November elections are just around the corner and there are nine candidates vying for Wilmington City Council seats. encore reached out to each candidate to learn more about their reasons for running and their stance on local issues from short-term rentals and economic development, to public health and environmental preservation.
Meet current City Councilman Kevin O’Grady, candidate for Wilmington City Council.
encore (e): If you could give Wilmington City Council a letter grade for performance, what would it be and why?
Kevin O’Grady (KO): A.
Because the City Council leads a city that works.
Here is a short list of accomplishments in the past four years:
– Lowest crime rate in the city’s history.
– WFD is ISO2 certified with prompt response times.
– 68 miles of city streets paved in five years—the most ever—with 60 more planned next five.
– Working with nonprofits on programs to divert youth from crime.
– Addressing the opioid crisis.
– Confronting growth issues with the Comprehensive Plan.
– Planning begun to move rail tracks to the west bank.
– Park and transportation bonds approved by the citizens.
– Solved the Love Grove access issue.
– Persevered to gain a full-service convention center hotel.
– Arose from the recession to achieve a AAA Bond rating, balanced budgets, strong reserves.
– Accepted the report of the Affordable Housing Coalition and funded the requested position.
e: Why run for re-election (as opposed to running for another position, for example)?
KO: Local government is the most important level of government. While other levels grab headlines, local government works right here at home. Local officials are the most in touch with their constituents, because they cannot hide from them—they are right behind us in the grocery line.
I like the purpose-driven approach the City Council has taken. It keeps us from wandering off into higher-level political disputes that do not serve our citizens. I also revel in the fact that the position is non-partisan. This generally keeps us out of the partisan wrangling that has bogged down all other levels of government.
Also, I am more effective at the local level.
e: What issues are most important to you and why?
KO: Keeping Wilmington the place we love to live. This is more than a slogan for me. We know we face growth in the future. We are an attractive city and people want to move here. This is good news. Planning for their arrival, without losing the quality of life we love, is the challenge. The Comprehensive Plan was a good first step. Now we need to ensure that all the principles of that plan, including those that call for the protection of neighborhood character, are incorporated into the re-write of our zoning code.
e: What is your position on short-term rentals and B&Bs in historic downtown Wilmington?
KO: The City should protect people in every residential district who have made what is, for them, a significant investment in their home.They invested in residential areas because that zoning promised them the stability that residents would be their neighbors. Real estate values depend on neighborhoods. Residential neighborhoods require neighbors.
This principle was applied in Wilmington in the 1995 changes to bed-and-breakfast regulations by adding:
– Rental “shall be clearly incidental and subordinate to its use as a principal residence”
– Spacial separation of licenses.
– Limited rooms, traffic, and staff.
– No variances.
These changes succeeded. B&B operators became full-time resident neighbors. Fairness and results suggest this same principle should be applied to the short-term rental industry and then strictly enforced.
Furthermore, the arrival of the short-term rental industry has stripped affordable homes out of the residential market. It is no surprise that the rise of this industry has coincided with concerns about the lack of affordable housing.
e: What about public transit, such as better bus systems, trains and/or addition of bike lanes across ILM?
KO: Public transportation is based on an inverted pyramid of subsidies with local contributions based upon which state and federal subsidies are added. Without local financial support, WAVE cannot grow to meet the needs of our region. The City of Wilmington provides a local contribution of $1.3 million per year. All other local governments, including New Hanover County, provide $400,000. The city taxpayers cannot be asked to foot most of the bill for the entire county or region.
WAVE cannot grow to be a regional transportation system without dedicated local funding. Alternatively, WAVE must get a dedicated source of funding from [somewhere] other than the city that is not dependent on the vagaries of annual budgeting. To make a better transportation system, we need a more stable funding system.
Bike lanes are extending in the city as the Parks and Transportation Bond projects hit the ground. We consistently incorporate multi-purpose lanes in our transportation plans to allow for alternative modes of transportation.
This year, the city began an initiative to move the freight tracks to the west bank—a plan that has now been evaluated as feasible. Planning for funding and building the project lies ahead. If it is successful, the thought of re-purposing existing freight rights of way to reintroduce local trolley service may be possible.
e: Per GenX, how is Wilmington City Council excelling in leadership throughout this ongoing crisis and how are they lacking?
KO: Council’s role in the GenX issue is to vigorously advocate with the EPA, DEQ and NC legislature on behalf of the public; to insist on the enforcement of the relevant environmental laws, and to work to strengthen those laws if needed. Council’s role is to do everything in its power in the political arena to ensure that Chemours and others stop contaminating our waterways. Importantly, Council’s role is also that of being the “accessible” part of government, providing a forum for people to express their concerns and fears, and communicating information about progress on resolution of the issue to them.
e: If re-elected, what actions would you take or pursue to help our community move forward from this issue?
KO: I have spoken out against a politically motivated resolution by the CFPUA board that sought to place all responsibility on the Governor for the failure of the State government to regulate polluters. The problem is clearly a failure at both the executive and legislative branches and I spoke for truth on this issue. You can expect more of the same from me.
e: Oil exploration continues to be pushed by some state leaders—where do you stand on this issue and what is Wilmington City Council’s role in protecting our community’s most vital environmental and economic resource?
KO: I have come out clearly and forcefully against offshore oil exploration and remain opposed. See my 2015 op-ed piece at www.starnewsonline.com/opinion/20150825/cape-fear-voices—dont-sell-our-lifestyle
The City Council needs to represent the majority opinion of the citizens that off shore drilling should not be allowed. We have, and can continue to advocate this position with the state and federal governments.
e: Are there community nonprofits, groups or other organizations Wilmington City Council could or should be working with in order to tackle some of the major issues our city faces today (opioid epidemic, GenX, clean air/water, etc)? If so, who and why?
KO: Yes, there are, and the City does support 31 nonprofit public service agencies in the city with over $1.3 million dollars in general funds and Community Development Block Grant funds in the FY 17 budget. Each of these agencies are carefully vetted for their program goals and ability to achieve them so that the taxpayers can know that the money is well spent on resolving some of the most difficult social issues in the city.
The agencies are funded on a two-year cycle so that they are able to plan their programs with some financial stability. At the end of each cycle, the results are evaluated before any grants are made for the subsequent cycle.
Regarding the opioid crisis, the City has been a catalyst in bringing a range of service organizations and professions, medical, rehabilitative, legal, law enforcement, to attach the issue in a comprehensive manner. Wilmington has, therefore, become a leader in this state in addressing the opioid issue.