E. Spencer candidates focus on water, law enforcement

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 2, 2013

EAST SPENCER — With soaring water rates and the hunt for a new police chief, three challengers and a pair of incumbents hope to sway voters’ minds on how to rehab the town’s law enforcement and address the water system.
Otis Gibson, a former longtime educator, along with Titus King and Robert Smith hope to fill a vacant spot on the board or unseat one of the two incumbents up for re-election.
Tammy Corpening and Phronice Johnson, who have been on the board for years, say some projects the town has worked on — like a recreation park redevelopment — are nearing fruition and urge voters to stay the course. Barbara Mallet is running unopposed for mayor.
But critics say board members haven’t made enough progress in the town — both in economic development and retooling the town park.
Gibson was the last manager at the park when the recreation center still hosted social programs for kids. He said he’d like to see the town put more effort into programs that could build community support for young people.
“We’ve got to find a way to get everybody involved,” Gibson said at a candidate forum last week.
Gibson said he has experience working with young people and with the public to produce programs that stimulate community growth.
The 67-year-old spent more than 25 years as an educator in Washington, D.C., while spending summers in East Spencer.
Along with Gibson, Corpening and Johnson have focused on the park redevelopment during the campaign.
Corpening said she envisions building a splash pad at the park and drawing youngsters and families back to the park.
“Just pretty much, I want to see the park continue to grow,” Corpening said in September. “To see it, the planning and all of the activities that we’re doing. The revamping of the park. I want to see that. Concentration is definitely on our youth here.”
In recent months, challengers King and Smith have grown increasingly vocal about putting more focus on safety in the town.
Following the town’s termination of former police chief Darren Westmoreland, King railed against the board for its transparency during the end of Westmoreland’s tenure and for the town’s decision to hire Westmoreland.
But when asked about his biggest priority for the town, King said lowering the water rates.
“If we don’t actually stop people from moving out because of the high water bill then everything else is a dream,” King said.
The town has been considering selling the water and sewer system to the city of Salisbury, a point of contention among candidates.
Mallett has been a supporter of the sale since taking office, but Johnson said the water system decision isn’t an easy one.
“I don’t want Salisbury to have the system. Nobody on this board wants Salisbury to have the system. But there are other circumstances,” Johnson said. “If you all are on the board and come to the meetings sometime and get the handouts you’ll see the whole picture. It’s not that this board and this mayor can decide whether we give the system over to Salisbury. It’s not that simple. It’s taken me 12 years to get to that point.”
Smith, an assistant pastor for the Church of Christ in Lexington, said better police protection was one of his top priorities.
The town has a disconnect with its residents, he said, saying police complaints, for example, are often not addressed — including his own. “I filed several complaints but never got a response from the board,” Smith said. “That’s why I know there’s a disconnect between the board and the citizens.”
Smith lost in 2011 when he ran against now-Mayor Barbara Mallet. He said he wasn’t sure if he would run again until a group of residents began urging him to do so.
“If you hire people to hire the qualified people, then I think something needs to be done with the people that are doing the hiring. That’s what we pay you for — to hire qualified people. That goes for the administrator and the board,” Smith said. “They got a problem with making tough decisions. That’s what I believe.”
Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.