Two running for Wake Forest's top spot sound off on leadership, commercial climate.
By David Leone
WAKE FOREST — Is the town in the midst of a winning streak, or is there need for a change in leadership to get better results?
We’re not talking football, but rather the upcoming municipal election, in which Bill Randall is challenging three-term Mayor Vivian Jones for her seat.
To help show the differences between candidates, the Wake Forest Area Chamber of Commerce held a forum Oct. 17 at town hall for Jones and Randall, in which seven questions were asked about business development, quality of life and leadership.
Though there were some differences in their answers throughout, the starkest contrast became clear at the end of the forum. When asked to make his closing statement, Randall decried the town’s sustainability efforts, linking them to a United Nations’ prerogative to cut global emissions and embrace green technologies.
“That insidious United Nations Agenda 21 (1) is reflected in Wake Forest with the program and the objectives called sustainability,” he said. “Look at the township’s website and see how much sustainability is emphasized and see how that parallels the United Nations initiative to where the end goal is to control citizens to where the thermostat tells you to turn it down or they will turn it down for you.”
In their opening statements and first answers, both highlighted their experiences in the past, such as owning their own businesses, but they differed on what sets them apart.
For Randall, it’s that he was a Navy Command Master Chief (E9), a rank which the brass only entrusts with its most competent servicemen. For Jones, it was her strong level of community involvement and ability to effect change at the Triangle and state level.
Throughout the forum, the mayor kept coming back to the same points: the town’s good fiscal standing and AAA credit rating, leading to low project financing; the improved relationship the town has with businesses in the last few years and how commissioners’ spending decisions closely follow the Wake Forest Community Plan (2).
During his comments, Randall credited the town’s successes, but repeatedly said that more can be done, particularly in aiding small businesses. He stressed a need for lower taxes, more transparent decision-making and a streamlined development process.
One point, in which Randall appeared to confuse the 2009 Community Plan with the just-adopted Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) (3), piqued the interest of those attending.
“My primary goal over the next four years will be to continue to implement the Community Plan,” Jones said in response to a question about priorities. “The Community Plan was put together by our citizens, and they told us what they wanted, how they wanted our community to be. … We should make sure we are doing the services and amenities that our citizens want. … as long as we can do it in a fiscally responsible way.”
Randall then said, “I assume that the document that Mayor Jones referred to was the Unified Development Order (sic).”
“No,” she responded.
“It’s not? Okay,” he said.
Following this exchange, there was immediate reaction from the viewing public on Twitter, Facebook and in texts to The Wake Weekly that Randall didn’t seem to understand what the Community Plan was.
Business climate questioned
In answering questions about goals and businesses development, the candidates differed on how well the town is fairing.
Though Randall credited the UDO as a step in the right direction, he offered criticisms as well, saying that the UDO was excessively regulative and needed streamlining. He added the town doesn’t do enough to revitalize the economy and encourage business relocation.
“My effort would be to engage the government in articulating things that are going to help facilitate more commerce, help to reduce our tax burden, which right now is 50 percent higher than Raleigh,” (4) he said. “Unless we come to grips with the fact that things are not as attractive as they could be, we’re not going to be able to make the progress that we need.”
“I think we have a fair process in Wake Forest, but I look back to the Unified Development Order — there is more verbiage in there talking about the color of your sign and the size and how much white space you have ... than there is information about how a business is to be productive …” Randall said.
“I think it’s disproportionally emphasizing aspects that are green and conservation. Those are important, but we need more of a balance.”
Jones strongly disagreed, saying that business growth in town speaks for itself.
“Our businesses and our government have worked together very well,” she said. “We do support our businesses in our town,” she said. “We should make it as simple as possible for businesses to operate in Wake Forest and I think we do a good job of that.”
She also defended the UDO process.
“We have spent a lot of time and effort over the last few years making sure that information was available for businesses …” she added. “The UDO we spent two and a half years working on and what it did was simplify our process. We had a lot of buy-in from the business community. We had a committee of businesspeople who helped us with that (the UDO).”
After being asked about furthering town residents’ quality of life and about services the town provides, Randall referred to a need to reassess priorities, calling to attention the town’s $1.2 million purchase of the former Tuxedo Junction dance hall to convert into a cultural arts/civic center (5).
Though he didn’t criticize the center outright, Randall said that such spending decisions should be better evaluated. He also questioned mass transit spending, referencing the town’s bus routes (6).
Jones noted five years ago a business journal reporter asked what her vision was for 2015 (7).
“My answer was that my vision was that our downtown was stabilized and expanded and I wanted us to have more cultural offerings for our citizens,” she said. “I wanted us to have greenways, sidewalks, bike paths. I wanted us to have revitalization in the East End community (8). I wanted our citizens to be working in Wake Forest and for us to have that feeling of respect for our heritage as we go forward.”
“Those are the quality of life amenities that we are providing for our citizens,” she added. “I will continue to provide those as long as I possibly can.”
After the forum, Randall was asked for an example of how the town’s sustainability efforts were a negative. He pointed to the town hall itself.
“How much did this building cost, $13 million dollars? It’s got a half-million dollar leak in it,” he said. “You’re talking a half-million or more to repair a building that had a design of green and energy efficiency (9). I’m not against that. But when you have a design that gives exclusivity to those things, you limit the other contractors that may have put together a more quality piece of architecture.”
He was also asked about the Community Plan-UDO mixup.
“I was making sure that that’s not what she was referring to. A lot of times you're hearing a lot of things. I said I assume that's what you’re talking about, but I didn’t hear all that she had said,” Randall said.
Representatives of the chamber’s Governmental Affairs Committee also sent the mayoral candidates four additional questions to be posted on the chamber website (10), asking them to respond in writing by Oct. 11. Jones answered the additional questions by the deadline, but as of press deadline Tuesday, Randall had not.
They were asked for their vision for Wake Forest, how they influence decision-making when their only vote at commissioners’ meetings is when there’s a tie and why the town should continue to support existing plans and projects, such as development of the new Renaissance Centre.
They were also asked why the town is planning to float three bond issues next year for parks, greenways and transportation.
“Our Capital Improvements Plan is developed with input from citizens — especially our greenways and parks and recreation advisory boards,” Jones said. “Selling bonds is the most economical way to fund these projects and the fairest since the citizens actually vote to allow the bonds to be sold.”
For more about the candidates, visit their websites (11,12).
A lot of terms and titles were thrown out during the Wake Forest mayoral forum. We’ve footnoted key areas. Follow these links to learn more: