The Mebane Woman’s Club (MWC) hosted their Meet the Candidates Town Hall 2021 at the Mebane Arts and Community Center (MACC) last Tuesday night.
All six candidates running for the three open city council seats took part in the town hall, giving the public an opportunity to meet the potential future councilmembers in person as the election inches closer. Roughly 50 people attended the masked, socially distanced town hall.
Mebane Woman’s Club is a nonpartisan organization, and its purpose in hosting the town hall was “to fulfill the MWC’s mission to contribute to the improvement of community for everyone, it is important to educate the citizens of Mebane of potential political leaders who will help shape the livelihood and future of our community.”
The town hall was moderated by Tamara Kersey, a member of MWC and an associate pastor at Johnson Chapel AMEC. MWC member Marlo Countiss gathered the questions, and member Sherri Seagroves kept time.
Each candidate was given two minutes to introduce themselves and three minutes to answer questions. Three questions were asked by the moderator and two questions were asked by potential voters. The candidates answered the questions individually.
The first question was about affordable housing. “Every community that is brought in front of the Technical Review Committee (TRC) is told that it needs to have a pool or community center, green spaces, and 10 foot asphalt trail,” the question read. “This adds 1,000s of dollars to every lot premium and it makes it challenging for any developer to offer affordable housing. If elected as a city council member, will you still require these amenities? And, if not, how will you ensure that the developer will not pocket the profits, but will pass them on to the homeowner to continue to make sure housing is affordable?”
Jonathan White, local businessman and community leader, answered first. He said affordable housing is a challenge, as Mebane is a popular place to live and because the city has emphasized amenities, which do have positive impacts.
“We do need to balance the requirements of greenspace, livability and recreation with affordable housing…” White said. “I think one of the key things that we need to do is we need to do research into what other cities, like ours, have done, what has worked, what has not worked and learn from them and not try to reinvent the wheel in how we solve this problem.”
Roger Parker, former Mebane Planning Board Member, went next. He also emphasized maintaining a balance between affordable housing and amenities.
“As you grow as rapidly as we have, it’s hard to maintain some things, to keep ahead of the curve – and affordable housing is one of them,” Parker said. “But as we grow, and as we authorize additional building, we should always maintain the fact that we have to allow for [those] areas in our city. We have several of those and we could probably always use more. The goal is to balance it, and I will do everything possible to do that.”
Charles Lopez, chair of the North Carolina Hispanic Republican Coalition and Republican National Hispanic Assembly, was next up. He said he has experience with this issue from his time in Miami, FL, noting affordable housing in new developments should be decided on a case-by-case basis.
“The issue that we came across was, if we didn’t build the club house, if we didn’t build the gym, if we didn’t build the pools within the community, then where else would they go?” Lopez said. “Will the city then incur the cost of building a public pool or additional parks? So, there’s an off chance that as we do not approve certain measures or take away certain disciplines within our building codes, then the city would make itself responsible for creating those spaces.”
Montreena Hadley, former City of Mebane planning director, then answered the question. She said during her time with the city she worked closely with the TRC, which requires certain amenities because they improve citizen’s quality of life and noting single family homes outside subdivisions don’t have those amenity requirements.
“For single family homes, those do not require these types of restrictions, therefore they would be affordable,” Hadley said. “Someone may want to come to Mebane and not actually live in a subdivision, so they would have an opportunity to build a single-family home that did not require these types of developments.”
Katie Burkholder, local real estate agent, answered next. She emphasized that there can be room for both affordable housing and amenities by taking advantage of infill lots, as well as leveraging the services the city will be providing to the development to achieve that balance.
“I think that would be a really great way to, as we’re doing infill, take that infrastructure and improve it and make sure we’re doing the necessary updates and repairs,” Burkholder said. “If you will look at a couple of subdivisions – I’m specifically thinking of the Briarwood/Fieldstone neighborhood – there were a lot of vacant lots in the back and they came through and added onto the back of that neighborhood with housing options.”
Tim Bradley, incumbent Mebane City Council member, went last on this question. He echoed Hadley’s comment about amenities improving quality of life, adding that, perhaps, the most effective way to make affordable housing more available in Mebane is through amendments to the United Development Ordinance (UDO).
“The issue of affordable housing is a lot more complex than whether or not we require amenities,” Bradley said. “We’re currently contracting someone, going in and redoing our UDO and what we have to look at, we’re going to have to go in and we’re going to have to have separate standards. We may even have to separate zoning that we can select as affordable housing areas.”
The next question concerned diversity within city leadership positions. “How do you think the City of Mebane has handled women and/or minorities being promoted to top positions in the city,” the question read. “And, if elected, you would help support diversity in committees, commissions and positions for the city.”
Bradley went first. He said that Mebane, like all cities and towns, has problems with diversity in its leadership but noted the city has been doing better in that regard. He added Mebane should do more to attract minority and women candidates, as well.
“So, we’ve done good, we just need to do better,” Bradley said. “I think one of the ways to do that is we’ve got a new public information officer coming in. We need to get into colleges, particularly minority colleges, and encourage applicants to apply for Mebane, particularly leadership positions.”
Burkholder answered next. She said not working within the city makes answering that question difficult, but noted the city has taken steps towards achieving diversity and racial equity, citing the creation of the Racial Equity Advisory Committee, adding the city, and she herself, can always improve.
“Obviously, I’m a white woman, so I want to understand a little bit more of the experiences for folks other than mine,” Burkholder said. “So, I’m actively trying to set up meetings with people and get to know other folks in the community. The best that I could say up front is that I give my word to learn and do better and go from there.”
Hadley then spoke, and said Mebane has an opportunity to truly get serious about diveristy in leadership at this time.
“Actually, Mebane is in a great position, right now, to right some of its wrongs pertaining to women and minorities,” she said. “I have seen some changes already and I feel like we’re trying to be more inclusive at this time.”
Lopez was next. He said that, as an HR manager, he is against diversity and inclusion, noting people should be hired by qualification alone.
“What I do when I look at the resume, I tend to make sure that the name is not there,” Lopez said. “So I hire based on qualifications. I want to make sure we steer away from reverse discrimination, as well, just because someone is a certain color.”
White then answered. He said this question is very close to his heart and that he understands diversity in leadership positions is a challenge everywhere.
“I will say that there’s been a lot of change in the staff in the city, there have been a fair number of retirements and hires to replace, as well as growth,” White said. “I have met quite a few of the recent hires from the city and I’ve just been really struck by their skill, their passion, and the diversity of those that I’ve been able to meet.”
Parker was the final candidate to answer the question. He said Mebane has done a pretty good job of achieving diversity in city staff positions, but there’s always room for improvement, adding that the main focus should be on hiring the best candidate.
“But the main thing is, as I said, we want the right person in the right job, no matter what, and that’s what I’d tend to do if I had a vote on city council,” Parker said.
The next question came from a resident. Anthony Brooks, leader of the Black Conservative Voices with the Alamance County Republican Party asked the candidates about Critical Race Theory in local schools.
“Where do you guys stand on the Marxist radical ideology of the Critical Race Theory and do you support parents who speak out against it?” Brooks asked.
It’s important to note that the Mebane City Council has no bearing over what is taught in the local school system, i.e., Alamance Burlington School System (ABSS) or Orange County Schools. Additionally, Critical Race Theory is not taught in North Carolina public schools at all, as the theory tends to be studied solely at the university and law school levels.
White was the first to answer. “When people about critical race theory, I sense that people are describing different things and are not communicating clearly, I think clarity of communication is critical,” he said. “So, I would want to sit down with somebody to understand what exactly that means. But I do believe in the diversity of opinions.”
Parker was next up. “I don’t have a child in school but if I did, I would know what they were teaching,” he said. “Be it good or bad or indifferent, I would have an input on what you’re teaching my children. Now, you need to know what you’re talking about when you stand up, not just putting it down and supporting it.”
Lopez then answered. “My friends here in Alamance [County] tend to be Venezuelan, I come from a Cuban family background,” he said. “So, one thing that we’ve said is, we’ve seen this narrative of CRT in Spanish. Now, it’s here in American English, and we know where this ends. We’ve seen Venezuela, we’ve seen Cuba – same words, different language. So, if a parent wants to get involved, for sure.”
Hadley was next. “If a parent is wanting to voice their opinion, they’re welcome to do that,” she said. “In Mebane, we have many schools and that is a county function. But, certainly, in Mebane, we support our schools – we have good schools here. So, I think, things are part of history, and that would be a parent’s decision just to know what’s going on.”
The next candidate to answer was Burkholder. “City council does not have any bearing over the schools,” she said. “Now, should we have a good relationship with them? Absolutely...In terms of people expressing their opinions, I think that we’re all allowed to disagree and should be able to respectfully do so, and I would obviously support anyone’s right in voicing a contradictory opinion.”
Bradley was the final candidate to take the question. “I think if you ask five people on the street to define it, none of them would give you the same answer,” he said. “I think it’s a parent’s decision on how they raise their kids. If they like public school, fine. If they don’t, there are other homeschooling methods. I have absolutely no problem with teaching history accurately and truthfully to anybody in any school at any level – that’s what we all should be doing.”
Another voter, Colin Cannell, asked the candidates if they had confidence in the current city staff and leadership and, if elected, would they retain all current city staff.
Each candidate responded similarly, noting that the city has a qualified staff and does their job well and, therefore, there would be no reason to make any changes.
Mebane Woman’s Club President Aimee Krans then delivered the closing remarks. “We really appreciate you all coming out and spending some time with us tonight to learn a little bit about the candidate,” she said. “This really was just a service that we wanted to provide to the community as members of the Mebane Woman’s Club so that you can have the opportunity to meet the candidate and learn a little bit more about them.”
Early voting begins October 14 and runs through October 30, with Election Day on Tuesday, November 2. The polls open that day at 6:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m. You can cast your vote at any of the following three locations: the Mebane Arts and Community Center, E.M. Yoder Elementary School, or Hawfields Middle School.