Aileen Devlin/The Daily Reflecto / The Daily Reflector
By Abbie Bennett
Monday, October 28, 2013
Student safety and retention of young professionals in Greenville were themes each candidate discussed at the forum hosted by East Carolina University’s Student Government Association on Monday evening.
The forum, which attracted about 40 students, candidates and supporters, was open to all Greenville municipal candidates. The focus was on students and what City Council candidates plan to accomplish in the name of student well-being.
Incumbent Mayor Allen Thomas, District 3 challenger Katherine Wetherington and District 5 candidates did not attend. Wetherington sent a representative to give a statement on her behalf.
Candidates introduced themselves to the student audience and most made note of their connection to the university. For mayoral challenger Tom Best, that was in business, in his dealings with the university as an IBM executive and in hiring ECU graduates.
In District 1, challenger Clinton Ray Anderson Jr. is an ECU graduate and former campus police officer. In District 3, Wetherington is an ECU graduate, and incumbent Marion Blackburn is a graduate student. Rick Smiley, in District 4, is a grant officer at ECU, and Terri Williams said her children are ECU graduates. At-large incumbent Dennis Mitchell graduated from ECU, and his opponent, Calvin Mercer, has been an ECU professor since 1985.
Best was asked to outline his vision for Greenville, and he focused on the creation of a performing arts center akin to the Durham Performing Arts Center, which Best said helped “revitalize” Durham and change perception of the city.
Best said he wanted to see that accomplished in Greenville, perhaps through a public-private partnership between the city and ECU.
Communication among neighbors, the city and the police department can make the community safer for all residents, including students, Best said.
To increase downtown activity for students, Best said he would support economic development efforts to attract “quality, upscale” restaurants and clubs. Attracting quality businesses also was key to Best’s strategy to retain ECU graduates and other young professionals. Putting more effort into expanding parks and greenways was one way Best said the city could work to attract businesses that could provide those jobs.
District 1 incumbent Kandie Smith focused on safety, economic development and improved infrastructure, all of which she said are intertwined in making the city a better place for students, residents and students who choose to become residents after graduation. Smith said she wanted to be an advocate for students by being open and accessible and “focusing on solutions” to give students a “reason to stay in Greenville.”
Anderson said that he is concerned about student safety and living conditions and that, if elected, he will be a vigilant advocate for students. He said he wants to see communities organize neighborhood watches and communicate better with police to make neighborhoods safer. Anderson also advocated for greater landlord accountability when it comes to student housing conditions and the expansion of the emergency call box system on campus to other areas of the city frequented by students.
Blackburn said she understands the “struggle” and pressure that students are under and wants to give them one less thing to worry about by working for renters’ rights through a complaint-based inspection program that “some people call” a rental registry. While there are responsible landlords, Blackburn said she is concerned by some student living conditions and wants students to know their rights as renters.
Smiley said he is data-driven in his decision making and “facts are the facts.” For Smiley, the City Council worries “too much about where an idea came from and who gets the credit,” and he thinks he can help change that.
Williams said she wants to be an advocate for students, and would love to see a performing arts center, continued work on the downtown theater and the Town Common master plan put into action, but knows that will “cost a lot of money.” She also focused on safety, including better lighting and traffic issues that affect students. Williams encouraged greater student involvement with the council, including potential meetings with student leaders to communicate student needs.
Mercer said he also wants to see students involved with city government and has used students on his campaign staff and appointed them to city boards and commissions. He highlighted his desire to see the city explore bringing minor league baseball to Greenville, which he said would be an economic development project.
Mitchell said he was a student at ECU wondering what he would do after he graduated and he wants to continue his and the city’s work on economic development to create more job opportunities for students and make Greenville attractive, not just for new businesses, but for young professionals by growing Greenville into “the greatest it can be.”
Samantha Harris, ECU SGA cabinet member, said “I feel strongly, I’m sure as the rest of SGA does, that our students will hopefully vote and make an educated decision.”SClBContact Abbie Bennett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-329-9579. Follow her on Twitter @AbbieRBennett.
via The Daily Reflector.