The Mount Airy News is publishing a series of profiles on candidates for contested races in Tuesday’s election in the city.
Those vying for a South Ward commissioner seat are featured here — incumbent Steve Yokeley, who is seeking his third four-year term, and Todd Harris, who formerly occupied Mount Airy’s other South Ward seat for 12 straight years ending in 2011.
Each was presented with an identical set of questions aimed at highlighting the candidates’ positions on key issues facing Mount Airy and aiding voters in their decisions. (Profiles on the two mayoral candidates were published Friday.)
Name: Todd Harris
Address: West Pine Street
Previous political or relevant experience: My experience as a commissioner in Mount Airy; my skills as a mediator; my experience in raising three amazing children to be respected and responsible adults.
Question No. 1: Why are you running for office?
Answer: I do not see myself “running” for office. I have a willingness to serve the citizens of our city and service will be the core principle behind everything I do in my capacity as commissioner if elected.
I have seen firsthand what is possible when a board operates with professionalism, collegiality, respect and openness as its core principles. This is why I filed. I wish to bring that back to our city. This is what so many who urged me to file also want to see — a return to our sense of community and working together.
Question 2: What makes you the better choice for the office you are seeking?
Answer: My skills as a mediator — bringing people together who often have severe disagreements is what I do for a living. My previous experience on the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners means I have no learning curve. I can start to work for the citizens right off the bat.
Question 3: What would be your top priorities if elected?
Answer: My top priority is restoring our citizens’ trust for the board and conducting our city business in an open manner to earn that trust. Our sense of community has suffered. We all need to come together and work together.
Question 4: In your opinion, what is the biggest problem now facing Mount Airy?
Answer: Three issues come directly to mind when I read this question and I find it hard to single out just one:
(1) The opioid epidemic. It is destroying the very fabric of our society. We need to make sure the Mount Airy Police Department has all the resources it needs to combat this problem and make the dealers know that Mount Airy is simply too hot a place for them to do business.
(2) Funding our capital-needs requests, and this includes not only major equipment purchases, but also being able to fund the replacement of our 100-year-old water and sewer lines in the older sections of our city.
(3) Jobs. We have spent a lot of real and political capital recently on projects that only indirectly promise jobs. I am talking here about the Spencer’s project. If we want to compete for good industry to come here and provide for direct job creation, we need to grade a pad at the industrial park and build a shell building. We are not as competitive as we should be at this point.
Question 5: Are you satisfied with the present status of the redevelopment project for the former Spencer’s industrial property? What, in your opinion, might be done differently to facilitate that effort?
Answer: No, I am not satisfied and I don’t think anyone is regardless of whether they favor the project or not. I would want to meet with the hotelier as soon as possible after the election to determine her interest in the front of the property moving forward.
Some, perhaps tough, decisions need to be made concerning the back two-thirds of the Spencer’s building. It is important to realize that every day the city owns this property it is costing the taxpayers money. I am in favor of the city no longer owning these buildings as soon as possible.
Question 6: The city of Mount Airy is said to be facing a major financial crunch due to having insufficient funding for infrastructure projects, salary increases and other upcoming expenses. Other than raising property taxes or dipping into its reserve funds, what is the best way(s) for the municipality to increase revenues or reduce spending to meet those needs?
Answer: I need to dig deeper into the budgets over the past several years to wrap my brain around what revenues we are taking in and what we are spending. The question asks about expenses and alternative revenue sources. Based on my experience, I do not believe that our citizens want their services cut.
The only alternative revenue sources I have heard mentioned are additional sales taxes and a prepared-meals tax. I do not favor new and additional taxes as revenue streams designed to pay for everyday city expenses. It is also important to realize that in order to implement either of those new taxes the city would need a special local act sponsored by one of our two current representatives in the state Legislature. I would doubt either of them are willing to be a sponsor for legislation of this type.
Question 7: In what ways would you address high-traffic and high-density development issues while maintaining Mount Airy’s small-town character?
Answer: Most of the high-traffic concerns involve roads that are state-owned and maintained by the N.C. Department of Transportation. The NCDOT welcomes input on projects but ultimately has the final say on what, where and how changes are done.
We must keep in mind to ask those businesses and individuals directly affected by any changes what their thoughts are and how they feel about any new projects. I would promise to not only gather that input but to put it in the form of a resolution from our board to the NCDOT on any project undertaken within the city limits of Mount Airy.
Question 8: Is there anything else that you want to share?
Answer: I realized that if I filed as a candidate for city commissioner, I must approach things differently than I did the first time I was on the board. I needed to approach it from a service perspective and I needed to work and be an example for bringing our community together.
In short, I needed to be the change I wanted to see — the same change so many of you want to see. Let me show you that I can be that change. I am asking for your vote.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.