As another local election campaign nears, new and familiar faces have been filing to fill three Wilmington City Council seats. Mack Coyle, Alexandria Monroe, Harry Smith Jr., Kimberly Spader, Kevin Spears, Scott Monroe and Matt Thrift are on the ballot, and up for re-election are Margaret Haynes, Paul Lawler and Neil Anderson. Also, Devon Scott announced his run against Mayor Saffo, who has held office since 2006.
encore has been reaching out to all candidates to get their thoughts and views on top-of-mind issues concerning our city. This week we chat with Neil Anderson, who has served on the board for seven years now.
encore (e): Tell us why you decided to run for council.
Neil Anderson (NA): I have served on council for seven-plus years now. My reason for running one more time—if elected, it will be my last term—is two fold. I have three children (11, 17, and 20) that have grown up here, and when they finish their education or someday further down the road, should they desire to return and live in their hometown, I want there to be career opportunities other than working in tourism or being a doctor or attorney. In other words, economic development in the broadest terms. Government cannot create jobs, but it can help foster an environment for economic growth and expansion.
Second, I felt city council needed a viewpoint of a younger member of our community, someone raising a family today in Wilmington that is still fully engaged in their career. I am not a young man anymore, but I am still the youngest member of council. I think having a person at this stage in life is an important perspective to have on council.
e: What qualifies you to run?
NA: At this point, I would say my experience and passion for our city. I have served on council and numerous boards and committees, such as CFPUA, the MPO, Legion Stadium and Governance to name a few. It took a few years to really get comfortable in my role on council. I feel much more effective today and one more term will allow me to really capitalize on my experience.
e: Can you be specific? What exactly do you expect to see come to fruition?
NA: I was really just speaking to how long it takes to get comfortable in all aspects of being on council. Being confident and relaxed helps me make better, more well-considered decisions. I now formulate and suggest changes to legislation we are considering, in hopes of finding compromise or improving upon it, rather than just voting for something as first presented. It’s not all that natural to suddenly be sitting up on a dais under the lights on TV. It takes some getting use to, as do many other aspects of the job.
In short, while I believe in term limits and the need for new energy/ideas, experience does help; it does matter.
e: What do you like about what our council is doing and what do you think needs to be improved upon?
NA: This council has worked very hard and done a very good job. I always try to be pragmatic and find a reasonable solution where there is some middle ground.
Successes: the city’s financial strength and how we had saved money for a rainy day, which came in the form of Hurricane Florence. The city was ready and responded admirably; the transportation bond and its effects (many future); the parks bond and its effects (many future); managing growth in a society that is moving back to the city, in a city that is becoming more urban every day, without annexation, our only way to grow and keep taxes reasonable is through in-fill and going vertical—this has presented challenges we continue to learn from.
Our challenges rest with managing growth. While we are fortunate to be a growing community versus one of the many in our state suffering, the traffic that comes along with growth, and keeping our streets in good shape as a result of the heavy use, are things we will be working on for the foreseeable future. Fortunately, Wilmington is finally on the radar of the DOT and four above-grade interchanges are planned in the next decade as well as several other intersection improvement and road efficiency/beautification projects.
e: Can you tell us which four? Also where is the city/DOT on repaving/fixing Red Cross/Rankin? Why is it taking so long, considering it’s been in such disarray (and getting worse) for so long? Isn’t the council’s duty to also look after marginalized neighborhoods and lower income families on the north side of downtown?
NA: This information has been so publicized and discussed in the press, I figured most people knew. Kerr/MLK, Military/ Eastwood, College/MLK and Eastwood/Market.
Red Cross/Rankin is a city street, not managed by DOT, rather by the city. From memory, this spot/area has been on the hot burner for awhile now. We could have paved it and been done long ago, but these streets are part of our historic brick street restoration plan. The city has experimented with a couple ways to remove/lift asphalt off brick, while preserving the brick. We have settled on the best way forward and some progress has been made (work completed), with more coming soon.
The supply availability of old brick and the time it takes to do this type of work have been part of the delay as well. Council has chosen a new brick we can now buy that will blend well with the old brick, so we are over one hurdle. It has nothing to do with the socio-economics of the area—in fact it is much more costly and clearly time-consuming.
e: What are other top-of-mind concerns you have for our city, and how do you plan to address them?
NA: Making sure we have the proper checks and balances as we manage growth without creating more red tape and bureaucracy. We do not want to discourage folks from opening a business here—or investing in our community. Wilmington and the surrounding area needs more good paying jobs that can become careers. As much as government can assist with this goal, council needs to stay focused on doing so.
Our development code is currently undergoing a lengthy re-write. Keeping an eye on this massive undertaking is critical, as it will serve as a road map, initiated by our comprehensive plan.
The city has a ton of projects in the pipeline that require management and resources to get them done right—in an environment that is inflationary right now due to a booming economy. Providing proper finances to get them completed in a timely manner without blowing up budgets will be a challenge.
e What are some you’re most excited to see (or ranked most important) and why? How will they be financed?
NA: These projects were spelled out in detail in the parks bond and the transportation bond that were easily approved by city voters a few years back. For example, a new gym at Maides Park, a second gym at the King Center, the Riverfront Park and amphitheater, and the multi-purpose trail along Greenville Loop Road to name just a few. Not sure you can rank them; each has a specific goal/purpose and they serve different needs across the city, paid for by selling muni bonds.
e: What are your thoughts on the current noise-ordinance regulations the council is trying to rewrite?
NA: While it is not finalized, and we just had two public input events, I am confident with the input council has provided to date and with input from citizens. The new ordinance will be easier to understand and enforce. Further, it will have a good balance that allows a certain level of noise without disturbing our fellow citizens.
Much more has been made of this situation than should have been—many unsubstantiated rumors. Council will continue to tweak the proposed ordinance and adopt a reasonable, pragmatic new ordinance.
e: Can you address what rumors exactly of which you speak and put them to rest for us with what’s actually happening?
NA: I heard from many people we were enacting new Draconian measures—that we were anti-live music/concerts, which was never a driver or key consideration. In truth, we have loosened some of the guidelines of the ordinance, such as night hours before decibel level gets lower.
I have heard we were going to allow more enforcement by pure judgment, without documentation, when in reality we are buying three more approved and maintained decibel readers for WPD to use; we now have one.
This all really began when our city attorney (pretty new to the job) was reviewing the ordinance and saw how outdated it was and complicated to comprehend and vague. This is one of dozens of aging, out-of-date ordinances he is bringing to us over time for review/update.
e: Do you have new ideas in approaching our water crisis and other environmental concerns our residents face?
NA: I was opposed to adopting the state’s agreement—our resolution to endorse it—because it failed to name Wilmington as having been impacted by the Chemours leaks/spills over decades. We should be seeking financial relief from Chemours for the upfit at our water treatment plant, etc. And the state should be with us, advocating on our behalf. Instead, in an effort not to make the governor mad and with hopes of future consideration, we went along. I feel we have not been aggressive enough with Chemours and the state has not been much of an advocate for Wilmington.
e: So how do you/we change this? What will you do to help?
NA: You need some new council members, I guess. I was on the side that lost three or four to approve of the state’s/governor’s consent agreement with Chemours. I believe CFPUA, which is the authority that actually handles water in this county (not the city) a blend of city and county government is pursuing the track I prescribe.
We should be working with our state legislators as well. We elected a new senator who clearly cares about this issue, but he is not in the party in power in the Senate, so he really does not have a voice that can affect change—same goes for our newest house member. Partisan politics in Raleigh even extends to drinking water. Council can help mainly by advocating for a new, better direction. CFPUA really has the legal standing, and the actual change will have to come from the state since the main polluter is not in our city or county.
e: Any ideas on how the city should help combat climate change in our coastal town?
NA: I think our community is very aware of the issue and knows we need to do all we can to stem climate change. I think city and local authorities we work with are taking steps all the time to reduce our footprint. Some examples include changing the type of light bulbs we use inside city buildings and in our street lights; moving to buses powered by natural gas; our super successful residential recycling program; working with builders and property owners to adopt shoreline and dock standards that are better-suited to an urban water front community than what CAMA requires; and probably the biggest change is, thanks to Duke Power, converting our local power plant from coal-powered to natural gas.
I hope we will explore more solar opportunities for city owned/operated building in the future.
e: Where do you stand on tax incentives, say for historic property renovation?
NA: Locally the two that come up most often are historic tax credits and film. I support both. They are very different of course. The historic property restoration/renovation tax credit may bring a little abuse by some less well-meaning property owners, but on the whole is a worthwhile program that has proven to be successful, and makes a meaningful impact on an old city like ours.
On film, I would advocate for a return to the rebate system we had several years back, but we are at the mercy of the state. It does appear, now that we have a larger grant fund recurring (and the issues surrounding HB2 have either been addressed or simmered down), the film industry is coming back strong, which is real exciting. I have also supported incentives for companies locating or expanding in our community.
I do not support providing cash incentives up front. To date we have established goals (addition to tax base equals new buildings or improvement, new jobs and their average wage, etc.) that must be met before any incentive is actually provided. We have worked with our local economic development partners and prospective businesses to reach agreements that are beneficial to the city as a whole … that make economic sense.
e: How do you plan to represent the whole city, especially those outside of your neighborhood/comfort zone?
NA: I believe I have done so my first two terms on council. My comfort zone is pretty darn large. I am active in the local economy and beyond working full time to provide for my family, so I know and understand the business community.
I have children in our schools that represent a wide age range, so I know our school system well. I have experienced it over a range of time at multiple grade levels and enjoyed most of our city parks with my family.
I have coached youth sports for 12 years. I am involved with trying to mentor youth that are growing up in tough situations without a father.
I am active in my church and support several nonprofit organizations.
I enjoy dining out, live music and visiting our local breweries.
My interests and passions are broad and many, so I end up interacting with all kinds of people from all over the city. I am always available, and I am responsive regardless of where a citizen lives in our city.
Have your own inquiries or followup questions for Neil Anderson? Be sure to ask on the online article, and we will see Mr. Anderson receives and answers them for you. His responses will be posted below the article until election day, Tuesday, November 5.
One-stop voting for the municipal elections begins on Wednesday, October 16, and will conclude on Friday, November 1.
Read all candidate interviews here.