The High Country Press offered both new members of the Boone Town Council, Nancy LaPlaca and Dustin Hicks, the opportunity to speak about the future of Boone and their work on the town council. Nancy LaPlaca’s views on the council and the Town of Boone can be found here.
By Nathan Ham
Appalachian State graduate Dustin Hicks has been on the Boone Town Council for a short period of time but is already excited to be a part of productive and innovative ideas for residents and students.
“My first impression is that we have a great team of council members and incredible staff who care deeply about the town and its future, and are committed to finding ways of going into our unknown future with dignity and grace,” said Hicks. “There are productive tensions between council members that I hope will allow us to make the best decisions for the town, even in the face of a state that wants to limit local governments’ powers as much as it can. I’m really enjoying this work and looking forward to doing it collaboratively to the best of my ability.”
Hicks joined Nancy LaPlaca as newcomers to the Boone Town Council following November’s elections. Hicks, LaPlaca and longtime council member Loretta Clawson filled out the board following the decision by Lynn Mason to retire and Marshall Ashcraft to step away from the board and seek a spot on the Watauga County Board of Education later this year. Hicks also ended up with the most votes during November’s election for town council with 891, ahead of Clawson’s 880 and LaPlaca’s 863.
Hicks is a native of Wilkes County and attended App State majoring in sustainable development.
“I see my main roles as bringing a critical development studies lens, voices from marginalized youth in our community, a strong commitment to deep democracy and finding ways of fostering a just transition within our community away from a fossil-fuel-based economy towards one that benefits local people and ecosystems,” said Hicks. “I am aiming to be creative and always curious, asking ‘why’ to questions that others might not as, partially due to my youth, many of the mechanisms, programs, norms and legal structures in the town are new to me.”
In addition to his classroom experience, Hicks also feels like adding a young voice to the council will be beneficial to mix with some of the more experienced town council members and town staff.
“This is the most important gift of youth, and if balanced wisely with others’ knowledge, it could lead to important changes. At the moment, I’m focusing on the most graspable democratization strategies such as participatory budgeting and methods of community engagement,” Hicks added.
Boone tends to have vocal residents that want to hear their voices represented by the council, and Hicks says that he has heard several issues that have been brought forward by residents and students in the town. Some of the concerns include transportation, trash and recycling concerns and affordable housing.
“I hear consistently of the need for increasing both walkability and parking in town, expanding AppalCart routes to more rural areas, deep and immediate climate action, more accessible communications from the town, concerns regarding policing, increasing access to affordable housing, concerns related to gentrification and the school’s over-growth and concerns around our recycling and desire for composting,” said Hicks. “I believe we need to do what we can to foster more healthy and functional communications with the county and continue to grow our methods of communicating information to town residents.”
Hicks agreed that transportation and walkability are big issues as well as affordable housing and climate change action. He also said that he hopes that people will become more involved in town governance. Voter turnout is always a discussion in every part of the country, even during presidential election years where millions of people decide against voting. Turnout numbers are even lower during off-year elections.
With all of the different concerns being brought up, Hicks feels like climate change issues are possibly the most critical when it comes to preparing for Boone’s future.
“Climate change’s impacts are becoming more and more un-ignorable in both the seasons and weather affecting local farmers, stormwater issues from more sudden and intense rainfall events, the proliferation of disease-carrying ticks and some occasional and brief droughts. All of these will worsen in the coming years even if we are blessed with a federal and state government that actually takes action on climate,” said Hicks.
Hicks continued, saying that coastal regions that will be impacted by sea-level rises could force people to leave their homes, making places like Boone a “hotspot for climate refugees” in the near future.
“With all this in mind, it is morally imperative that the town starts taking profound action on addressing the climate crisis locally. Thankfully, the town has some projects in the works, but they are not nearly enough. If the sales tax is returned to per-capita, the town will have much more capacity to take action on this front, and a supportive state and federal government would also be a great boon,” Hicks says. “We need to up our game as soon as possible. We need to be reforesting as much land that isn’t forested as possible, possibly with some sort of incentive for local landowners, transitioning to renewables as quickly as we can and offer as many incentives as we can to that effect, increasing town walkability dramatically, localizing our food production and consumption as much as possible and much, much more. This will likely not be feasible without a great deal of support from local community organizations and volunteer work in the long run, and if these are done in a structure of intentional democratic engagement, it will certainly be an empowering and community-building experience.”
Hicks said he understands it will be a lot of hard work and responsibility for everyone to undertake these actions, but that in the end, the health and well-being of Boone and its residents are the most important thing.
“Responding to the climate crisis with creativity and grace is still within our power, so we must do it while we can.”