As another local election campaign nears, new and familiar faces have been filing to fill three Wilmington City Council seats. Mack Coyle, 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 (Alexandria Monroe pulled out of the race). 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 Kimberly Spader about her upcoming council bid.
encore (e): Tell us why you decided to run for council. Why now?
Kimberly Spader (KS): Wilmington is growing and I want to be a part of its growing responsibly. I would like to see our city include environmental concerns at the top of its list of uncompromising standards of growth. I am also very focused on an increase in public transportation options, as well as citywide, safe, alternative transportation routes for cyclists and walkers. As we grow, I would like to see affordable housing for folks who are going to be working and raising families here.
It is our citizens who make living in Wilmington such an amazing place, and I want to see all of them expressing a high quality of life. I know companies who are looking to re-locate and bring jobs to Wilmington are looking for the same sets of standards, and I see my set of priorities as an overall win for the city as a whole.
e: What qualifies you to run for council?
KS: As a social worker, I have an understanding of how policy affects everyday lives of people, and what policy can do for the overall quality of life for community members. I believe it is this perspective that is vital to having a well-balanced, functional city council.
e: What do you like about what our council is doing and what do you think needs to be improved upon?
KS: Our current council has done a great job getting started on the cross-city trail and they have started to discuss affordable housing more at council meetings. I would support them with building on those, and encourage a more open and engaging discussion with the community, as our citizens are full of creative and interesting solutions to existing problems as well as plans for our future.
e: What are top-of-mind concerns you have for our city and how do you plan to address them?
KS: Affordable housing and transportation! We have so many teachers, construction workers, health-care workers, waiters, massage therapists…
Just think of an average day and how many people are involved in making your day run smoothly. All of those folks need a place to live and a way to access the community. Affordable housing and public transportation can be a complicated topic to get into. I hope over this campaign to address issues of defining what affordable housing and functional public transportation really means, and why it really benefits everyone to be interested in making sure it is available.
e: Here’s your chance: What does it really mean, and what are your concrete ideas to make them a reality?
KS: “Affordable housing,” as I am using the term, is the availability of housing at all income levels where the total cost of housing (rent/mortgage and utilities) does not exceed 30% of a total family income. According to the 2017 recommendations of Joint City of Wilmington/New Hanover County Workforce and Affordable Housing ad Hoc Committee:
“Housing is integral to a livable community; it is interwoven in the community framework and impacts transportation, education, diversity, attractiveness, business recruitment and retention, and health to name a few. Research shows communities that provide a variety of housing types at every affordability level see benefits for both households and the community at large, such as less traffic congestion; reduced costs to the health-care system; greater family stability and better academic performance by children; the creation of household wealth through equity; and increased engagement in community life.”
If we choose not to address the issue of affordable housing, we will likely lose much of the vital workforce that makes a community livable, such as health-care staff, teaching staff, office-support staff, trade workers, waitstaff, etc. We will either lose them to other cities who offer more affordability, or we will lose them to mental or physical illness.
How to fix the issue of affordable housing in a city where supply is drastically lower than demand is a much more complex task. Some suggestions I like by the Joint City of Wilmington/New Hanover County Workforce and Affordable Housing ad Hoc Committee are:
— Revise city and county land use ordinances to add or improve accessory dwelling unit, and density and height requirements and regulations.
— Support a public awareness, a.k.a. marketing campaign, to increase pool of ideas from the community.
— City and county-owned redevelopment projects include an affordable housing requirement.
I do not claim to have any quick fixes to the problem; I am sure this will need a number of viable solutions to be implemented before we can see any real change. I strongly believe in the community of Wilmington and community members of the surrounding areas have solutions to our own problem within our community, and it is the responsibility of the local governments to work together to provide the space, virtual and physical, to flesh out those ideas together.
e: And public transportation?
KS: Public transportation is a vital part of integrating a community, assuring the whole community access to local resources. I am thinking of families who depend on one car for transportation where a second adult could work but cannot access employment due to transportation issues; college students who would like to access a job; a person who has a car, but it has broken down and [they now] need access to transportation for a short time; folks who simply would not prefer to drive in such a congested environment and tourists who would like to explore the city, to highlight some who would benefit from such a system.
According to the Sierra Club, other cities have found investment in a strong public transportation system has been an economic stimulator, connecting community members to the community economy, such as restaurants and shops, as well as the revenue from patrons of the public transit system. A strong public transit connects people who otherwise would not have access to job opportunities, and conversely companies have access to employees they desperately need.
There are many people unable to operate a motor vehicle due to a disability. Providing transportation solutions that benefit all people, regardless of ability, is a meaningful priority of any city. Not only does it increase access for these folks to the local economy, but it allows everyone opportunity to engage fully in community events and thus increase overall quality of life. To consider the needs of all members of Wilmington will say a lot about our overall value of our community members.
There are also environmental factors. More people using public transportation means less emissions per person. Biking and walking are deeply connected to transit. Transit, bike and pedestrian infrastructure are all important components to getting people out of their cars. Setting our goals of public policy to be based on reducing greenhouse gases sends out a message to our community that we are unified in the goals of providing an earth that is livable for our future generations.
e: Any ideas on how the city should help combat climate change in our coastal town?
KS: I would love to see our city set a goal of becoming carbon neutral, with a clear set of benchmarks and a plan for meeting those benchmarks.
e: What do these benchmarks look like in your mind’s eye?
KS: I would likely start with a call to action, having a community forum with the city council to address possible plans and sensible benchmarks that make sense for our community. We would want to set policies that increase incentives and/or support education on options, such as electric cars, alternative transportation, planting of trees, composting of organic waste, utilization of compostable plastics, reusing and reducing, etc. I would imagine the first benchmark would be to stop any incentives for cutting down trees, such as ending the rescinding of fines and assessing the true value of trees, thus increasing the fines.
e: Do you have new ideas for approaching our water crisis and other environmental concerns our residents face?
KS: We need to set a clear standard and create a plan for local companies to meet those standards. There needs to be clear expectations and consequences for not meeting standards.
I would expect companies that are responsible for our water not meeting standards will be held financially responsible for getting us back to those standards.
e: What are your thoughts on the current noise-ordinance regulations the council is trying to rewrite?
KS: I appreciate simplification of rules; however, I want to make sure there is a space for people to express themselves musically and it is important to consider artistic needs of a community, as well as comfort of community members.
e: Where do you stand on tax incentives, say for historic property renovation?
KS: If we offer tax incentives for anything, I am aware it depletes from the funding pool for other city services. I am likely to take into account priorities of environment, transportation and affordable housing first when it comes to decisions about where incentives go.
e: Are you saying you think incentives for these areas would be a good idea? If so, what might these look like?
KS: I cannot pretend to know exactly what ideas will work best for Wilmington yet; I am truly relying on the expertise of the community to bring ideas and working those ideas out in a very public way.
One example of a tax incentive I have considered would be to offer a decreased property tax for homeowners who are renting their homes below market value. I can’t say for sure if this idea is right for our community, but it is one I would like to see discussed.
e: How do you plan to represent all the citizens in Wilmington? How, for example, will you connect with people who do not live and work in your comfort zone/neighborhood?
KS: I believe we need a better communication system for the city council and the community. I would like to see us be a regular part of local media communications of all types.
I would like to see a council person explain city council decisions on a Facebook page, Instagram, local podcasts and print publications, as well as have an online presence that will allow for community members to publicly ask questions and offer input.
Have follow-up questions for Kimberly Spader? Be sure to leave a comment on the online article, and we will see that Mrs. Spader receives and answers them for you. Her 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.