11 candidates vying for mayor, board in Spencer

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Steve Huffman
SPENCER ó The mayor’s race and races for the Spencer Board of Aldermen are generating considerable interest here in next month’s general election.
In the bid for mayor, incumbent Jody Everhart is squaring off against challenger Jon Palmer. In the Board of Aldermen race, nine candidates have filed for six openings.
A candidates forum sponsored by the Spencer Business Association was held Monday in Town Hall.
Here’s a breakdown of the candidates beginning with the race for mayor:
– Jody Everhart, 50, has served as mayor for the past two years and for six years overall. He has also served 12 years on the Board of Aldermen, 10 years of which he served as mayor pro tem.
Everhart is a Spencer native, a graduate of North Rowan High School who attended Lees-McRae College, Central Piedmont Community College and Rowan-Cabarrus Community College. He is a signal maintainer for Norfolk Southern. Everhart and his wife, Melinda, have three children. They live on Steeplechase Trail.
Everhart said he wants to keep the town moving in the direction it’s heading. He said he prides himself on his openness with town residents, saying he’s always willing to listen to their concerns.
“I’m doing my job if it’s not controversial,” Everhart said of the lack of mudslinging that has thus far accompanied this year’s race. “It’s been very quiet so far, about too quiet.”
Everhart said he has several things he’d like to see accomplished if re-elected. One, he said, is to see something done about the town’s old fire department on Fourth Street. The building has sat vacant for years.
Another of his goals, Everhart said, is to see the old library that is the centerpiece of Library Park reopened. The building has been closed since spring when it was discovered that lead paint was flaking from the interior. Estimates of the cost of repairing and refurbishing the building have been upwards of $2 million, money no one has come close to raising.
“I’d like to see the library opened back up, but I don’t know if I have enough support on the board or if the money is out there,” Everhart said.
Town Manager Larry Smith was recently given permission by board members to hire an outside firm to explore the work the library needs and how much repairs will cost.
Everhart said he’s proud of the job he’s done leading the town over the past two years through tough economic times. The tax rate has remained the same, Everhart said, though the budget has been of the no-frills variety.
“Until the economy comes back, that’s the way it’s going to be,” he said.
– Jon Palmer, 38, of South Carolina Avenue, is a self-employed architect with JP&A Architect. He is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, where he earned bachelor of fine arts and bachelor of architecture degrees.
Palmer noted that his family, home and business are all in Spencer. He’s a member of the Spencer Planning Board, the Spencer Historic Preservation Commission and Spencer Partnership Inc.
Palmer served a portion of a term on the Spencer Board of Aldermen when he was appointed to fill an unexpired term. He and his wife, Cara Reische, have a 5-year-old daughter.
Palmer is a quiet sort, but said he feels voters have an obvious choice when it comes to deciding between him and Everhart. He said there are numerous issues the town needs to address.
“Spencer has an image problem and we need to correct that,” Palmer said.
He said he’s heard from business owners who said the town has made it more difficult than necessary to locate in Spencer.
“I don’t know if those are isolated incidents or if there’s merit to their complaints,” Palmer said. “We need to find out.”
He said the town needs a strategic plan that examines Spencer’s strengths and weaknesses, where the town is now and where it’s headed, and a plan to get there ó both for the short and long terms.
Palmer said he’s also noticed more rental units and for sale signs about town than there used to be. He said he wants to do something to reverse both those trends.
“It’s not right to just ignore the obvious,” Palmer said.
He said he supports a return to mandatory recycling and curbside garbage pick up.
In the aldermen’s race, five incumbents: Scott Benfield, Donnie Hinson, Jeff Morris, David Smith and C.E. Spear are seeking re-election. Challengers are Tracy Aitken, Delaine Fowler, Jeff Kiker and Reid Walters.
Here’s a synopsis of each candidate:
– Tracy Aitken is a single mother of three and the owner of two Spencer businesses ó Pinocchio’s Restaurant and Usborne Books. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Oakland University in Rochester, Mich. She served in the Army for seven years as an intelligence analyst.
– Scott Benfield is a Spencer plumber who has served five terms on the board. He also served seven years as the town’s public works director.
– Delaine Fowler is a physical therapist who owns her own business. She has a doctorate and master’s degree from Elon University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
– Donnie Hinson is a deputy sheriff and works in the Rowan County Justice Center. He is a graduate of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College and holds certifications for basic law-enforcement training.
– Jeff Kiker owns a private investigations firm, P&G Security Inc., that he said employs more than 100 people. He and his wife live on Third Street. He was raised in Spencer.
– Jeff Morris is the current board’s mayor pro tem. He is a Salisbury attorney. He’s chairman of the Rowan County Zoning Board of Adjustments and chairman of the Rowan County Child Protection Team.
– David Smith was appointed to the board earlier this year following the resignation of Ken Womble. He is retired from the military and works as an Army contractor.
– C.E. Spear, 85, is the board’s elder statesman, having served the town as either alderman or mayor for better than 30 years. Spear and his wife, Julia, have been married for more than 60 years and live on Baldwin Avenue.
– Reid Walters is a graduate of Western Carolina University who has refurbished several older houses in Spencer. He teaches history at East Rowan High School.