Newcomers challenge incumbents for seats on City Council

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 11, 2011

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — Four relative newcomers are challenging five incumbents on the Salisbury City Council, who have nearly 50 years of experience between them.
Among the challengers, only Blake Jarman has run for elected office before, in 2009 when he earned 341 votes for City Council. Challengers Rip Kersey, Benjamin Lynch and Dale Stephens are running for the first time.
They will try to unseat Mayor Susan Kluttz, Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Blackwell and councilmen William “Pete” Kennedy, Paul Woodson and Brian Miller.
Fibrant promises to make this an interesting campaign.
At least two challengers propose major changes to the city’s new broadband utility that competes with private industry to provide Internet, phone and cable TV services.
Lynch said he wouldn’t have voted for Fibrant. But now that it’s here, the city should appoint a board of directors made up of local business leaders who would examine the utility and hold it accountable to residents “as an independent service and product,” he said.
Jarman will campaign to sell the utility. The city should never have pursued the venture and should privatize Fibrant, he said.
Kersey also said he would’ve voted against Fibrant. But because the city has taken on significant debt to fund the project, he will work to insure the utility’s success, he said.
“It’s critical to the city that it be successful,” Kersey said.
Stephens said the council was “crazy” for launching Fibrant during the economic downturn, when “people out here are struggling to pay taxes.”
Kluttz, the city’s longest serving mayor, said Fibrant is one reason she is running for an eighth term.
Now that Salisbury has won exemption from a new state broadband law, Kluttz said she will spend her next term “telling the positive story of Fibrant” and combatting misinformation and misunderstanding.
Kennedy said one of his goals “is to defend, support and promote Fibrant,” which will attract businesses and create jobs.
Fibrant is one of Woodson’s top priorities as well. The utility will provide additional revenue for the city, attract new jobs and help avoid large property tax increases, he said.
Miller and Blackwell were not council members when Fibrant was approved in 2008 and the city sold $33 million in bonds to build the fiber-optic network.
Now that the investment has been made, Miller said, he will encourage all residents to subscribe so the utility is successful. Profits remain in the community and could contribute to the quality of life, he said.
Blackwell declined to comment on Fibrant, for now. A Fibrant customer herself, Blackwell in May asked city staff to start providing regular financial reports on Fibrant to City Council.
Quarterly reports are expected to begin this fall.
The Post will look at the candidates’ positions on Fibrant in more depth as the campaign unfolds.
Other reasons for running varied widely among candidates.
Stephens said he wants to form a “watchdog” board made up of taxpayers to hear complaints against the city.
“I want to start a grievance procedure so a simple fellow like me could go out and have someone to talk to,” Stephens said.
Jarman said he would rescind ordinances and amend projects that hinder the economic and personal development of businesses and property owners.
He said he’s concerned about the high crime rate, and the city should do more to protect residents from drug and alcohol addictions, pornography and other “immoral activity that causes dissension in the community.”
Jarman wants to reevaluate city salaries, improve relationships with county commissioners, communicate better with taxpayers and stop accepting state grants that use tax dollars to fund needless projects.
Lynch said the newly elected City Council should hire the next city manager. He also would streamline the process to establish a business in Salisbury.
“As a two-year member of the Planning Board, I have seen firsthand the hurdles and financial risk that businesses must endure to even consider doing business in Salisbury,” Lynch said.
Lynch said he disagrees with the proclamation endorsing the city’s first gay pride event, although he believes the group had the right to gather.
The city must keep the cost of providing services as low as possible and work with the county to recruit businesses, he said.
Kersey said city leaders need to focus on reducing costs and improving efficiency. He spent 30 years making operations and processes more efficient, as well as organization development, he said.
“That’s my background, and that’s where I think I can help,” Kersey said.
He would lower the property tax rate, he said.
Blackwell said the council worked hard on this year’s budget and reduced property taxes for most residents.
“I’m pleased with the progress we’ve made in the last two years, and I look forward to continuing to serve the city of Salisbury,” she said.
Housing and neighborhood revitalization are issues she’s worked on for years, Blackwell said, and she would like to see a housing commission in Salisbury. She also would continue working closely with the Police Department.
Woodson said he’s throwing his hat in the ring for an eighth term because he enjoys the stimulation of serving on City Council, likes the challenge of working out tough issues and wants Salisbury to thrive.
Unlike running a business, running a city means trying to include everyone, Woodson said.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned is that no matter what you think, and no matter what you believe someone else might be thinking, you need to sit down and hear their point of view,” he said.
The next five years will strain government at all levels, and Salisbury will face budget shortfalls again, Woodson said. He will fight hard to keep taxes low and water rates down while supporting services like the city’s excellent parks and recreation department, he said.
Miller said he’s helped build a unified and cohesive tourism structure shared between the city and county tourism development authorities.
“I am very pleased with the joint partnership that is well under way with these two groups,” he said.
Miller would work to make Salisbury even more business-friendly and wants the city to continue providing excellent customer service. He said he encourages forums between city and county staff and the local development community for honest and open feedback on the city’s performance.
While he’s confident city staff are doing an excellent job, Salisbury needs better communication with residents about the fiscal health of the city, Miller said.
“I believe we should report to our community on a regular basis about issues related to the financial well-being of our city government,” he said.
Kennedy said he will work to keep the property tax rate as low as possible by trimming the budget and operating more efficiently. The city must remain business-friendly and support neighborhood revitalization and fair housing, he said.
Kennedy said he will advocate for and promote the West End neighborhood and work to pursue a federal grant to redevelop public housing there.
As the longest-serving councilman with 18 years in office, “I offer experience as we search for a new city manager,” Kennedy said.
While Kluttz has several reasons for seeking re-election, she said her motivation ultimately comes from her love for Salisbury.
With the upcoming retirement of David Treme, who has served as city manager for more than 25 years, Kluttz said she would like to help hire the new leader. Her experience in city government and knowledge of local history, projects and initiatives will help insure a smooth transition, she said.
Housing also tops her list for re-election, Kluttz said. She said she’s excited the city is preparing to create a housing commission and come up with a plan to redevelop the West End.
The economy forced the city to put on hold some gang-prevention initiatives, which Kluttz said she would like to resume. Public safety has been an important issue for her since first elected in 1997, Kluttz said.
The city will take action soon on the Empire Hotel, which it owns and plans to redevelop, she said. Kluttz said her passion for diversity also played a role in her decision to file for re-election, with the Dixonville Cemetery project planning to launch a major fundraising effort she wants to support.
“I wasn’t sure I’d run again,” Kluttz said. “But I just can’t quit. I just feel like I’ve got to stay here. There are too many good things going on.”
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.
Susan Wear Kluttz, incumbent mayor
Age: 62
Address: 329 W. Bank St.
Phone number: 704-636-9522
Occupation: Mayor
Education: Graduate of Boyden High School (now Salisbury High School) and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a bachelor’s degree in English
Previous elected office: Serving seventh term
Community involvement: Board of directors for F&M?Bank, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, the Salisbury Community Development Corporation and the Salisbury Community Foundation. Attends St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.
Family: Married to Bill Kluttz, two children, one grandchild
Rip Kersey, challenger
Age: 58
Address: 224 Ferncliff Drive
Phone number: 704-636-7007
Occupation: Self-employed training and management consultant, former engineer
Education: Bachelor of science in electrical engineering from Clemson University
Previous elected office: None
Community involvement: Prevent Child Abuse Rowan (board member), Rowan Helping Ministries (life coach), First Presbyterian Church (elder)
Family: Married to Dr. Kathi Russo, two children
Dale Stephens, challenger
Age: 59
Address: 145 Norris Drive
Phone number: 704-603-4248
Occupation: Self-employed nurse
Education: Two degrees from Rowan-Cabarrus Community College
Previous elected office: None
Family: Divorced, two children
Brian Miller, incumbent councilman
Age: 42
Address: 110 Kingsbridge Road
Phone number: 704-639-0539
Occupation: Banker with BB&T
Education: Bachelor of science in business administration in management from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Previous elected office: Serving first term
Community involvement: Serves on board of directors for United Way, Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Salisbury, Rowan County Tourism Development Authority, RCCC Foundation (treasurer, finance committee chair). Also Civitan Club, Finance Committee for North Hills Christian School, Rowan Little League.
Family: Married to Amy Miller, three children
Blake Jarman, challenger
Age: 26
Address: 231 D. Ave.
Phone number: 704-213-7743
Occupation: Personal banker and customer service representative with Wells Fargo
Education: Catawba College graduate (communications major with focus on public relations and business adminstration)
Previous elected office: Ran for City Council in 2009
Community involvement: Destiny City Church, Habitat for Humanity, cancer and AIDS?awareness, supports the local arts
Family: Engaged to Rachel Michelle Shoemaker
William “Pete” Kennedy
Age: 70
Address: 428 E. Fisher St.
Occupation: Realtor
Education: Master’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Previous elected office: Serving ninth term
Community involvement: Serves on board of directors for Salisbury-Rowan Community Action Agency (chairman), Rufty-Holmes Senior Center, Southern City AME?Zion Church (chairman)
Family: Married to Hazel Kennedy, three children and three grandchildren
Paul Woodson, incumbent councilman
Age: 65
Address: 6 Dogwood Road
Phone number: 704-633-5411
Occupation: Owner, Vogue Cleaners
Education: Bachelor of science in chemistry from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, one year of post-undergraduate school in chemistry and physics
Previous elected office: Serving seventh term
Community involvement: Serves on board of directors for Economic Development Commission, RCCC Foundation, Firemen’s Relief Fund, Salisbury Tourism Development Authority, Centralina Council of Governments, Margaret C. Woodson Foundation. Member St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.
Family: Married to Beth, one child
Maggie Blackwell, incumbent mayor pro tem
Age: 55
Address: 422 Mitchell Ave.
Phone number: 704-638-0708
Occupation: Mayor pro-tem
Educational background: English degree from Auburn University
Previous elected office: Serving first term
Community involvement: Serves on board of directors for the Bread Riot Food Cooperative, Fulton Heights Neighborhood Association and Civitan Club. Member of First Presbyterian Church. Volunteer Rowan Helping Ministries and Piedmont Players Theater.
Family: Married to Jody Blackwell, three children, 11 grandchildren
Benjamin Lynch, challenger
Age: 33
Address: 420 Bethel Drive
Phone number: 704-245-5190
Occupation: Owner, Specialized Computer Support (SCS) Service Inc.
Education: Bachelor of arts in information systems from Catawba College
Previous elected office: None
Community involvement: Salisbury Planning Board, Rowan Partners for Education (vice chairman), Rowan Republicans (vice chairman), member of First Presbyterian Church, member and delegate to the Republican National Hispanic Assembly.
Family: Married to Teal Lynch, two children

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