Spencer candidates talk new town manager, downtown development during town forum

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 24, 2015

SPENCER — The candidates running for mayor and the Board of Aldermen discussed town issues at a forum at the Town Hall on Thursday night.

The mayoral candidates for Spencer are Jim Gobbel, Bob Oswald and Scott Benfield.

The candidates running for the Spencer Board of Aldermen are David Lamanno, Michael Boone, Sylvia Chillcott, Kevin Jones, Howard White, Rashid Muhammad and David Smith. White did not attend the forum.

The Rowan County Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs Committee coordinated the event.

The first question moderator Frank Goodnight posed to the candidates was about the first things they would do if elected.

Many candidates said appointing a new town manager was at the top of their to-do list.

“I think the first priority, again, is the town manager,” Chillcott said. “To be able to recruit, interview and appoint a qualified, competent, service-oriented town manager. Someone who would be a good fit for the town of Spencer.”

Lamanno said before they start looking for a new town manager, they should establish the qualifications they want the town manager to possess.

“We have an ad out in the paper and various trade organizations that we do have an opening, but we don’t even have any detail on what we’re looking for,” Lamanno said. “I suggest that we actually have to rewrite that ad sooner than later.”

During the response period, Boone said he was not worried about filling the slot.

“I believe that we won’t have a big problem finding a good town manager for the town of Spencer,” Boone said, adding that he thinks there are many people willing to come to Spencer for the job.

The candidates also said they wanted to get to know their fellow board members and the new mayor to establish a good working relationship.

“(The board) can agree to disagree as long as we can all move forward as one for the town, and, more than anything, work together to accomplish great things here,” Muhammad said.

The second question was about promoting Spencer’s attractions, including the North Carolina Transportation Museum, the Carolina Thread Trail and the Stanback Forest.

Almost all of the candidates agreed that the attractions needed more advertising.

Benfield and Jones said there were things they could do to make the attractions even more attractive.

“(Stanback Forest is) a huge natural area that I think we can continue to develop where we can have events, have 5Ks, have hikes and gatherings out there, even find a way to use it as something that could be a venue and having weddings and rehearsals and that sort of thing,” Jones said.

“A lot of people don’t realize, but there’s a pond (in Stanback Forest). I think we should clean that pond up and stock it so people in the community can go there and fish,” Benfield said, also mentioning that they should enhance other wildlife in the area as well.

Lamanno said it was also important to develop Spencer’s downtown area so that tourists will visit more of the town.

“We really haven’t given people a reason to come across the street, so we really need to focus on that,” Lamanno said.

The third question got the candidates talking about racial diversity in government dealings. Goodnight said the town is 59.3 percent white, 32.3 percent African American and 8.5 percent Hispanic.

Smith said he did not think Spencer had any racial tensions to deal with.

“I don’t see any racial problems here. As I walk through the neighborhood or I ride through the neighborhood, everyone speaks. It makes no difference,” Smith said.

As a substitute teacher at North Middle and High schools, Chillcott talked about the unity she has seen in Spencer’s schools.

“As I teach and I enjoy the presence of those students, and our upcoming citizens of the town, there is no diversity. They are one happy family in there, trying to get an education,” Chillcott said.

Jones said he did not think other races were reflected in Spencer’s government.

“I hope we can continue to get people from every part of Spencer. Every street in Spencer is Spencer,” Jones said.

Lamanno agreed with Jones, stating that the board needed to find more ways to be more racially inclusive.

“I think it’s important that when we have initiatives that come up that we reach out to African American churches, for example,” Lamanno said.

Oswald said simply inviting different people will help.

“As I look out in the audience, there’s no diversity in the audience. The reason is they probably didn’t invite anybody to come,” Oswald said.

The final question was about economic development. Goodnight asked what the candidates would do to support the Small Town Main Street program, a program that helps develop and revitalize the downtown area.

Gobbel said it has been slow, but there has been some progress.

“Will it work? Yes, if you give it time. We need to get more things in place to make businesses attractive,” Gobbel said.

Boone suggested creating financial incentives to attract more businesses and make it easier for them to get started.

“I know a lot of people don’t agree with this. We need to give (businesses) some type of incentive, tax-wise maybe, to get them to come to Spencer,” Boone said. He said offering things like free rent for the first six months could lure new businesses.

The forum ended with closing statements, in which the candidates talked about improving the quality of life for the citizens of Spencer and communication between the board, other departments and the public.

“The slogan on my sign is for the future of Spencer and that’s what I believe in. We have a future here in Spencer,” Smith said.

Contact reporter Amanda Raymond at 704-797-4222.