Compiled by Jesse Wood
John Mena for Mayor
John Mena is running for mayor. Below is a prepared candidate statement drafted when he filed his candidacy earlier this summer. Following the statement is Mena’s responses to a variety of hot-topic questions at the Boone Area Chamber’s “Candidate Forum” held in early October.
I would like to announce my candidacy for the office of mayor in the upcoming Boone municipal election in November.
As a business owner downtown for over 23 years and a resident for 17, I consider myself very fortunate to live and work in our downtown. I have been dismayed, and saddened, at the amount political division between our “politicians” and their inability to progress this community forward.
This is my second time running for the position, and now more than ever, I think it’s time…it’s time to bring in new blood, new faces, progressive thinking, and most importantly, progressive action.
The town of Boone’s UDO (Unified Development Ordinances) is incomplete after over five years of being written and refined. The UDO is supposed to be our community’s bible for growth, yet it remains incomplete and open for interpretation and litigation. For our community’s growth, we must adopt a conservation-minded, progressive agenda if we are to avoid urban sprawl, more traffic congestion and the monetary expenditures associated with both.
Our environmental impact on our area must be taken into account when planning our growth and writing out our UDO. There are a myriad of building options, techniques, products and systems that can be employed to maximize the utilization of our space while having a minimal impact on our resources.
For over 25 years, there has been no real push to increase Boone’s tax base. It’s time for our community to actively pursue and entice corporations and businesses that offer higher paying jobs to locate to our community. ECRS, a nationally recognized computer software and hardware manufacturer headquartered on Howard Street, is a prime example of the types of businesses we need to recruit. ECRS employs over 80 people, inserts millions of dollars into our local economy, is locally owned and recruits mostly ASU graduates.
There has been no follow through on handling the increased in-town traffic and no real direction in creating new neighborhoods, yet our single-family neighborhoods are vitally important to our community. We must also focus on creating more neighborhoods – sustainable neighborhoods.
By politically polarizing issues, we have divided our “parties” and have come to an impasse in making decisions that could lead to a more positive direction for our community. The Town of Boone, Watauga County and ASU, all working together, can create and ensure a shared and sustainable future for our growing communities.
Our elected officials’ jobs should be to ensure our community’s safety, promote a positive environment for families to live in, students to learn in, and businesses to grow in. Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.” We live in a remarkable community, filled with talented and educated people who share a deep appreciation for our beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. We have what it takes to make this a thriving, economically viable, sustainable environment for our families, students, seasonal residents and tourists.
Mena for Mayor
Video: Closing Statement from Candidate Forum
CANDIDATE FORUM Q&A
- Moderator: Given the fact Boone operates a multi-million dollar budget, what is your business experience and how will that benefit you in this position and what’s your best financial experience as well?
John Mena: I’ve got 25 years of experience here in Boone. As people have told me if you want to live in Boone, bring a job with you, so I opened my salon in 1989 after just visiting for a week. I didn’t have that many people that I knew. Hardly anybody that I knew lived in Boone, but I knew that this was the area I wanted to work at, and now I employ over 15 people and have for several years. My business burned down in ‘96, the first location, which was on Depot Street. I moved into twice the size and built and expanded and worked 18 to 20 hours a day sometimes getting it up and going after it burned down. It took it about 3 months to redo the building and that’s my experience.
- Moderator: Having witnessed disturbing and disruptive conflicts between the Boone Town Council and the Watauga County Board of Commissioners, what is your plan to work with other governing bodies with the best interest of the taxpayer and greater community in mind?
John Mena: Well, I agree that we have to sit down and talk to each other. I would even be more interested in everybody sitting down and having a beer together and looking at our likenesses, rather than our differences. We have so many things to be thankful for right here right now. I think we can come up with win-win situations in almost any category. Somebody always has to feel like they are going to win something even you have to give up something. I will give up something if you give up something. And we can all have a win-win situation. And you know sitting down and talking: that is the biggest thing but it is not only the county, it’s also ASU. We butt heads with them all the time also, and it’s very, very difficult as a layperson to sit back and wonder why this is going on. All of us live in a small beautiful community, and I don’t see why it should be so difficult to sit down and talk to each other. Our kids go to same schools together, go to the same churches together. It’s just really disheartening to see the kind of animosity that is going on between all of us right here in our own little community.
- Moderator: Do you support moving forward with New River intake project and if not what do you see as alternative plan to ensure adequate water availability for growth and development of the area?
John Mena: It is widely opposed, and it’s amazing that we are still talking about it 10 years after its inception and $2 million, I think, we have already spent on it. $80,000 acre -that farmer got a lot for his money especially for being in a flood plain. I do believe in the future we will need this water intake since we’ve already spent $2 million on it for design work, attorney’s fees and purchase of the property. I think we can salvage this as much as possible. It will be a lot more expensive because it has taken this long. I understand the town is in litigation with the surveyor I believe that did the survey on it. I think there was a lot of people dropped the ball on a lot of things in the coming of this water intake. I think there are a lot of things we can do as far as conserving the amount of water that we are using now. I think we should be looking at rainwater collection cisterns to maybe flush our toilets. Some things like that would help a lot in conserving the amount of water that we are using.
- Moderator: How do you see the change to the ad valorem sales tax distribution and the pending real estate revaluation impacting the town’s budget and how should it be addressed?
John Mena: We’ve been giving a backhanded tax really because they haven’t reevaluated the property in the town and the county because it would greatly diminish the amount of money that our taxes would be given to the town or the county, so I think that we really need to look at better ways of raising our tax base by allowing more businesses to be built in the city limits. I think there are a lot things we can do to increase our tax base, making it easier for people to come in here and build buildings and hire people and create jobs, but you know building up our tax base. Our tax base has been devastated over the past 25 years look at all the four-lane highway, the six-lane highway that we got coming down 421. That took a lot of tax base out of our pockets for the town and the county and you know the more that we allow ASU to buy up, we aren’t going to have a tax base.
- Moderator: The Chamber, of course, is very interested in what happens to business here in this community. How do you see the UDO impacting the business that currently operate in or wish to operate in the Town of Boone, for example, the old Watauga High School property?
John Mena: The UDO should have been already been done by now. I’ve been here for 25 years and people come around each election period and tell me what they are going to do, and I haven’t seen a lot really going on. I hear a lot of talk. What it takes is a shovel in the ground. We have to pick our battles here and do what we need to do. The UDO I feel is going to be too restrictive for a lot of companies to come here and really put in multi million dollars in investments when the dirt cost you so much, you can’t, there’s no way in hell you are going to be able to do any kind of affordable housing. You are going to have to go up, if you are going to be more competitive. You have to utilize the amount of ground that you’ve got. We have to build within the city limits, so we are not surrounded by The Cottages because that is exactly what’s going to happen unless we start really controlling the growth in our area and control within our city limits, all we are going to be is surrounded by The Cottages.
- Moderator: Many vacant properties exist in Boone what would seem desirable tracts and many on major roads near the center of town. What would you propose to help move these properties from eyesores to useful properties?
John Mena: I know first hand that it is kind of difficult to work with the Town of Boone Planning and Inspections. I’ve worked with them remodeling five buildings in the downtown area, and also worked with them on my home, doing renovation work. What we really have to do is really streamline that whole process. I would love to have a liaison person that would help any kind of business owner or person wanting to build a house and make it a lot more user friendly and talk with them and utilize their services to help businesses open. It’s very restrictive, and we still have so many things that aren’t being taken care of as far as helping businesses out. There are vacant places downtown. There are vacant storefronts downtown. We should have a waiting line. A lot of people can’t make it in the downtown area because of our parking situation. We really need to work on the parking situation if we want to have a vibrant downtown. We’ve been asking for 30 years for restrooms downtown, and we still don’t have public restrooms downtown. So, you know, it’s difficult. Being in business in Boone.
- Moderator: In the Town of Boone long-term plan related to economic development, it states area residents support different and more expanded economic activity only if it increases the opportunity for stable, higher-wage jobs and enhances the quality of life for existing residents. What specifically would you propose to do to accomplish this type of development?
John Mena: We do have to absolutely go out and seek companies to come in to our area. Whether they build inside or right outside the city limits. I think this area as a lot to offer, especially ASU with the amount of kids graduating from there, looking for jobs. I see them all the time they want to stay in the area but can’t find a decent paying job. ECR Software company on Howard Street they employee over 70 people right here, I think about a hundred throughout the nation and they pay great wages. They’ve got benefits and they hire mostly exclusively from ASU. The owner Pete Catoe graduated from ASU and wanted to stay here and raise his family here. This is perfect place to raise your family. I think you can go out and actively recruit companies to come here. Boutique hardware and software companies would be a perfect fit for our area because we don’t’ need a huge amount of infrastructure as far as roads and all of that stuff goes.
- Moderator: What are your views concerning the Daniel Boone Parkway to relieve traffic congestion in the Town of Boone?
John Mena: I am not in favor of it because I do a lot of bicycling around the county and I don’t like to be on a four-lane highway with cars going by at 80 mph. It’s kind of scary. But I do think we can do a lot of things here in the town to alleviate some of the congestion. First and foremost is sustainable building inside the city limits. Get more people closer to town, you got less cars you have to worry about. We have to also really work with our bus systems and bike lanes and sidewalks. We need to encourage more healthy transportation instead of everybody getting in their car and having to drive into town and trying to get a parking place and then getting a ticket. I am not in favor of four-laning everything and six-laning everything. We have enough of that already. We have a six lane highway coming into a two lane town. We need to worry about putting these people somewhere else and making their transgression through town a lot easier
- Moderator: In light of projected 10-20-100 year flood maps, what are your thoughts on surface water mitigation in the Town along U.S. 321?
John Mena: A lot of the property owners along that corridor have been very very dissatisfied with the amount of help they are getting from the town. What I am hearing from them is that they are basically putting it on to them. It’s your property you deal with it. But it’s all of our problem because we have as we’ve grown created more and more parking lots and apartment complexes and widened roads and I can remember when I first moved here. Rivers Street was a two-lane road, now it’s four-lane road. 105 was a two-lane road, now it’s a four lane road. Six lanes going up the extension there. That’s a lot of water. I’ve been caught in the rain on my bicycle going along Rivers Street. It’s like riding down the New River. So we have to really look at that and all of us have to get in touch with Army Corps of Engineers and whatever agencies that we can to get in here and really help out with that. It’s all of our problems.
- Moderator: Share your vision on how you would like the town and ASU work together in the future. What major issues do you see htat need to be addressed and how would you work toward solutions?
John Mena: $250,000 it cost us for the Boone 2030. Nice piece of paper, and I think it is great, but we went off the mountain and spent that money with somebody else and I think we could have gotten ASU and their departments to work on this whole thing also in conjunction with town council in conjunction with building and inspections. I think we could have done all this in house and got 25 or 30 different proposals and been able to pick and choose what we wanted to work on and then get the engineers to work on things and kick it off. Somebody always has to pull the trigger on something and it’s not easy to sit down and see all these hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent outside the city limits when it can be spent inside the city limits. As a businessperson, you want to get the most bang for your buck each and every time. I think utilizing these students is imperative to the growth of our town. I had a woman sitting in my chair, getting her master’s in planning, and I asked her what she was doing her master’s thesis on. This was something I was thinking about year’s ago. It was above ground trolley system, and to get students in and out of the city limits.
- Moderator: Regarding Howard Street: You know the only change taking place in 22 years is a one-way road from Depot Street to Water Street. As a businessperson in this community, I am frustrated that there is an awful lot of talk regarding and not a lot of action. Comments?
John Mena: It hasn’t been only five or seven years. It’s been 25 years, and one of the reasons I am here. The Howard Street project in 1988 December when I first moved up here were talking about it being unsightly and unsafe and it’s still unsightly and unsafe after 25 years. Mr. Ball said it was $5 to $7 million project and this cost has gone up and up and up. I don’t know where we got that $5 to $7 million because the whole of the 421 project only cost $18 million with six lanes of highway and buying up all the property. I don’t know where he is getting $5 to $7 million unless they are doing it with spoons. They are taking out 38 parking spaces also. Parking is very, very important to the downtown area since we don’t’ have enough of it. Taking out 38 parking spaces, and again they went off the mountain to find designers to come up here and look at it who had no idea what we really wanted and they came up with the most beautiful design and we can’t afford it. You have to do what you can afford.