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Monday, May 27, 2024

Elections 2019 Candidate interview: Kevin Spears running for Wilmington City Council [Free read]

Community activist Kevin Spears is running for city council. (Port City Daily photo / NHC Board of Election)
Community activist Kevin Spears is running for Wilmington city council. (Port City Daily photo / NHC Board of Election)

WILMINGTON — Kevin Spears 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?

Affordable housing is a huge problem here and I don’t feel like there is enough being done to address the issue. I feel like in all actuality, the city is perpetuating the issue. Anytime housing is torn down and rebuilt to house a lesser amount of people, what is that? When a housing development was sold and turned into a gated community, what is that? Where did those residents go? These are major concerns for people who were already struggling to make a way here and those decisions did nothing to help them in providing stable living conditions. 

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?

It’s unfortunate but it seems like a simple fix to me and a part of what I’ve been saying for my campaign; an investment in the people. There are people not being served, so there is a supply and demand problem. WAVE needs more money and citizens need more efficient solutions to transportation. WAVE needs to be creative, apply for more funds from all parties involved, buy more buses, train more drivers, and get more routes to the people who need them. They also need to focus on the welfare of their employees throughout the process.

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 think in some aspects of the Wilmington job scene, things are looking good, but I don’t think that’s enough. There are a lot of people here that are underemployed, meaning they are working jobs just to have a job and are not earning the wages that they intended to earn through whatever measures they took to earn them. I think companies are using sophisticated measures to weed out some potentially great employees that may have some baggage or who have had issues in the past. This method is not good for our city.

I would like to see the film industry booming here again for starters, but I would like to see bigger companies brought to the city. Companies that aren’t bad for the environment but provide jobs/careers across multiple fields and have long-lasting sustainability. There are plenty of people who are locals and don’t live comfortably like people who have moved here from other places with their companies or who have retired with great retirement salaries and it’s unfair. These people want to see the positives of Wilmington too and don’t want to move away to places where they have no connections or support to live a better life.
We should like to have a great incentive package to lure companies here, to employ as many people as possible and definitely employ people who have barriers to employment. If a person is unable to find work, what will they do?

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?

Wilmington has certainly paid special attention to the downtown area and the area looks great and generates a lot of traffic and activity. What concerns me is the feeling of who belongs in Downtown Wilmington. Even in 2019, there is a struggle taking place downtown. We can see all types of people enjoying the businesses and scenery but there is another side to it as well. At night, when the nightlife is active, there are a different set of rules and attitudes. People are turned away and not allowed to patronize certain businesses based on criteria as simple as the length of a shirt or the fit of jeans. It’s masked with establishments requiring memberships. I’ve experienced it firsthand where I was turned away and someone who doesn’t look like me and didn’t have a membership was allowed access. This is the best example of how downtown works. The other scenario is how businesses will allow a certain demographic to attend an establishment but will mark up their prices while doing so. This is not what we want to see or experience from such a lovely place, a place that so much energy and effort has been put into. We need more diverse input as it relates to Downtown Wilmington.

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?

There is a lot of development taking place but some of it in unwanted places. Seems like we don’t even know of the developments until we see the trees being cut down and the buildings going up.

Some of the development needs to be allotted for affordable housing and low-income housing and if these accommodations can’t be made then we need to provide a way for citizens to make more money.

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?

Green space is really making its way to the forefront of things locally, especially with so much development taking place. We are losing a lot of trees with new housing and road construction. Again, something shocking to the citizens of Wilmington. Personally speaking, I never knew developments or new roads could go in the places they’ve gone. I think our approach should be to create as many green space projects as possible in addition to trying not to destroy as many trees as possible. We know the importance that trees play in our survival and need to do what we can to preserve what we can in an innovative fashion going forward.

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

I think Wilmington could do more to address environmental concerns for the very near future. I  was recently reading an article while on vacation and I saw where a town had an initiative to limit straw use because of the harm it causes to ocean animals. That’s a start. Another possible solution I practice myself is not always taking a bag when offered one after shopping. I feel it’s a small but impactful gesture. These are small things that everyone around our city could do to help out environmentally. We also must partner with UNCW, CFCC, and the DEQ to conduct some studies and then get some feasible solutions. Also, input and feedback from citizens who are near and dear to this issue is a necessity.

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

I think there is always room for improvement with any issue. Equipping law enforcement and paramedics with Narcan is definitely a plus but I also think we need to focus on the many factors of abuse/addiction. I know some people do not like the word ‘addict’ but this is not an issue we can tread lightly on. Treatment facilities and more counselors in those facilities helps the community in combating the issue, but we need some form of treatment for the people who are selling these drugs. I’m certain that is not a popular response for some but with the questions that were previously asked, we know there is an employment and housing issue and for some this is survival. I think there are better ways to survive but I’m looking at the issue from all perspectives. We won’t be able to incarcerate our way out of this epidemic like we did with crack. That solution left a lot of broken homes and I feel it added to much of what we see today.

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 the monuments should be removed. Maybe to an area of town that really wants them if some citizens really don’t want them to be removed totally. I just don’t agree with celebrating the confederacy. Is it someone’s heritage? Really? A heritage that seceded from the Union over an issue of enslaving other people? Is that something we want to be prideful of in our community? We already have an issue here that has left a sour taste in the mouths of many, and the efforts from that event has yet to be rectified. An event that reversed wealth for generations. No need to blatantly thumb noses up at people who may have potentially done better if it had not been for wicked ideologies and strategies to reverse their plight as citizens of this town.

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

In some aspects, I believe that they do. Meetings are held and the public is invited. I will also add that there is plenty of information passed along during those meetings. On the other hand, I can say that some of those meetings are held at odd times and a person who has a regular life and a regular schedule may not always be able to attend. One perfect example of this is how city council and the school board meet on the same night with one meeting overlapping the other. Should a concerned parent have to choose between wanting to know what’s going on at their child’s school and new ordinance being passed in town? I think not. I had the same issue when running for [New Hanover County] Board of Education. I think these meetings should promote citizen attendance and not be held at inconvenient times or to dull the audience into leaving before the real issues are discussed.

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 want to carefully articulate my response to this question, I don’t want to put my foot in my own mouth. I think there are some things that the chief does well. He has taken measures to create relationships throughout the city of Wilmington and that effort and those relationships are really beneficial for the city. Do I think some things could be done differently or more effectively? Yes. I think more diverse hires need to be made and more diverse representations need to be made in the hierarchy of the department. I also wonder if the chief’s ideologies and solutions to things resonate from the top down. I’ve had plenty of conversations with the chief and even had him attend one of my community forums but my concern is that some officers don’t share the same way of handling things as the chief, and I understand a job needs to be done but it’s the manner in which some things are done.

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?

I think the city manager has the city in a great position, we have a AAA rating and clearly lots of people want to move here. My concern is investing in the people who live here and haven’t quite gotten to that median income that shows up when you Google our city. Another concern is the even disbursement of resources. Millions of dollars are being spent in particular parts of town while some parts struggle with potholes and long traffic lights in some potentially dangerous areas. Is it me or does the city seem darker at night? This may be why so many people are getting hit by cars. Overall, I say let’s be innovative and push the standards here as it relates to our city.

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?

I have a plethora of experiences good and bad that I think make me a great city leader. Being a native and knowing how the city works is one of my biggest assets. Being a native also puts me closer to the true heartbeat and opinion of the city. I have been in the position as most of the people who feel like they don’t have a voice and are often stepped on by the system. I’ve had doors shut in my face because of decisions I’ve made, and all I needed was an opportunity and when those opportunities weren’t accessible or available for me, I created my own opportunities. This is the type of leadership and representation we need for our city. The citizens of this city don’t need to be excluded based on where they live or for immature decisions they’ve made ages ago.

Another thing that separates me from the field is my record of philanthropy. I have made myself available to the city, offering help to anyone in need if I could help and if I couldn’t, I found someone who could. I just wanted to show people that help was available to them in their communities minus the forms being filled out and no investigations being conducted to verify your need. I think that part of the process can be embarrassing for some.

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

I know people really want to experience a change politically, and with that being said, they should look into casting their vote for someone who shares the same or similar experiences with them. A person who has a record of standing up for the right things. A person who believes that an investment in everyone, helps the entire city flourish!

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