Potential Wake Forest commissioners find much common ground, cite differences.
By David Leone
WAKE FOREST — What sets you apart from the herd?
For the four people running for town board, the answer is not too much. During a Wake Forest Area Chamber of Commerce forum Tuesday, candidates were often in agreement with and complimentary of each other and of the sitting board.
But some distinctions were drawn, which may give voters some insight when they cast their ballots in the Nov. 5 election.
In answer to that first question, “What sets you apart?” incumbent commissioner Margaret Stinnett touted her two terms of experience, sometimes brutal honesty and her dedication to a town in which she grew up and ran a business.
Challenger Shinica Thomas said that she’s known among her colleagues for approaching problems using strategic thinking. She and another candidate, Jim Thompson, referenced their community involvement — both are on the parks and recreation advisory board and participate in other activities.
As CEO of an executive leadership organization, Thompson also indicated business acumen was a strength.
Like Stinnett, Cole grew up in Wake Forest and later moved back. Cole said he tries to approach issues from the perspective of others in the community rather than just based on his own point of view.
“I never think I’m the smartest person in the room,” he said. “I try to take opinions of other people to heart.”
Moderated for the chamber by wedding design group director Kat Woods, the forum drew Mayor Vivian Jones and her challenger Bill Randall, as well as a 40 to 50 other attendees, some whom asked their own questions at the end of the program.
Some questions were designed to test candidates’ knowledge on the issues. Woods asked, for instance, what part of the new Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) the candidates favored. Their answers showed they were all informed about the changes.
Stinnett and Thompson both referenced the way the UDO will help the town with infill development without negatively affecting the character of existing neighborhoods. Cole likes how the UDO codifies the town’s Community Plan, putting into effect the ideas of the residents. And Thomas noted that one benefit of modernizing the code is that it’s designed to attract residents and businesses to the town.
Have to pay to play
Question 3 dealt with spending priorities and Question 4 asked candidates if they favored a bond issue for roads, parks, greenways and community buildings, even if it results in a tax hike.
Roads topped Cole’s priority list, while Thompson focused on greenways and quality of life improvements. Stinnett used the opportunity to talk about the lack of any existing tax hike in the economic downturn while retaining service levels.
Thomas said she favors spending on recreation whether that be park space or playgrounds. But, she added, there needs to be more to do for youths once they hit their teen years.
“Thirty percent of the town is under 18. High schoolers don’t have anything to do when they’re over 14,” she said. “Maybe we could partner with the Renaissance Centre or something, create some things for the youth to do in the town.”
Thomas said she favored the bond issue and Cole wants it tied to line-item projects so the money doesn’t get re-appropriated. Stinnett said she’s “on the fence,” out of concern it will mean an automatic tax hike.
Thompson’s response wasn’t as measured as the others.
“Absolutely, with 100-percent I support the bond,” he said. Thompson noted that the town’s favorable AAA bond rating allows it to borrow at very low rates. “Eventually with the growth of Wake Forest, we’re going to have to do something…” he added “Ultimately it’s going to involve raising taxes in one shape or another, so by using a bond, is a way to cheaply do it and cover a lot of things at one time.”
One question from the audience asked candidates if there was any decision by the current board with which they disagreed with the majority.
Stinnett declined to answer and Thomas said she didn’t disagree with anything the board had done. But both Cole and Thomas called up votes they would have cast another way. Thomas opposed the water residential water restrictions the board implemented following the 2008 drought above and beyond the measures the town’s water supplier, the city of Raleigh, had implemented.
And Cole said he opposed the amount of spending it took to improve Franklin Street in the Renaissance District as an entranceway to downtown. The majority of residents don’t use the street, he said, and the money could have been better spent.
The other question lobbed by the audience asked the candidates to define what “small-town charm” means to them.
For Thomas and Cole it is knowing your neighbors are looking out for you and the feeling of safety that comes with, something
Cole called a Cheers effect, referring to the TV show where “everybody knows your name.”
Thompson cited coming downtown or into any civic club meeting and knowing many of the people.
Stinnett, who was first to answer and who lamented she could go on for an hour on the subject, waxed poetic.
“Small town charm is what we do every day,” she said. “It’s visiting our neighbor when they’re sick. … It’s the stone wall around the seminary. It’s the big oak trees that line my street. It’s a Shorty’s hot dog. It’s going to the fish fry. It’s all the things we hold dear, all the things you love about Wake Forest.”
Chamber officials also posed several other questions to candidates, which they’ll upload Friday to the website at wakeforestchamber.org. Video of the candidates’ answers will play on community cable channel 10.
The forum for the two mayoral candidates takes place Oct. 10.