Concord candidates sound off before election
Friday, Oct. 25, 2013

Concord candidates sound off before election

In the Nov. 5 elections, four candidates are running to fill two contested seats on the Concord City Council, while the mayoral election is all but clinched.

Concord Mayor Scott Padgett, running unopposed for re-election to his fourth four-year term, said this likely will be his last. Elected mayor in 2001, he had been a City Council member since 1995.

District 5 council member Lamar Barrier also is running unopposed for another four-year term.

In District 3, Ella Mae Small will face Wendell Fant; in District 4, newcomer Sue Strickland will face incumbent Alfred Brown Jr. in nonpartisan races.

District 3

Small, 75, is the first female African-American to serve on the City Council. She took the seat formerly held by her late husband, Allen, in 2005.

The longtime educator graduated from N.C. A&T State University before earning a master’s degree from UNC Charlotte. She has lived in Concord more than 50 years.

Economic development is the city’s top issue, she said.

“We have a rather high unemployment rate in Concord, and if we can get businesses to relocate here, that will mean more job opportunities for our residents. And that will certainly have a direct effect on the economy,” she said.

Small is not against incentives to give the city an advantage in recruiting new businesses or in encouraging existing businesses to expand.

“When S&D (Coffee and Tea Inc.) was thinking about relocating, we really had to get on top of it,” she said. “… Rowan and Mecklenburg counties were offering them something, so we had to encourage them to stay.”

Small said she hopes she will be involved in Concord’s future progress, but she trusts the city’s leaders.

“We are a progressive city, and we have tried to keep abreast of the needs of Concord,” she said. “The leaders we have will move forward and continue to enhance the services we offer while keeping taxes low.”

Wendell Fant, 45, served 23 years in the Marine Corps and works at Merck Pharmaceutical. This is his first run for public office, but he has worked as deputy district director for the 8th Congressional District.

Fant agreed that job creation is a top priority: “I will actively pursue and engage in dialogue with companies that have expressed an interest in establishing or relocating their business operations in Concord by selling them on the benefits of doing so,” he said. “I also will work with businesses that are local and considering expanding to ensure that they do so here in Concord.”

To help lure economic development, Fant said incentives are unquestionably necessary.

“We have to find a balance and beyond incentive, but we also have to sell Concord as a whole,” he said. “We need to show the visiting companies our great schools and our communities.”

In the coming decade, Fant would like to see Concord capitalize on the area’s reputation as becoming a leader in the research world as the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis grows.

“We have some great companies here already, … but we can’t allow ‘good enough’ to become the standard,” Fant said. “With the great schools we have, we must continue to grow the (workforce) so companies never have to look far for talent.”

Technology companies also could play a role in future development, said Fant, and creating a skilled workforce will back up that effort.

“If we begin training and educating our children now for future opportunities, the companies will come because this city will already have the necessary skills to fill the qualified positions,” he said.

District 4

Brown – a Concord native and outside plant engineer with the telephone company Windstream Communications – took his late father’s seat in 2001, beating out three opponents. He ran unopposed in 2005 and 2009.

For him, the top issue for the city is the completion of the Albemarle water line, part of a state-approved interbasin transfer that will increase the city’s drinking water supply in times of drought. The estimated $30 million project began Oct. 14 and is scheduled for completion in 18 months.

Brown, who also is concerned about job creation, said incentives can play a key role in economic development.

“I am in favor of incentives, but … we just don’t hand them out,” he said. “… Incentives can be a valuable tool in your toolbox, and the (key words are) ‘can be.’ I think that’s the right way to look at it.”

Brown said his experience with the local telephone company has given him firsthand insight into dealing with developers, local government and schools to help manage growth.

“You see everybody’s needs and what needs to be done,” he said, “so I feel I’ve had a pretty broad stroke of exposure to all those things, and that certainly gives me an advantage.”

Strickland, a 20-year resident of Concord, recently retired from Duke Energy. For her, the top issue is managing growth.

“I am not against growth, but I feel that everything that is impacted should be considered,” she said. “… We need to address the roads and traffic needs, now and in the immediate future.”

She also aware of our area’s water needs.

“We had one of the wettest summers on record, and yet our water is still being rationed,” said Strickland. “Our fire and police are seeing their needs go up on an almost-daily basis. Maybe being a little proactive instead of reactive would be nice.”

Strickland advises caution on offering business incentives.

“You have to be very careful when you start offering incentives to anyone,” she said. “Once the precedent has been set, you have a much more difficult time negotiating in the future. There should always be safeguards in place to make sure you get what you are paying for in every way. Also, I think all bidding wars are counterproductive.”

Johnson: 704-786-2185

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