By Jesse Wood
The Blowing Rock Civic Association held a candidate forum at the Blowing Rock American Legion building on Monday that more than 75 people attended.
All of the candidates – incumbent Mayor J.B. Lawrence, mayoral challenger Charlie Sellers, owner of The Blowing Rock attraction, incumbent Councilmen Dan Phillips and Al Yount and challenger and former Councilman Jim Steele – attended.
Each candidate answered a variety of questions pertaining to “managing our destiny,” “knowledge of the issues,” “protection of the village environment,” “comprehensive and fair governance” and “commercial growth.”
Prior to these questions, however, the candidates gave a brief opening statement to the audience present and those listening over the radio airwaves.
Lawrence led off by stating that his number one focus will be doing “whatever it takes to keep our small town small.” This would be a topic of a question later in the meeting and has been a topic of concern since the NCDOT began inquiring about widening U.S. 321 through Blowing Rock many years ago.
He acknowledged that he’s been serving as the mayor for quite a while. People mention term limits when trying to knock Lawrence off his mayoral pedestal.
“But I also have a lot experience. I’ve served under a lot of councils and great people. We’ve accomplished a lot under my watch, but I’ve had a lot of help,” Lawrence said, adding that going forward he expected to accomplish a “whole lot more.”
Sellers spoke next and thanked and/or praised his opponent and past mayors and council members a few times during his minute-long or so speech. Sellers talked about growing up in Blowing Rock 50 years ago and recalled going to Craig’s Grocery and Storie’s Soda Shop.
He alluded to Lawrence’s long-time incumbency and said, “Now it’s time for a change. We need to preserve the past and build to future.”
Sellers said that his issues concerned quickening the pace of U.S. 321 widening project, the continuation of the Middle Fork Greenway, which would connect Boone to Blowing Rock via a walking and biking path and increasing revenues without raising taxes.
“I think all the city council and J.B. have done a great job. Now it’s time to look forward,” Sellers said.
Jim Steele previously served on council and said he’s running again because he believes the next few years will offer some big decisions for town leaders to make. He cited the bond referendum, which a vast majority of voters approved and allocates $9 million for roads, $1 million for parks and recreation, $2 millions for water infrastructure and $1 million for sewer infrastructure.
“I am interested in seeing that money spent wisely,” Steele said.
He noted that Sunset Drive will likely become the main entrance into downtown because of the widening project and rerouting of Business 321 before Chetola Resort. Steele said that he would like for the Sunset Drive gateway to be done “appropriately” in about two to three years.
“That’s going to mean some changes, and I’ll bet you those decisions are going to be tough,” Steele said. “So that’s why I am running, because [those issues] are important to me. It’s like my tagline goes, ‘I do it for the love of Blowing Rock and that’s it. Because it’s ain’t the money.”
Phillips thanked the citizens of Blowing Rock for allowing him to serve for the past 3 and half years, and he also thanked the Blowing Rock Civic Association and its members for” “having the courage to stand up” for what they believe in.
Phillips noted that Blowing Rock’s economy is becoming almost 100 percent tourism based – “for good or bad.” He noted that the town’s comprehensive plan said that the town needs to diversify its economy. Phillips said he was going to recommend hiring an economic developer to work with the Tourism and Development Authority and the Blowing Rock Chamber to help diversify the town’s economy.
Yount led off his opening statement to laughter, when he said that he’d recently moved his hosue to the corner of “progress and preservation.”
“I think those two go together in this town. We don’t want to let it get away from us, but you have to let it grow some ‘cause if you don’t let it grow you die,” Yount said.
Yount pointed to the comment about rising taxes.
“Yes, people don’t like taxes, but they voted about 73 percent for their taxes to go up 2 cents a year to take care of infrastructure needs, which we are doing,” Yount said.
Full audio of the candidate forum will be placed on the Blowing Rock Civic Association’s website.
The Blowing Rock Chamber will hold its annual “Candidate’s Forum” on Monday, Oct. 19, at 5:30 p.m. in the Blowing Rock School auditorium. All the candidates for the town’s municipal election have been invited.
For more information, contact the Blowing Rock Chamber at 828-295-7851.