Clayton Town Council candidates share ideas

ajames@newsobserver.comOctober 28, 2013 

In advance of the Nov. 5 election, the Clayton News-Star asked Town Council candidates five questions. Here is part two of the series.

Question: From time to time, the council hears calls to diversify its membership. What measure or measures would you support to bring diversity to the council? If you support the current at-large election system, please defend.

Bobby Bunn: I believe in diversity and will support whatever is best for the Town Council and the town of Clayton. I think the at-large election system is the most logical way to do this, but perhaps there are ways we can bring the message “You can run for office” to civic groups or community gatherings throughout the town to make more people aware that they can join in the political process, regardless of age, race, political party, etc.

Michael Grannis: As I see it, the at-large system has worked in the past and is working today. I believe the councils over the past 10 to 12 years have done a good job in representing the entire Clayton municipality.

This is evidenced by improvements having been made in several areas of the town, such as downtown, Amelia Church/Guy Road, the Cooper Elementary School area, Mitchiner Hills, Front Street, Glen Laurel Road, Community Park, Municipal Park, Legend Park and N.C. 42 West/Amelia Church Road.

Most important, the Town Council heard the wishes of the citizens and voted to put a referendum on the ballot in November 2006 regarding districts being created, enabling representation by district representatives. The citizens went to the polls and voted to keep at-large representation in tact.

Eboni Harrell: In order to bring more diversity to the Town Council, I would support district voting; this would allow more inclusiveness and bring a true representation of all residents. This method will promote and encourage all residents to become involved in their local government.

Art Holder: The Clayton Town Council has a long-established record of success in looking after the finances and services of the town. The geographical distribution of council members is diverse and has changed over time. A high-function council must keep the best interests of the entire town in mind and not become focused on a small area.

Residents have an obligation to serve their community. The council can only be as diverse as the candidates willing to participate in the electoral process and get elected.

John McFadden: I would attempt to break our council up into five precincts to represent a clearer cultural representation. With the at-large system, many neighborhoods get no representation.

Bob Satterfield: I support the current system that is in place for the election of town officials. Our council can only be as diverse as the potential candidates who choose to run for office. If the town were divided up into districts, there are no guarantees that doing so would make a more diverse council.

Question: Businesspeople are complaining that they confront too many regulations that make it hard to do business in Clayton. What rules, specifically, would you alter and why? If you support the current regulation regimen, please explain why.

Bunn: If elected to the Clayton Town Council, I would review the impact fees and see if we can improve our system. We can make the town more attractive to businesses while still garnering the funds needed for our budgets. The current fees are restricting the number and the types of new businesses wanting to come to the town of Clayton. For example, just look at how the area at Interstate 40 and N.C. 42 has grown due to fewer impact fees and restrictions on businesses.

Grannis: The Planning Department has developed a guide to help new business owners understand what is required to open their businesses.

I believe the Planning Department staff and Town Council members have always made themselves available to the public and private entities to discuss their concerns over various ordinances and rules and regulations. And the Town Council meetings are open forums and afford the opportunity for citizens to voice their concerns pertaining to zoning and ordinance requirements.

Long story short, I think the town of Clayton is sensitive to the needs and concerns of the business sector and addresses them on a case-by-case situation. If the town did not respond to the questions and concerns that are raised by the business sector, then I do not believe the town would enjoy the business growth we have enjoyed over the last 12 years or so.

Harrell: Three out of four business owners that I have talked with stated that the overall process worked for them. Most have started businesses within the last six months. One concern is that the website could be more user-friendly as it relates to identifying the information needed to start a business.

Holder: Are our regulations too cumbersome? Why do developers praise our staff and thank them for a job well done if that is the case? I would appreciate feedback from the businesspeople as to specific regulations that they disagree with.

In the last two years, extensive reviews have been performed on our ordinances, with many changes. We will continue to review specific ordinances for improvement and simplification.

McFadden: I would streamline the process to make it more affordable and more user-friendly. I hear complaints from developers and builders and new business all the time about the difficult and demeaning process of dealing with the planning and zoning department. I would insist that the department planning have better customer-service skills. They are the reason that Clayton is growing so slowly, and some businesses refuse to deal with them anymore.

Satterfield: All businesses big and small have to comply with rules and regulations no matter which town or city they choose to set up shop in. I agree some of the smaller businesses have a harder time than others. To that, the town has responded with a guide to help new business with the process. At this time, Clayton has a 95 percent occupancy rate in downtown. I believe this is above average for any small town.

Question: Both residents and business people say they want more and better communication from the town. Clayton has a website and a public information officer. What more can the town do to improve communication? Be specific.

Bunn: Continuously enhance and monitor website effectiveness. Our website is fine, but it must be maintained, stay current and interesting.

Enhance opportunities for citizen participation in town decision making and keep citizens educated and informed through community events and outreach programs.

Expand programming on cable channel 11 to include the council meetings.

Enhance communication efforts with local homeowner association representatives and propert- management companies.

Grannis: This question implies the town has only two sources of communication with its citizens. This is far from the reality.

The town places “items of interest” on utility bills that are mailed to citizens each month. The town provides citizens the opportunity to receive council meeting agendas and meeting highlights. The citizens need only subscribe for this service.

The council members and town staff make themselves available to their citizens without question. The council and staff want to hear from citizens about issues and concerns within the municipality. They also want to know if the town is doing a good job or bad job in the eyes of the citizens.

Clayton has seven Facebook accounts, all of which are active and have almost 14,000 folks “liking” them. The town has four Twitter accounts. The town has its own YouTube page publicizing various events throughout the town.

The town uses a “code red” call system that advises citizens of pending public services that will be performed in their area, pending service interruptions and emergency information issues.

The town uses a television channel through Time-Warner that has town council meetings, town news updates and town events.

The town website will be undergoing major changes over the next few months, making the site much more user-friendly and information much easier to locate.

Harrell: The town of Clayton has the capability to televise Town Council meetings via government television, allowing residents to view Town Council meetings. Another option for communication would be to utilize social media such as Twitter and Facebook. Also, a quarterly communication via U.S. mail can be sent to residents highlighting the accomplishments and events of the town.

Holder: Since the hiring of a good public information officer, I have seen an improvement in the amount of information made available to the residents of the town. A resident of the town has some responsibility to seek the information they desire. There is a lot of information available. The town of Clayton uses a combination of electronic media and traditional communication to keep the public well informed, including its website, Facebook, Twitter, a cable-TV channel and YouTube.

The town has a “Sunshine List” for subscribers who wish to receive every town of Clayton meeting agenda. Subscribers also receive highlights of meetings within eight business hours of the meeting being held.

The town also reaches out to citizens through “code red” calls for utility work in a given area, works with homeowner associations and neighborhood leaders, and places message boards in major intersections to inform the public of road closures or events.

McFadden: I would televise all of the Town Council meetings on Time Warner channel 11 to keep transparency in local government. I would also encourage residents to call Stacy Beard, the public information officer, with any questions or concerns; she is very helpful and can get results.

Satterfield: We currently post meetings in the local paper, on Facebook and Twitter. We have 24-hour service on Time Warner Cable channel 11. We post important information on the back of all utility bills. All of our phone numbers are posted in the paper each week. I believe if someone needs information on a particular subject, it is readily available.

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