Sunday, February 25, 2024

Elections 2019 Candidate interview: Harry Smith, running for Wilmington City Council [Free read]

Downtown resident Harry Smith is running for Wilmington City Council. (Port City Daily photo / File)
Downtown resident Harry Smith is running for Wilmington City Council. (Port City Daily photo / File)
WILMINGTON — Harry Smith is running for one of three contested seats on Wilmington City Council. All of the council seats are ‘at-large,’ and represent all areas of the city.
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 think first of all it is about priorities, the mayor touts a million in an affordable housing fund, that’s a good sum of money sitting in a fund, not being utilized but sitting. Second, the city is spending $1.2-1.4 million on a walkway from bijou park to River Place. $2 million for uncovering brick roads. Where is the urgency? Next, we need better-paying jobs, that will create a natural increase in income. So we must draw better-paying jobs to the area so a two-pronged approach is the solution. Prioritize funds and better-paying jobs.

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?

An efficient mass transportation system is vital to any large city. That is especially a concern for a geographically challenged city like ours, between ocean, waterway, and river. With the amount of traffic we already have and what we expect in the future we must make mass transportation a viable choice. Right now a bus system that runs on the hour is not effective hence poor ridership. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel here. Let’s see how other cities addressed the problem and replicate it.

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?

I have not seen any real effort or success of the city to draw new business. The mayor says we can count on tourism and the hospital. There are no good-paying jobs associated with tourism. And we know the future of the hospital system is now not so certain. I would like to see more banking, more TekMountains, more marine biology, more of what we already have.

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?

We the taxpayers have spent a fortune on downtown, the Riverwalk, the upgrades to Front St., the upgrades to 3rd St. and so on. Are we doing maintenance to keep these multimillion-dollar projects up? I have personally walked through the streets and sidewalks of Beirut that are nicer. Cracked sidewalks, broken pavement, tree grates broke and missing. I have seen tourists trip and fall walking downtown over this lack of maintenance.

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?

We are not going to stop development nor do we want to stop it. That being said, we need to start negotiating from a position of strength, we don’t need the developers as much as they need us. We need to get more from them, they need to put more skin in the game.

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?

As you have pointed out, the city is down to 10% developable land. We need to acquire more raw land maybe in conjunction with the county before there is no more land to be had. We don’t need to turn it into parks immediately but we need to have access to it before it is all gone.

Environmental concerns: Could Wilmington do more to address environmental concerns? If so, what, specifically, would you suggest?

As answered above mass transportation is one step. We are an active city.  Bicycle trails, safe walking paths, complete sidewalks and such. We don’t have a lot of industry that contributes to pollution. So we must be conscious of that with our future development choices.

Opioid epidemic: What are your thoughts on the city’s efforts to combat the opioid crisis? Anything specific you would change, encourage, avoid?

Again this is a matter of priorities, we have first to acknowledge the stigma that addicts are the great unwashed. That addicts come in all forms across economic, racial, age and many other lines. Next, we need to push the state for more assistance. According to NC State auditor Beth Stone, Managed Care Organizations in 2018. They put over $800 million in savings that were earmarked for social programs ie… drug and mental health programs. We as a large city in North Carolina must push Raleigh to get us some of that money.

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 remembering our past as ugly as it was is important, people who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. Right now Raleigh has said that monuments can’t be removed, but we should have a plan in place for what we should do with them when Raleigh says we can move them.

Transparency: Do you think the city and its leaders conduct business transparently? If not, what concerns do you have?

One of the main reasons I stepped into this race was what I thought was a lack of transparency. Name the last time you saw someone give a timely, honest, straight forward answer to a difficult issue.

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?

I think as long as crime is declining that we are happy. As long as crime stays in certain areas we are ok with that. So I think until crime goes down in all areas of the city we are failing as a whole. Why are we ok that certain areas of the city have to have bars on their windows. Castle St., Orange St., Redcross/Rankin, Princess Place. We are not doing the city justice until all areas are safe.

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?

One of my biggest questions is…. who writes these contracts? Northside bathrooms, Galleria project, Riverplace, The list goes on. How do we end up on the short end of the stick ? Where is the breakdown that allows developers to get what they want and we the taxpayers get stuck with the bill? Considering that all of these contracts should go across the manager’s desk, I hold him responsible. So he should hold himself accountable to us.

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?

Apparently recusal is a dirty word in city politics. All of us currently running for office met with the city manager and city attorney. The city attorney said after elected we could go to him for advice and he would give us a letter where we could fall back on his advice. That being said is he giving bad advice to council? Or are they ignoring him? Why would anyone split hairs on the morality of voting on an item that one has a personal or financial interest in?

Other thoughts: Anything else you’d like to add that hasn’t been covered?

I feel the city needs districts, I feel there needs to be more coordination between city and county. I think we need to have regional meetings with us, the county, Leland/ Brunswick county and Pender county. We are all growing quickly and we all have mutual interests. We are all greatly affected by the actions of the others. Together we could be a powerful force that Raleigh could not ignore.
With the scratching of the Cape Fear Crossing, we need to look at options of making the I-140 crossing a more viable daily use option.

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