By Steve Frank
Interest in the November’s municipal elections in Blowing Rock filled the American Legion building for the October 3rd Blowing Rock Civic Association candidate forum. With the non-partisan election soon starting early voting, the three incumbents and two challengers made their own points about their candidacies and what issues were important to each personally.
None of the candidates were strangers to the gathering, each serving the town in recent years—nor were they strangers to each other, having served Blowing Rock in a number of ways. Former Council member Ray Pickett, who has also served on the planning board, expressed his hope for continued prosperity for the town, while Albert Yount , current incumbent, expressed his optimism in the town’s direction under new Town Manager Shane Fox, who Yount said “truly gets it.” He lauded Fox’s outreach to county government on behalf of Blowing Rock, and encouraged citizens to reach out to the town manager.
Incumbent and unopposed mayor Charles Sellers told the gathering that he was very pleased with what has been accomplished by the council on matters such as infrastructure and building, and said his goal is to see Blowing Rock stays “Unique, quaint, and for us.” He said that “The tourists will always come—no matter what.” And he said, “I think, moving forward, we have a lot of improvements to make,” citing the EMT services, 321 ad hoc committee, and that “we’re putting more people behind what our town needs to be in the future.”
Former councilman Jim Steele, seeking to return to the council, told of his years in serving the town and said, “I have loved every minute of it.” He described his philosophy as involving listening to everyone on local issues, then discerning “what you think is the best decision for the town.” Steele joked that the other reason he seeks to serve “is for the money,” which drew laughs from the panel and the audience, then gestured to the panel, saying “None of us serve for any other reason than we really love this town and we want it to succeed.”
New to the council race is board of adjustment and planning board veteran David Harwood, who joked to the gathering that the three other council candidates reappointed him to the planning board, and in that gave him their endorsement. Harwood expressed his excitement over the election and his desire to continue to serve Blowing Rock, touting his work experiences and desire to help that lead him to serve.
Questions for the candidates included one for Ray Pickett about the town council taking their annual planning meeting to Asheville, which Pickett defended noting the amount of work accomplished in the setting. He said, “I’d be willing to talk about it,” again pointing to the accomplishments in the out-of-town setting.
Albert Yount drew the question of a seasonal or full-time EMS location in Blowing Rock and the issue of funding it, to which he answered, “We thought we were on the right track with the county,” but said, “they’ve been shirking their duty,” and indicated there was some movement on the issue. He talked about the travel time for an ambulance from Boone, adding that weather also effects the response time. He said, “Shane’s working hard on it, and I think we will persevere.”
Mayor Sellers pulled the question of important and potentially controversial issues being dealt with in meetings only in the months with the most local population—May to October. But his response was that “We are not a part-time business,” and that “We have to run this town year ‘round.” He pointed out, though, that property owners away for the winter “Still have a way to voice concerns and driving a decision that is best suited to the community,” speaking of electronic and social media contact.
Jim Steele drew a question about support for paid parking on Main Street, and pointed out that his wife has a Main Street business. But he pointed to Boone’s experience with metered parking, describing it as “having not worked out real well.” But he also said that, if the council was voting toward paid parking, he would support it.
David Harwood drew a question on conditional zoning, and expressed his support of that process. As he finished his comments, he was asked for his expertise to explain the differences in conditional zoning and conditional use permits, and he told of the much more judicial and restrictive process for CUP’s. Other council candidates told of how CUPs restrict those involved from speaking about the issues away from the quasi-judicial hearings, which have lead to misunderstandings.
Issues submitted from the audience included door color regulations and the sticky issue of short-term rentals in residential areas. Albert Yount talked about enforcement issues on weekends, and how that restricts compliance. Others asked about fees for damage done to infrastructure during construction or renovation, water quality, Mayor Sellers pointing to bond money being employed to improve infrastructure, including water. Then there was the issue of turning some of the basketball courts into pickleball courts, fielded by David Harwood. He told the gathering he had learned much about the sport just before the meeting started. There was some movement toward making the courts more ‘pickleball friendly,’ but others wanted to protect basketball courts, as well.
Early voting begins October 16th and ends November 1st, with the election to be held November 5th.
See Video from forum here: FORUM VIDEO