City candidates toss hats into ring

DOBSON — The first day of the candidates’ filing period for the 2015 Mount Airy municipal election Monday resulted in five people tossing their hats into the ring.

Included are three incumbent members of the city board of commissioners; another commissioner who is the city’s acting mayor and is seeking Mount Airy’s top elected office on a full-time basis; and a former mayoral candidate vying for a board seat.

“I’m going to try it again,” said Gene Clark, who ran for mayor in the 2009 election and this year is mounting a bid for the at-large commissioner post now held by Jim Armbrister. Clark said concerns over how a new Mount Airy Redevelopment Commission has been handled are prompting his candidacy.

Armbrister also filed for re-election Monday. The former city police lieutenant, now completing the unexpired term of late Commissioner Scott Graham which he was appointed to last year, will be seeking his first four-year term as Mount Airy’s at-large commissioner.

Also filing Monday were Dean Brown, who is seeking his third term as a North Ward councilman; Shirley Brinkley, a South Ward commissioner vying for her second term; and Steve Yokeley, the city’s other South Ward board member who has been serving as mayor pro tem since the resignation of Deborah Cochran in March.

Yokeley, the other South Ward commissioner whose post is not up for re-election until 2017, will run for Cochran’s unexpired term to end that same year.

The filing period ends at noon on July 17.

Clark concerns

Clark said Monday he has been monitoring the progress of the Mount Airy Redevelopment Commission since it was formed in 2014, mainly to facilitate the revitalization of the former Spencer’s Inc. industrial property downtown which is now owned by the municipality.

Some in the community are supportive of that group’s mission to bring more jobs and growth to the city. Yet others fear its powers — including the right to take property by eminent domain — could threaten longtime property owners in a “blighted” area targeted for redevelopment which includes more than just the Spencer’s site.

Clark, who is one of the owners affected — of a site on Franklin Street — said Monday he is aware of the positives and negatives associated with the process.

“I just thought there was a better way to handle that from the beginning as far as being more inclusive of the ones who are affected,” said the candidate, who has voiced his disapproval at meetings held on the redevelopment project. “I think everybody there needs to have a voice, not just a certain few.”

“I’m not necessarily against it,” Clark added of the process, but thinks it could have included more openness.

“That’s no reflection on who I’m running against,” the challenger said of Armbrister. “I think he’s a good guy.”

Clark, 53, the president of a furniture import company launched about two years ago called My Home Furnishings, lives on Cross Creek Drive in the city’s North Ward.

He explained that he is running for the at-large seat instead because Armbrister has never been elected to that position and that should the case with someone who serves. Clark said it is his belief that all offices at stake should be contested and being appointed to a seat is “not the most democratic way to get it.”

“I just want everyone to know I think everybody should get a fair shake,” Clark said, which includes other issues in city government besides the redevelopment effort.

The candidate also believes more should be done to help existing businesses locally rather than crafting incentive packages to seek companies from the outside.

Incumbents’ goals

• When declaring his re-election candidacy last month, Armbrister said he wants to limit governmental control of citizens’ lives.

As a former police officer, Armbrister also is concerned by making sure the city force is adequately staffed and compensated.

Armbrister also has said he believes the municipality should meet some of its pressing capital needs while it has the money in the form of a reserve fund exceeding $11 million.

He further expressed support for limiting the number of closed sessions the council holds.

• Brown, meanwhile, issued a four-page summary of his accomplishments since declaring his re-election intentions last month.

“A great deal of my concentration and high priority has been in economic development,” Brown states therein, citing numerous trips to the state Legislature and other efforts on behalf of that. He says these have resulted in job growth locally, among companies such as HanesBrands.

Brown also pointed out that he was the only commissioner to vote against a rezoning request to accommodate a controversial apartment project in the South Franklin Road area last year (with two other board members recusing themselves). The favorable 2-1 decision later was overturned by a judge based on various legal issues.

The incumbent also is “proud” to have crafted a city government mission statement that was adopted last year.

Among other accomplishments, Brown has spearheaded an effort to honor older local businesses and has written three books on early city government history.

• Brinkley has said that since first being elected as a commissioner in 2011, she has endeavored to be a voice for everyone in Mount Airy.

She is known for fully researching all matters that come before the council.

“I believe we need commissioners on the board who are genuinely working for the public,” Brinkley said when disclosing her re-election intentions in June.

“I am concerned for the citizens and I feel I work hard at it — as a commissioner, I am also a citizen.”

• Yokeley had said that after being appointed interim mayor he would weigh whether to remain a commissioner or run for the mayoral term.

And while there was citizen support for his continuing as a board member, after first being elected in 2009, he received much urging to seek the mayor’s position.

Yokeley believes he could help the city better in the latter role, including addressing various issues before the N.C. General Assembly which have local impacts.

The mayoral candidate also chairs the Mount Airy Redevelopment Commission, but has said he might relinquish that role if elected mayor.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

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