WILMINGTON — Margaret Haynes is running for one reelection to one 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?
Housing that is affordable is an issue nationally as well as locally. The City of Wilmington is working closely with New Hanover County in addressing this issue. We have recently appointed a joint commission to come up with specific ways to create more work-force housing. We have also, jointly, hired a full-time staff member to lend administrative support to this commission. Currently, the City supports affordable housing through a number of public programs. Our Home Ownership Program (HOP) provides qualified applicants with down payment assistance at low or no interest rates. We also have a loan program, and a number of other programs supporting and encouraging affordable housing units in the city. The Wilmington Housing Authority is a separate entity, not run by the City, and they address Section 8 housing, and all federally subsidized housing within the city.
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?
Hopefully, citizens understand that WAVE Transit is not operated by the City of Wilmington, It is an independent authority and is operated like a business. In order to be successful, they need a permanent funding source, which has been discussed in the past. All regional partners need to participate in addressing the financial needs of public transportation. It should not take one hour to travel across town and maybe even have to change buses. As Federal money is reduced, localities have to step up and take responsibility to provide desirable public transportation. If we could encourage “choice riders” (those who don’t need to ride the bus, but might choose to ride) we could reduce the number of vehicles on the road.
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?
Incentives are really rebates. No one gets any money until they have met contractual obligations of the number of jobs provided, at specific salaries, and have usually built brick and mortar structures, adding to the tax base. These employment numbers are measured by the State Employment Commission. While it is important to encourage “clean jobs” which are current buzz words, it is also important to encourage a variety of jobs, including blue-collar and the trades. We have a number of tech jobs in Wilmington. There is a long list of tech companies who have a large number of employees and more are coming here every year. Much of this can be attributed to our quality of life and our natural beauty. Government’s role in job creation is to provide a safe, welcoming community with a positive and healthy environment.
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?
The downtown belongs to everyone and is the center of much of our small business activity. It is one of the safest areas in New Hanover County and is thriving with private investment like restaurants, music venues and shopping. The Municipal Services District, administered by WDI has improved cleanliness, safety and overall appearance. I certainly want to see continued private investment as well as the completion of the Northern Riverfront Park which will be open to everyone to enjoy as well as serving as a concert attraction.
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 would definitely like to change the public perception through better communication and education provided by the City. The projections are that some 25,000 plus people will move to our area in the next 25 or 30 years. We must plan for this unprecedented growth. In 2015 the City convened a diverse citizens’ task force to develop a citizens’ plan to address growth and development. It took two years and over 18 neighborhood meetings and a number of public hearings and the plan was unanimously approved by the task force, the Planning Commission and the City Council. We must slowly start to move from suburban sprawl to a small urban growth pattern. Overall, the consensus was to do what you need to do on the thoroughfares and leave existing neighborhoods alone. This plan can be found on the City website entitled the Create Wilmington Comprehensive Plan. In a nutshell, we are encouraging mixed-use development, allowing folks to live, work and play closer to home. That aids in the ongoing effort to reduce traffic congestion.
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?
Wilmington is a “tree city” and is designated as such annually by the Forest Service. We have an active Tree Commission and a non-profit entity of The Alliance for Trees operating in concert with the city arborist and his staff to maintain and grow our tree canopy. We recently had an outside assessment and I believe we were told we have a ninety-percent tree canopy which is not only beautiful, but is environmentally positive as well. The City is always planting trees to increase our canopy and to offset tree loss through growth.
Environmental concerns: Could Wilmington do more to address environmental concerns? If so, what, specifically, would you suggest?
As you know, overall environmental policy is set by the State of North Carolina. That said, the City has voted twice against offshore drilling as well as seismic testing in our waters. We recently were able to get the EPA to stop the reclassification of the Cape Fear River as a swamp, which would have allowed more pollution into the river. The Mayor, several council members and I met in Washington, DC with EPA leadership to discuss the plans to address the issue of polluted drinking water, even though this issue falls under the purview of the CFPUA, and independent authority.
Opioid epidemic: What are your thoughts on the city’s efforts to combat the opioid crisis? Anything specific you would change, encourage, avoid?
Wilmington was one of the first cities to sue the major manufacturers and distributors of addictive drugs. Mayor Saffo established a Mayor’s Roundtable to discuss potential avenues in addressing this issue and concrete solutions. Out of this effort, Wilmington was awarded a five-hundred thousand dollar grant from the General Assembly to create a pilot project to get addicts into treatment. This program is run by Coastal Horizons and enjoys good success.
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?
The monuments are protected by State of NC law and municipalities are not allowed to address these concerns.
Transparency: Do you think the city and its leaders conduct business transparently? If not, what concerns do you have?
Yes, the City is very transparent in its work on behalf of the citizens. We go beyond the letter of the law and try to include citizens at almost all levels of decision-making. We make all public information and meeting schedules available on government TV, Facebook, Twitter, etc. The city website, and printed and mailed newsletters, are loaded with information, demonstrating transparency and encouraging citizen participation.
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?
It is very encouraging that the City’s crime rate is at an all-time low, even with our continued population growth. The police chief and his staff continue to work diligently to move to a community policing model, encouraging foot patrols and officers getting to know community members and vice-versa. We could improve our community outreach and education of the general public as to the overall safety of our community.
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 our number of successful projects and positive citizen survey speaks to and supports our professional leadership.
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 Master’s of Public Administration degree, a decade-long service as a federal employee and a successful business background which provides the book-sense, the professional experience, the common sense and the real-world business experience to successfully serve my community. If I might have a conflict of any type, I consult with the City Attorney and recuse myself accordingly.