CLAYTON — Candidates for town council introduced themselves and their ideas to voters during a forum on Oct. 3.
The incumbents – Michael Grannis, Art Holder and Bob Satterfield – and the challengers – Bobby Bunn, Eboni Harrell and John McFadden – weighed in on topics ranging from recruiting business to forging partnerships with nonprofits.
Audience members wrote down questions that the mediator, District Court Judge Addie Rawls addressed to the candidates. They first addressed what their first action would be if elected.
The incumbents said they would make no drastic changes, while the challengers called for a council that would ease regulation on business and embrace diversity in town government.
Bunn and McFadden said they would break up the “good ol’ boys club” that runs town hall and steers resources to affluent East Clayton, home to Glen Laurel, the golf course community. The town has built a park in East Clayton, and the state is widening N.C. 42 from U.S. 70 Business to Glen Laurel Road.
“It seems unfair to me that Flowers Plantation and Glen Laurel get all the resources,” said McFadden, a former missionary who owns Main Street Jewelry with his wife, Jovi.
Flowers Plantation is not in the town limits and receives no town resources. McFadden said later that he misspoke when he said Flowers Plantation.
McFadden said he would run public transportation from his North Clayton neighborhood to a grocery store, perhaps Compare Foods. Also, he would build a park on the north side of town.
“We have All Star Park, but that’s just a glorified basketball court,” McFadden said.
Bunn, a lifelong Clayton resident, said he would reduce the red tape needed to do business in Clayton. “I’ve heard from business owners on Main Street there are overzealous rules on businesses and residents that need to be reviewed,” he said.
Harrell, a 10-year Clayton resident who works for Nationwide Insurance, said she would build sidewalks in neighborhoods that don’t have them. “I want to be the voice of the people,” she said. “I am a common citizen. I work; my children go to public school.”
Grannis, owner of Clayton Steakhouse, said he would continue to steer a course that has seen Clayton build a greenway, a dog park and a water tower to support the fire department and large employers.
Satterfield, a business owner and lifelong resident, and Holder, a retiree, echoed Grannis, who also mentioned the arrival and expansion of Johnston Medical Center on N.C. 42.
Clashes over town rules
When asked how they would recruit and support business, Holder and Satterfield said they are happy with the path the council is on. Grannis said he would like to work more with the county’s business and industry recruiters.
All three incumbents defended the town’s planning rules and staff, and that’s where they parted company with the challengers, who said Clayton placed too heavy a regulatory burden on the backs of businesses.
“You can pave the streets in gold if you want, but businesses are not going to want to come downtown unless we change restrictions on them,” said Bunn, an operations manager at McCuller’s Maintenance in Durham.
In particular, businesses have complained about Clayton’s sign rules.
McFadden and Bunn, who referred to themselves as a “team” at one point, said they both want to make Clayton more “user friendly.” Also, they’d like to increase parking downtown.
“But you know, I’ve teamed up with Bobby, because I think Bobby and I are kind of like a one-two punch,” McFadden said.
“Bobby is old Clayton, he was born and raised here, I’m new Clayton, one of the Yankees who came down for this wonderful place, and Eboni is a minority female, she’s got it all,” McFadden said. The crowd laughed.
Harrell said she would like for downtown businesses to stay open later.
Satterfield, who owns a sign company, said businesses cannot blame their failure or success on the town’s planning rules. “People need to work their businesses,” he said, encouraging them to join the Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Development Association.
McFadden said he’d like to see more development on N.C. 42 West. He joked that if he won the lottery, he’d turn the former Chloe’s furniture store into a movie theater.
Satterfield said he was reluctant to steer town dollars to nonprofits. Doing so, he said, could lead to legal challengers from the American Civil Liberties Union if, for example, the town gave dollars to churches.
Holder said the council is the steward of the public’s money, and he doesn’t think the town should freely give money to any nonprofit.
For his part, Grannis said he would like to work with nonprofits, including a new coalition of nonprofits that recently approached the council to express interest in a working relationship with town hall.
Harrell said she doesn’t think the town should necessarily fund nonprofits, but working with them could benefit the town and build trust in the community.
Bunn also said it could be beneficial to work with nonprofits.
McFadden said he’s thankful the town supports a nonprofit he’s part of, Clayton Visual Arts, and he’d look at other worthy causes if money allowed.
The candidates were asked to address how they would structure town jobs and services to reflect the growth in diversity of the population.
“Honestly, and I’m an honest man, I don’t care what color you are, long as you can do the job, that’s who we want to hire,” Satterfield said.
Bunn mentioned taking a look at department heads in town.
“Believe me, the good old boy network is alive and well at Town Hall,” Bunn said.
McFadden said he would like to enforce equal representation of ethnic diversity in town hall.
He echoed Grannis and Bunn that the police department is diverse but said the rest of the town jobs lack minority prepresentation.
“I can only think of about 10 and most of them have menial jobs on street crews and janitorial jobs, besides the police department,” McFadden said.
Harrell said she’d like to have town meetings in neighborhoods so the local government is more in touch with what citizens in every area of town need.
The forum was sponsored by the Johnston County chapter of Delta Sigma Theta sorority. About 40 people attended. The town election is Nov. 5.