Alexander drawing on architectural experience in seeing ‘the big picture’ in bid for mayor

Published 12:10 am Sunday, August 22, 2021

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Mayor Karen Alexander says her decades of experience in architecture and urban design has required her to see the big picture when it comes to making decisions and seeing the long-term benefits.

Despite the challenges 2020 brought, Alexander said she’s not afraid and wants to continue tackling them if re-elected mayor later this year.

For the municipal election this year, Salisbury voters will have the opportunity to directly elect a mayor for the first time thanks to a successful ballot measure passed in 2019. Alexander will face Mayor Pro Tem Al Heggins, who served as mayor from 2017-19. Alexander was mayor from 2015-17 and reappointed mayor in 2019 after receiving the most votes among council members.

Alexander is the founder and president of KKA Architecture, president of the North Carolina League of Municipalities, liaison to the Rowan-Salisbury Community Foundation, board member of Salisbury’s Community Development Corporation and delegate to the executive board of Centralina Council of Governments.

Alexander said much of her latest term, and primarily 2020, has been weathering a trifecta of challenges, including the pandemic, racial justice issues and economic recovery. But Alexander said she welcomes the challenges, and praises the city for still standing strong financially due to “excellent management of the budget.”

She credits herself with being a mayor who can face those challenges in a calm, collective way that builds trust.

“I’m a very calm person. I take it into stride,” she said. “Because of both my skill sets as a professional architect and urban design professional, I am used to creating partnerships, collaborations (and) coalitions. That’s the only way that I’ve ever been able to see in 3-D and in reality what I have designed in my head. Those skill sets have been proven to be reliable and important to me as I have faced this particular election cycle.”

As mayor, Alexander said much of the role involves being a spokesperson for the city and council, which she often does as president of the league. Her involvement, she said, allows her to learn firsthand what’s going on, which can then help her facilitate resources as needed. It also allows her to have an intimate look at what challenges other cities and towns are facing and what they’re doing to resolve them.

Alexander said building coalitions of collaboration across the city allows leaders to more efficiently leverage resources and work to achieve community goals. She cites the facilitation of federal American Rescue Plan dollars and the annual Community Block Development Grant as examples of having to maximize resources while looking ahead at the financial impact in the long-run.

The city will receive an estimated $7.2 million in American Rescue Plan funds, with half already received. No plans have been brought to the City Council yet.

Alexander said she has a decades-long record of strengthening neighborhoods, including her work with Salisbury Community Development Corporation, to put more than $1 million of tax money back into the city via housing projects in Jersey City, Park Avenue and the West End.

“That’s a great example of leveraging federal dollars that come down through CBDG,” Alexander said. “While they are our partner, they’re a nonprofit, but the money the city gets goes there. And having a diverse board of that organization helps to ensure that every perspective is looked at carefully.”

Among the most pressing issues at this time are the selection and hiring of a new city manager following Lane Bailey’s departure in December. Alexander said she’d like to see someone who has the ability to collaborate and think of innovative solutions, cares deeply about all of the community and uses a holistic approach in working to achieve equity for all residents.

Economic development is a priority for the city, which includes reconvening the 1MBB program, a partnership with Operation HOPE to grow and support 1 million Black-owned businesses across the nation over a decade. The program was announced earlier this year. She also cited the launch of KIVA, a national loan program that provides zero-interest and zero-fee micro-loans to woman and minorities looking to launch a business.

Infrastructure is another big issue for the city and one she’s closely involved with as president of the league, which involves advocacy at the federal level. If granted, those federal funds will be “transformational” for the city, she added.

Improving public safety and challenges with the current crime rate are additional priorities, she said. She referenced the now year-long CeaseFire initiative, a partnership between the Salisbury Police Department and the Salisbury-Rowan NAACP chapter.

“I am uniquely qualified for this job both on skill sets as well as on experience now,” Alexander said. “I will always continue to deliberate for very sound decisions that are based on logic, need, relevance and context of what we are doing it in. Not on a political or on a personal agenda. I don’t have a personal agenda. I have an agenda of servant leadership, and I think that I can stand on that record.”

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.