed on their voter registration card or verified here.

To see a sample ballot for the upcoming election, fill in voter registration info here.

A photo ID is required to cast a ballot in 2023; more information can be found on the state board of elections website.

The candidate’s opinions and statements are not a reflection of Port City Daily.

Port City Daily (PCD): Why run for city council now?

Salette Andrews (SA): As an Air Force veteran, small business owner, grandmother, and cancer survivor, I have the life experience to know that it takes teamwork between people who don’t always agree on everything to get big things done. I know that if we want to build Wilmington into a great 21st-century city for everyone, our city council will need to focus on smart goals, work in a pragmatic and collaborative spirit, and avoid divisive, partisan debates that distract us from moving Wilmington forward.

PCD: Name three issues you think are most affecting the city currently and describe how you would work toward tackling them.

SA: 1.) Infrastructure is the most important issue facing the city of Wilmington, particularly traffic, which was the number one concern cited in the 2021 Citizen Survey. Roads, bridges, and utilities are straining under population growth, affecting daily life and economic development. Flooding exacerbates these problems, making climate resilience a priority.

Infrastructure investment is essential for Wilmington to thrive, attract economic prosperity, ensure public safety, and promote sustainable growth. Wilmington needs to prioritize infrastructure projects that enhance safety, such as road improvements, traffic signal upgrades, and pedestrian-friendly design. We need to pursue all funding sources, including state and federal grants, public-private partnerships, and bonds, to support infrastructure projects.

We also need to integrate sustainable projects, such as green infrastructure for stormwater management and promoting public transportation and multi-use paths. Finally, we need to collaborate with neighboring municipalities, regional agencies such as the WMPO, and the state government to address larger-scale infrastructure challenges that may extend beyond city limits.

2.) Affordable housing is also a significant concern in Wilmington. Currently, more than half of New Hanover County renters pay more than 30% of their income toward rent, and 22% of homeowners are paying more than 30% of their income to a mortgage. The Wilmington City Council has a good plan to address this crisis, thanks to the joint city-county Workforce Housing Advisory Committee (WHAC). The city can also support rehabilitation of existing housing through low-interest, forgivable loans and grants for housing repairs. Finally, we can work with our non-profit partners, such as Habitat for Humanity, to build more affordable housing.

3.) Safety and security are a central goal of every community. No matter who you are, where you live, or what your income, every Wilmington resident deserves a neighborhood, public school, and local parks that are safe. We are all responsible for doing our part to build neighborhoods that are safe for everyone.

Wilmington deserves a police department that is responsibly resourced, appropriately staffed, and fully trained to lead as a 21st-century law enforcement agency that values accountability and transparency and reflects the communities it serves. Officers should prioritize de-escalation, dialogue, and partnering with communities to keep neighborhoods safe. Wilmington Police Department should have the resources, staffing, and training to be proactive in preventing crime and responsive to the needs and questions of our diverse communities.

All communities should feel safe dealing with our police and our police should feel safe doing their important jobs to help protect our communities. Wilmington must also develop alternatives to policing. A forward-thinking, 21st-century city should not rely on police to answer all calls for help. Police should work closely with mental health, substance abuse, and homeless services to address the needs of all our citizens.

PCD: Growth in the city continues at a rapid pace — 3.92% since the most recent census of 116,146 in 2020, now at 120,695. Jobs and affordable housing continue to be of top importance to keep people here; how as a city council member do you propose fostering a better balance with both? What will you bring to the table that hasn’t been considered yet?

SA: Wilmington is experiencing an economic boom, which we need to make sure is helping all communities. The good news is that Wilmington’s unemployment rate of 3.3% is at a 50-year low. Last year, the city, county, and state announced $2.6M in incentives going to four companies promising to create over 1,000 jobs in Wilmington. This year the Milken Institute ranked Wilmington the seventh best performing city in the nation when it comes to the local economy, but also ranked us as third from the bottom for affordable housing.

Wilmington has several partner organizations that support economic development and encourage job and wage growth in Wilmington. Many of these organizations focus on “economic hunting” to bring large corporations into our area. It’s also important to focus on “economic gardening,” which emphasizes nurturing and growing local businesses that are already established in the community. Both approaches can encourage job and wage growth and increase our local tax base to help fund critical needs without raising taxes.

We must make sure all communities are benefiting from Wilmington’s economic boom. If we are going to offer incentives for big business, we must also offer training and small business loans for fledgling entrepreneurs, practical job training programs through our community college, and summer job and internship opportunities for our public high school students. We must build economic policies that reach out to all of Wilmington and build all of Wilmington.

PCD: Homelessness has become a growing concern for many residents and local government officials in recent years. Do you support a housing-first approach? How/why? What else would you support to help the less vulnerable populations of our city?

SA: I support a housing-first approach because it has been proven to be effective in addressing homelessness, and it aligns with principles of compassion, human rights, and long-term cost savings. “Housing first” focuses on providing stable and permanent housing as the first step, without preconditions or requirements like sobriety or participation in treatment programs. This approach acknowledges that housing is a fundamental human need and recognizes that it is difficult for people to address other issues, such as addiction or mental health, while experiencing homelessness.

Unhoused people are often vulnerable to physical and mental health issues and providing them with safe and stable housing can lead to better health outcomes. Providing housing and supportive services to homeless individuals can reduce the need for costly emergency services like hospitals, jails, and shelters. This can result in cost savings for taxpayers in the long run. Supportive services, including mental health and addiction treatment, job training, and budget assistance, can help people maintain their housing.

By supporting housing-first initiatives, the Wilmington City Council can make a significant impact on reducing homelessness and improving the lives of its residents who are experiencing homelessness.

PCD: The Cape Fear Memorial Bridge is reaching its end-of-life and funding has yet to be allocated toward its replacement. What have officials gotten wrong and right in expediting the process? What would you do that is different? Also, do you support a toll and any of the options on the table for its replacement? Explain.

SA: The State of North Carolina owns the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge and the state should be the entity to fund its replacement. The bridge, built in 1969, connects Brunswick and New Hanover counties. There are at least 65,000 vehicles that cross the Cape Fear Memorial bridge every day. Of those, over 34,000 are Brunswick County residents who cross the bridge every day to shop and work. Clearly, the bridge is a very important regional asset, and we need to work with our regional partners and the North Carolina Department of Transportation to fund its replacement.

I do not support a toll as a method of funding the bridge construction. Tolls are regressive and hurt people who can least afford to add to the cost of their daily commute. Tolls could potentially hurt the ability of Wilmington employers to attract job applicants who reside in Brunswick County. And toll-avoidance can create unintended traffic consequences for drivers seeking alternate routes into Wilmington.

PCD: With sea-level rise continuing to increase and affect low-lying areas, such as downtown Wilmington, flood resilience and preventing natural disaster scenarios is a necessity in a hurricane-prone zone. What more would you suggest is implemented to protect the coastline, including the Cape Fear River banks?

SA: Wilmington leaders can promote the use of living shorelines, which include natural features like oyster reefs and marsh grasses to reduce erosion, provide habitat for marine life, absorb storm surge energy, and protect coastlines. Community leaders can educate residents and business owners about hurricane preparedness and evacuation routes. Finally, we can invest in green infrastructure projects, such as permeable pavement and green roofs, to reduce stormwater runoff and increase groundwater recharge.

PCD: Where do you stand on Cape Fear River growth — for instance, extending the Riverwalk under the Isabel Holmes Bridge and redeveloping the industrial area on the northern waterfront? Do you support building on the western banks of the Cape Fear River? Why or why not?

SA: Extending the Wilmington Riverwalk under the Isabel Holmes Bridge and redeveloping the industrial area on the northern waterfront can stimulate economic growth in the area, attracting new businesses, tourism, and creating job opportunities, which can boost the local economy. Redevelopment can include environmental restoration efforts, such as implementing green infrastructure and living shorelines, leading to ecological benefits. Paths can also connect to important cultural sites, such as the Thomas and Willie E. Jervay Freedom Walk.

Developing the west bank can have significant environmental consequences because the area is ecologically sensitive, and construction could harm local ecosystems, wetlands and wildlife. The Cape Fear River is prone to flooding, and development in flood-prone areas could increase the risk to both residents and infrastructure, especially in the face of climate change. The area also has cultural and historic significance, and development could disrupt or destroy important sites, such as the ecosystems in channels dug by the Gullah Geechee people.

PCD: Did you support the city’s recent purchase of the Thermo Fisher building in downtown Wilmington? What should be done with the two tracts of land that came with the purchase? Should it benefit taxpayers?

SA: Like many residents, I experienced the initial sticker shock, but the reality is that it’s no longer the Thermo Fisher Building. It’s our new downtown campus. City council unanimously approved $70 million in financing to purchase the PPD building, which had an appraised value of $130 million. The alternative was to replace 305 Chestnut for $96 million. The new building will consolidate operations into a single, efficient location, reducing costs associated with maintaining multiple buildings, and streamlining services. It also offers the amenities and space to accommodate future growth and technology needs.

Selling surplus properties, including the two tracts of land that came with the purchase, and renting the unused office space will generate revenue to offset the cost of the building to the benefit of taxpayers. Overall, this purchase optimizes city operations, service delivery, and long-term fiscal sustainability.

PCD: Some residents have accused the city council of only representing a select few in the community, rather than the needs of all. Do you agree with this sentiment? Explain. What would you do in a leadership position to represent more equitably?

SA: I have been out walking door-to-door in every part of Wilmington. My volunteers and I have distributed nearly 10,000 door-hangers. When I talk to voters, no matter where they live, or what their political affiliation, nearly all are concerned about the same things: overdevelopment and the inability of the city’s infrastructure to handle it.

Some of the tools that I’ve used in the past to represent more equitably include e-mail communication, surveys, and in-person listening sessions called “Council on Your Corner,” where I meet with groups of constituents at local establishments to discuss needs and solutions.

In addition, I would work with my fellow council members and city staff to implement a Citizens’ Academy, where residents can learn about the city government and learn how they can get involved because our volunteer boards and commissions need to include representation from every part of our community. I’m not working for the select few. I’m working for the residents of Wilmington because we’re all in this together.

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