Note: Candidate interviews are published largely without editing (besides minor typographical corrections) and without limits on length. All council candidates received the same questions, which appear in bold with answers in italics below.
Affordable housing: One of the most common concerns we hear from readers is the need for affordable housing. Is the city doing enough to address the issue? If not, what specific plans would you suggest?
I can tell you we are working on it as much as anything else or more of late and promise that will continue. We formed a committee/task force with the county to explore/brainstorm on ideas. The city is working with a developer on Castle St. at the old WAVE maintenance site to help build Habitat’s first vertical, multi-family project I am aware of, which could lead to exciting things in the future if it works out. Our planning director and staff are working on an option for developers where they can potentially get more height/density if they include affordable units for a set time period or they can make a payment that would go into an affordable housing fund. Still many details to be worked out, but yes we are addressing it from every angle.
Mass transportation: WAVE is in financial crisis and, by some accounts, fails to adequately connect low-income areas with workplaces efficiently (sometimes called a ‘last mile’ problem). Some have suggested cutting back services, others have called for more local support for WAVE. Where do you stand, and what would you like to see public transportation look like in the Wilmington area?
That is a short term and long term question…answer: We need more choice riders to give the system enough ridership to function smoothly and be more financially viable, but I do not see us giving up our cars just yet. It is really a question for the county at this point. The city is the major player financially and has rescued WAVE several times. The county certainly does help, as they should…the citizens of the city also pay county taxes…live in the county too. Most of the weak routes are outside the city, so NH County, other towns (beach), and Brunswick County have to step-up if we are to keep those routes going. Long term, I see a trolley full of riders daily working the tracks left by CSX when trains can cross the river south of downtown. That will be awesome.
Employment: What are your thoughts on Wilmington’s job scene? Are you satisfied with the way incentives have been used in the past? What other specific plans would you suggest to bring jobs to the area — and what kinds of jobs would you like to see here?
Our job scene has really diversified and improved over the last decade. Our economy is retaining and attracting more entrepreneurs/start-ups. Our incentives always have markers/goals to reach before there is any benefit/pay-out, so yes I have been fine with how they have worked or not worked (Vertex got zippo from the city). We need to continue to work in tandem with the county on the Garner Report plan (update it, set new goals). The goals stemming from this report still make good sense. We need more jobs that our citizens without a college degree can obtain, be it manufacturing or other. Hopefully, the 421 corridor will start to feel the effects of having natural gas, water, and sewer very soon. We need to continue to focus on our existing clusters – pharma, banking/lending, and software, as well as any industry that would complement GE/Hitachi or Corning. And we are seeing film really come back finally…that is a welcome sight.
Downtown: Wilmington has paid special attention to its downtown area in terms of incentives, police presence, marketing, and other services (including those provided by WDI). What are your thoughts on the current state of downtown? Are there any specific changes you’d like to see in the downtown area?
Not sure what incentives you are referring to…PPD? The citizens downtown pay an additional property tax to cover the cost of many of these new services. IMO, downtown has reached a tipping point and fallen backward during the last couple of economic cycles. My hope was we could gain enough momentum to top, and we finally have. Downtown is humming with activity/progress. As we see more and more resident heads on beds we will see DT transition to a more all-day/night work/play/sleep neighborhood/community. The long sought after amenities (drug store, etc.) will follow.
Development: There’s been a lot of discussion about how development has taken place in Wilmington. Are you satisfied with that process? Is there anything about it you’d like to change?
I find it hard to believe that we need any more apartments or storage facilities but, in both cases, they fill up shortly after completion. There are many socio-economic reasons causing these needs…too much to get into here, but in short, almost every age/demo is moving back to the city and very few want a big house/yard to care for…people value their free time differently today. I think our process could improve…be smoother, more one-stop and we will be working on that (if I’m re-elected). The key ingredient is finishing up our Land Development Code based upon the Comprehensive Plan we formulated from citizen input over two years. Getting this updated road map on the books will make a huge difference.
Green space/trees: Every city approaches its green spaces and urban canopy differently. What are your thoughts on Wilmington’s approach? What changes, if any, would you make?
Thank goodness the last Park Bond passed. It allowed us to take advantage of some once-in-a-lifetime opportunities like the soccer/lacrosse park and riverfront park/amphitheater. We worked together with the county to get another pool and some clay tennis courts at Echo Farms. Yes, I am happy with our approach, but we have to stay after it, because we are a small, heavily developed county, so open/green space is disappearing fast. Trees/the canopy – we have added a third tree crew to handle the backlog of needs (dead trees, pruning, etc.), which will help immensely. We moved some accrued funds into the operational budget to plant an unprecedented number of trees this year, which are needed more than ever after Florence. Our tree canopy has been top of mind for this council.
Environmental concerns: Could Wilmington do more to address environmental concerns? If so, what, specifically, would you suggest?
Water quality (Chemours/PFAS) immediately come to mind. Yes, we could take a more adversarial approach toward the Governor and DEQ, but that can also backfire. The state has really hung us out to dry. Their settlement with Chemours did nothing for us directly. The city no longer handles water…we are a part of an authority (CFPUA) and I approve of their lawsuit against Chemours and their plans to improve the Sweeney water treatment plant. We have the cleanest air of any city in the state last recordings I saw, so that is a positive. We can always do more…look for opportunities (renewable/cleaner energy).
Opioid epidemic: What are your thoughts on the city’s efforts to combat the opioid crisis? Anything specific you would change, encourage, avoid?
Proud of what we have done. Early to get involved with the class action lawsuit…formed a task force from every field that plays a role in this crisis and formulated a team that attacks cases from every angle, which won funding at the state level and is becoming a model for other communities. We worked through a tough rezoning to accommodate a treatment center. Once again, this council is not asleep at the wheel, we are on this situation as well.
Jim Crow-era monuments: The two ‘Confederate monuments’ in downtown Wilmington — erected in 1911 and 1924 — have been a source of controversy. Do you have any specific ideas on how to address these monuments?
I think we are doing so now. There needs to be more balance…more monuments/memorials for minorities. In the next few weeks will name Third Street in honor of General Joseph McNeill and name the Third Street bridge after Meadowlark Lemon…and a freshen-up of the 1898 monument is on the radar. More diversity and catching up on events/people that have impacted our history since the 1800s would be my goal.
Transparency: Do you think the city and its leaders conduct business transparently? If not, what concerns do you have?
Yes I do…personnel issues should always be private…details can be provided at the proper time if it impacts the public. And our citizens would not want us to telegraph we are in the market to acquire property, thus over-paying with their tax dollars, so real estate deals need to be behind the scenes until closed.
Law enforcement: Are you satisfied with the approach that Chief Ralph Evangelous and the Wilmington Police Department is taking in providing law enforcement for the city? Are there specific aspects you’d like to encourage or change?
Yes, I am. In the last few years I have been more confident in his team of deputy chiefs than ever before. Ralph is an impressive, committed public servant…he can be direct sometimes, but no need to candy-coat truths. He recognizes the greater societal factors causing crime and knows you cannot arrest your way out of any situation. I do hope we can afford to continue to add districts to our community policing plan –– I believe the Southside is next up.
City management: Are you satisfied with the approach the City Manager Sterling Cheatham is taking in providing leadership for city staff? Are there specific aspects you’d like to encourage or change?
Sterling does an excellent job. His mastery of budgeting is amazing. He has assembled an impressive management team – deputies and dept heads, and he empowers and delegates to them so they can grow as leaders. His less public/vocal approach has been the perfect yin/yang to compliment our gregarious, energetic mayor.
Experience and conflict(s) of interest: What experience do you have that you think would be beneficial for a city leader?
Do you have any conflicts of interest that might cause you to recuse yourself from city business? Two terms/8 years on council … 2 years on CFPUA … 4 years on the MPO…8 years as chair of legion Stadium Commission. A parent raising three kids that are no strangers to our public schools in the city. I am still very active at work in the new economy where I get to travel and see how other cities are handling growth. No, I have no such conflicts…wish I did, because that would mean I own some valuable property or owned/ran a business locally.
Other thoughts – Anything else you’d like to add that hasn’t been covered?
I’m worn out…I think you covered it.