The Transylvania Times -

City Candidates Tackle Questions During Forum - Brevard, NC

 

September 14, 2017



Some 50 people braved rain and wind to attend the Brevard/Transylvania Chamber of Commerce’s Candidates’ Forum Monday in the library’s Rogow Room.

Brevard City Council candidates Maureen Copelof, Jessica Gallagher and Mac Morrow gave opening and closing statements, as well as answering nine questions compiled by the chamber’s Government Affairs Committee.

Copelof said she is running for one of the two seats on city council because she loves Brevard and “the people who make living here so special.”

She said change and growth are inevitable and that the council needs to have the planning and vision and leadership to ensure that Brevard is both family friendly and business friendly. She said it should be a place where young people can find good-paying jobs and affordable housing.

Gallagher said she is fortunate to live in Brevard and is running for city council “because I want to serve my community.”

“I’m not running because I have an agenda. I’m not running because I want to impose my personal beliefs on local government,” she said. “I’m running because I’m smart, I’m energetic, I’m creative and I want to give those things back to the community.”

Gallagher said she would listen to community members to understand what their vision is for Brevard and then work to make that vision a reality.

Morrow said he is running for city council to continue the work the city has committed to in the last few years. That includes improvements to the city’s water and sewer lines, parks, the Downtown Master Plan and other programs.

Morrow said he has served on the council many years and he wants to use that “unique experience to help my hometown, Brevard, grow and become an even better place to live.”

Following are the questions asked of the candidates and a summary of their responses.

Q: How does your personal political philosophy relate to your desired goals to help guide the future of Brevard?

Copelof said her political philosophy involves working with, caring about and listening to people.

She said that during her career in the military she learned the importance of being a team member.

“You get a whole lot more done when you’re working as a team than when you are going it on your own,” she said.

Copelof said she has been going door-to-door over the past month and asking city residents what they believe is important.

“To me, representing the people is what politics is all about,” she said.

Gallagher said her philosophy is also about listening to and working with people, as well as understanding the system.

“I’m a process minded and systems minded person, and I approach everything by looking at all of the moving parts and trying to figure out how they all go together,” she said.

As a city council member, she would look at the system as a whole and try to figure out “how to make it work best. How can we make it work best to reflect the needs and wants of the people who live here in the community.”

Morrow said it’s “wonderful” as a council member not to be partisan and the council member’s main job is to understand the policy, as well as its underlying purpose.

Morrow said citizens need to be involved because many of them are the ones who have expertise and they often “come forward and save the day.”

Q: What do you view as the city’s role in attracting employers offering good-paying jobs and enhancing our overall economy?

Gallagher said the city plays a vital role and that if the city is not thinking about bringing good-paying jobs here, then the city government is not doing its job.

She said the city has to “get the right people to the table,” people with expertise, to make the city thrive.

Morrow said the key is infrastructure.

“If we didn’t have good water, good roads, good sewers, we wouldn’t be able to afford one more house,” he said. “The city’s role is the basis for attracting investment.”

He said if the city does not properly plan for controlled growth, then it would not attract good jobs.

He said the collaborative effort with the county on Ecusta Road is an example of attempting to attract investment.

Copelof said the city plays a “critical role” in creating an economic environment that attracts businesses. She said that without good-paying jobs, then many residents do not have a good quality of life.

She said it’s key to work on the six areas that the Transylvania Economic Alliance has targeted.

She also said the city needs to have regulations that protect the quality of life people want without putting a burden on businesses.

Q:Although the courthouse is primarily a county issue, it does affect the downtown businesses. What is your opinion on the courthouse – should it stay in place or be moved? If relocated, what would you like to see happen to the existing structure to promote downtown businesses?

“I like the courthouse where it is,” said Morrow.

Morrow said an idea he has proposed that hasn’t received much traction is taking the “criminal” part out and leaving the “civic” part downtown. He said a new courtroom with the security to handle criminal matters could be built next to the new jail.

Morrow said he does not understand why the current courthouse cannot be “retrofitted” and save the taxpayers millions of dollars.

Copelof said the courthouse is historic and should remain, but that does not mean it could not be used in other ways.

She did not rule out Morrow’s suggestion, but did say, “We really don’t have the facilities to have the court there anymore. It’s outgrown that building.”

She said trying to change the building and the parking would really change the nature of the courthouse and downtown.

Gallagher agreed with both Morrow and Copelof that the courthouse is “iconic,” but said “the use of the building is a totally different question.”

She questioned the feasibility of having civil and criminal court in two different locations.

“We have a limited judiciary. They are not here very often,” she said, adding that have two locations could create scheduling conflicts.

Regardless of its use, all three candidates said the building itself must remain.

Q:In light of the current unrest over racial/ethnic differences across the United States, how can the city’s elected leadership encourage and foster representation and participation from our diverse communities especially in resource planning and implementation as well as in soliciting input into problem resolution?

Copelof said the city needs to reach out to all communities and create an environment for participation.

She said she is in total support of the city’s Community Relations Board. She also said community leaders, when holding events, need to reach out “to our diverse community.

Gallagher agreed that city leaders need to reach out to minority communities not only by inviting minorities to at-large community events but also attending events held in minority communities.

“It has to go both ways,” she said.

Morrow said he has high expectations that the Community Relations Board will foster better representation.

He said the Tannery Park project is a collaborative effort between the city and Mary C. Jenkins Board, which donated property for the park. He added that the county then joined in as well.

“That’s what happens when people sit down and talk and work out a plan that helps everybody,” said Morrow.

Q:With the state basically eliminating involuntary annexation, how can the city increase its tax base?

Gallagher said the city is going to grow and it has to grow intentionally in order to increase its tax base. She said the city has to work with the county to achieve smart, intentional growth.

Morrow said infrastructure is critical and “everything depends on it.”

He said the city has enough water capacity to handle the city’s needs until the year 2065 and there are 8,000 feet of sewer line that has been upgraded. He said the sewer treatment plant has been upgraded to where it is running the best it has in 18 years and “we didn’t have to go borrow any money.”

Copelof said the tax base has to be increased because homeowners are having to share more of the tax burden.

She said the city needs to capitalize on what is available within the city limits and look at regulations regarding density.

“We need to look at any open space that exists, especially spaces where we do have that infrastructure,” she said.

She said that as a member of the county’s Planning Board for three years, the biggest issue was the lack of land with access to water and sewer lines.

Q:There was a recent letter to the editor of The Transylvania Times, questioning the need for both a police department and sheriff’s department. Are there ways that you feel the city and county can work more closely together to provide more and better services more cost efficiently? If so, what can Brevard City Council do to proactively work with county officials to better the community?

Morrow said there was a joint effort a few years ago that looked at a variety of departments.

“They work extremely well together now,” he said of the police and sheriff’s departments. “I don’t know that there’s a duplication of services.

He said there are areas where they work together, such as the Drug Task Force.

Copelof said the police and sheriff’s departments are complementary but not duplicative.

“I have been so impressed with the quality of law enforcement that we have at both the city and county level,” said Copelof, adding that they need to continue with the current system of two entities that support each other.

Gallagher said the two departments work together but have different interests.

She said the system should always be evaluated to see if there are inefficiencies and duplication of services.

“However, combining the two doesn’t serve the different interests or needs of the county and city residents,” she said.

Q:The recent Carolina Land Trust study found affordable workforce housing this is an issue facing our community. What tools and strategies do you feel City Council should utilize to facilitate the development of additional workforce housing. How would you balance the need for affordable housing with the city’s overall aesthetics?

“Affordable housing is one of the top needs in our city,” said Copelof, adding that she has talked to many young families who say they cannot find a place to live. “We have got to address affordable housing.”

She said the city needs to look at zoning, density and where the city could build affordable housing.

She said the aesthetics can be balanced through the regulations regarding how the affordable housing would be structured.

Gallagher said, “Affordable housing comes up in every single conversation. If people can’t afford to live here, they will move elsewhere; their tax money goes elsewhere. They are not feeding back into our economy.”

She said affordable housing does not mean “ugly” or “unattractive housing.”

She said providing more affordable housing is about getting developers “to the table” so that they can make a profit while serving the needs of the community and maintaining the city’s beauty.

Morrow said there are no easy answers but that the availability of infrastructure plays an important role.

“I don’t know the answer because when you look around Brevard, when you look at rents, for example, with AirBnBs, they’re only going up,” said Morrow.

He said he has met young couples who have found lots for $10,000 and are building small homes.

“They’re making it work,” he said.

Q: What is your position on the proposed West Loop?

“That’s a controversial issue,” said Gallagher.

Gallagher said there has to be a way to decrease congestion in downtown Brevard. She said it does not make sense to have an access that “plows through people’s homes” but that congestion downtown needs to be relieved.

“We have to know more and we have to think about all the different types of solutions,” she said.

Morrow said the West Loop was designed to relieve congestion in downtown Brevard. He said there was a choice to either give up the parking on Broad Street or do something else.

He said having access to the middle school and a railroad bed with no houses on it is “an inviting looking piece.”

Copelof said the city does have a traffic problem and during the summer or when there are major events, such as the eclipse, “we have a major traffic congestion problem.”

She said the first proposal for the West Loop was “too drastic” and she did not support it. But she said the project has now been “downsized.”

“I think we do need a second route that helps people get across downtown, especially local residents who know the routes,” she said.

She does not want a “bypass” that would take all of the traffic and visitors outside the downtown area, but would like a route that locals could use to avoid congestion downtown.

Q:At the end of the upcoming term, what will be your criteria for measuring whether you: a) have met your own goals; and b) have made a significant contribution to the city's welfare beyond maintaining the status quo?

Morrow said that looking back over the past few years, the best thing the city has done is bring in Jim Fatland, who helped implement the committee system, on as city manager.

Morrow said the city had a $4 million ticket shown to them for the water plant and they were able to fix it for $1 million.

“Do I feel accomplishment for that? Absolutely,” said Morrow.

Copelof said her goal is to keep the quality of life in Brevard high. She said she measures success by listening to the people, who will tell me “whether or not we have met your needs.”

She said that right now those needs are good-paying jobs, affordable housing and preserving a unique community in a beautiful setting.

Gallagher said she bases success on meeting people’s vision and her success in working with other members of the council.

“It’s not my success; it’s the council’s success,” said Gallagher. “I feel like we will have succeeded if we have met your needs, your wants.”

Candidates’ Summary

Morrow said he appreciates the support of voters in the past and wants to continue improving the city’s infrastructure, such as investing in more sidewalks like the one on Probart Street.

Morrow noted that Brevard has been listed in several publications as one of the top Biking and outdoor destinations.

Morrow said he would continue to make hard, common sense decisions.

Gallagher said, “My platform is simple – I want to do the work…I want to serve you.”

She said issues such as workforce housing and expanding the tax base need to be addressed.

Copelof said that as great as “Brevard is today, we can make it even better.”

She said that means a strong economy with good wages and affordable housing, a diversified tax base to help maintain and build the city’s infrastructure, protecting the environment, and planning a community to encourage dialogue among all of the residents.

She said she knows she does not have all of the answers, but she does know how to ask the right questions and would consider all perspectives.

 
 

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