9 compete for 4 seats on Harrisburg Town Council

Benita Conrad
Benita Conrad

With a municipal election in Harrisburg a little more than a month away, nine candidates are vying for four open seats on town council.

The November election features a mix of incumbents and newcomers. It is a nonpartisan race and will not involve primary elections, which are required only for partisan races involving more than one candidate per political party.

The election comes as Harrisburg is undergoing a transition from a rural town to a suburb. Considered one of the fastest-growing municipalities in the region, its population has increased significantly in recent years amid sprouting residential development.

In response, town leaders voted this summer to formally change its governance structure, making the town manager responsible for implementing policies approved by the council and mayor.

Whether this changing landscape will increase voter turnout in a county where it has remained relatively low is difficult to say. In municipal elections in 2011 and 2013, just 8 percent of registered voters in each municipality cast ballots, with about 12 percent in Harrisburg, noted Carol Link Soles, director of the Cabarrus County Board of Elections.

Election day is Nov. 3. Voters can start casting absentee ballots as soon as Oct. 2, and in-person early voting at the elections board office on Church Street, in Concord, is scheduled to run Oct. 22-31.

Polling places for voters who live in precincts 16 and 19 have changed. The new locations are Providence Baptist Church, on N.C. 49, and the Harrisburg Lions Club, on Patricia Avenue, respectively.

Who is running

Here is a list of the candidates, in alphabetical order. Council members are limited to four-year terms.

Christopher Barfield

If elected, Barfield said he would seek ways to control growth in town, citing as an example his support for increasing minimum lot sizes. At the same time, he would support efforts to increase the presence of public safety, as well as expand parks and recreation offerings, build a community center and add sidewalks.

A pastor who works full time in the compressed air business, Barfield, 36, received a certificate in basic law enforcement training from Gaston College and studied pastoral ministry at Lee University, in Ohio.

Asked why he is running for election, he cited contrasting views on how to handle town growth, saying he would seek to strike a balance. “There seems to be a divide between ‘old’ and ‘new’ in Harrisburg,” he said. “I want to be the candidate that unites both again.”

Floyd Clontz Jr.

Having grown up in Harrisburg, Clontz said he is running because he feels “the voices of the citizens of Harrisburg are not being heard. “We are here to provide our citizens a voice,” he said.

Asked what issues he would seek to address should he take office, Clontz cited concerns about a lack of infrastructure to support growth, as well as unnecessary spending.

Clontz, 51, is a supervisor with the N.C. Department of Transportation. He has served in the Navy and has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.

Benita Conrad (incumbent)

Seeking re-election, Conrad said that, should she return to office, she would focus on encouraging economic development and improving roads and Cabarrus County schools. Most of the schools are at capacity, if not all, officials say.

“We must create an environment attractive for commercial development in order to cultivate, recruit and retain business,” she said, suggesting the town should simplify development standards.

A finance coordinator for the Cabarrus County Sheriff’s Office who has a bachelors in accounting from UNC Charlotte, Conrad, 55, said she would use the office to try to ensure fiscal responsibility.

She was appointed to the Harrisburg Town Council last year to fill a vacancy.

Phil Cowherd (incumbent)

A longtime council member, Cowherd said he is seeking a fifth term to help carry out a number of initiatives underway. They include the building of bridges throughout town and addressing changing traffic patterns, as well as helping establish a newly created arts and cultural committee, of which he is a member.

Among major issues he said facing Harrisburg are putting in place standards to control commercial and residential growth, as well as studying state laws he said are negatively affecting the town.

Cowherd, 62, is a retired budget analyst, who spent decades working at Charlotte’s budget and evaluation office. He has held a number of roles as a public servant, including with the American Society for Public Administration and the N.C. Local Government Budget Association.

Having received bachelors and masters degrees from UNCC, he has also taught political science at Rowan-Cabarrus and Stanly community colleges.

David Isaacs (incumbent)

Seeking a second term, Isaacs said that if he wins re-election, he would focus on promoting economic growth, citing his role on the town economic development committee that put together a strategic plan and a market analysis that took public comment into account.

“These plans are crucial in guiding Harrisburg on key business needs for the community to offset taxes paid by residents,” he said, adding that the plans “create a holistic approach to our community goals.” In addition, he said he would give attention to addressing traffic issues, which he attributed to rail projects, and improving schools by continuing to work with county commissioners and school directors to find ways to handle increasing enrollment.

An environmental coordinator for the United Parcel Service, Isaacs, 53, has served as chairman of the town parks and recreation advisory board, as well as coached a number of youth sports teams. He received a bachelors from UNC-Greensboro.

Rick Russo (incumbent)

Running for a second term, Russo said that to help spur economic growth he would focus on improving quality of life and carrying out the strategic economic development plan the town has put in place, seeking to encourage commercial growth while curbing residential development.

That plan, he said, “is our road map to build-out Harrisburg to meet the needs of our residents and to shift taxes off the backs of our residents.” He added that he would support creating smaller, site-specific plans for commercial growth that would seek public input.

Russo, 59, is a fleet service worker at Charlotte Douglas International Airport and had worked for two decades with the Harrisburg Fire Department. He has served as mayor pro tem and currently serves on the fire department’s advisory board.

He received an associate’s degree in civil engineering from Youngstown State University, in Ohio, and studied labor relations at Central Piedmont Community College.

Russ Singer

If he wins election, Singer said he would make it a point to regularly gauge public opinion about certain issues facing the town, citing complaints among residents that elected officials have failed to fully take into consideration their input. To do so, he said he would create a program that would regularly poll residents.

In addition, he said he would seek to minimize residential growth, which he said has put strains on the town’s infrastructure, as well as work to attract the types of businesses that would help the town retain its small-town appeal.

Singer, 53, works in the ready-mix concrete division of Argos USA. He received bachelors in business administration from UNCC and has served in the Army.

Ron Smith

Smith said that if he wins election, he would focus on ways to better control commercial growth, particularly in the retail sector.

“I don’t believe we need to sell out the town and its residents for all of this retail,” he said. He added: “While it is convenient to have retail local, I feel we can achieve a better result with better planning and more controlled growth.”

In addition, he said he would focus on reducing the amount of high-density housing in town and seek to work with school directors, keeping them abreast of town planning initiatives.

Smith, 48, said he was encouraged by friends to run for office. He works as a business systems consultant for Wells Fargo and has an associate degree in computer programming.

Vic Taylor

Taylor narrowly lost a runoff election in 2013. He said that if elected this time around, he would advocate sustainable growth in town and seek to attract businesses in the N.C. 49 corridor.

In addition, he would focus on road projects throughout town that are underway, promising to “hold the developers to the highest of standards that will ensure that Harrisburg's economy remains vibrant.”

Taylor, 53, works as a financial consultant at TIAA-CREF Financial Services and attended North Greenville University and the University of South Carolina at Spartanburg.

Jake Flannick is a freelance writer: