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 Perry Fisher, 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?
Perry Fisher (PF): B.
Safety is the first priority of government; of neighborhoods, of people. Our police and fire budget consume nearly half the operating budget, and they are doing their jobs honorably. Without safety there can be no growth. Our economic vitality is okay. But like most cities, Wilmington looks for new business. Without growth, quality of life issues wait for attention. And again, we’re okay.
But in truth, city government’s impact on growth and quality of life is more tangential than it is with safety. Being for something is different than being empowered to control it.
Our city government is operating well under good, professional management. We have a Triple-A credit rating, money in the bank in for emergencies, services that work reliably, and steady, if always behind, infrastructure improvement. Council gets credit for all that. Our downtown area continues to upgrade itself. The riverfront and historic districts highlight the city’s American uniqueness. Wilmington is the region’s center for the arts, entertainment and commerce. We have much to show for our collective effort, and every reason to feel civic pride.
The set of challenges council faces is associated more with managing growth than seeking it. The day-to-day problems most citizens contend with are associated with the increasing traffic on roads struggling to bear it, and with resenting the intrusions of developments that clear-cut properties and threaten our sense of place as we’ve known it.
I say most citizens because there are many whose day-to-day lives are much harder than sitting in traffic for an extra light cycle. Those are people innocently born into economic disadvantage and disintegrated families. I’ll have more on that below.
All in all, our condition is good and we have the resources to do even better.
e: Why run for Wilmington City Council now?
PF: Because some issues are time sensitive, others will not fix themselves by being ignored, and still others need their day in the sun for people to consider. Here are three examples.
“Fisher for family” is the focal point of my candidacy because family disintegration here and across the nation leaves a trail of unmet needs and unmet potential whose costs are fiscal, human and vast. That’s why I propose that we increase the city’s half of 1-percent contribution to non-profits to a full 1 percent. It will help incrementally, which is the only way we can realistically address rebuilding families. I will apply the “family filter” to every issue I face: Is this good for families? Can it be made better?
The future of drones concerns me because there is an entire industry champing at the bit waiting for the federal government to approve their use in numerous ways. There is no doubt that drones will be part of our lives and soon. But imagine every package in every FedEx and UPS truck being delivered by air; imagine how that would impact our quality of life. I believe that if the FAA approves drones for commercial delivery vehicles, municipalities should be able to control the use or even deny them for that purpose altogether. Drone usage for police, state security, and natural disaster assistance is desirable. All this is coming up in the immediate future.
I believe Wilmington should explore a sister-city-type relationship with Charleston, complete with a mutual aid pact. Our cities go back 300 years with parallel histories. We could help one another commercially and culturally.
e: What issues are most important to you and why?
PF: Safety (see above). Thoughtful growth and development. Demonstrating concern for the development of resilient families citywide. Arts, including the re-establishment of Wilmywood.
Cities in North Carolina can no longer annex at will. Wilmington is circumscribed into its 53-square-mile shape, from river to the waterway, from MLK to Monkey Junction. Projections call for our 117,000 current population to balloon well past 150,000 in the next decades. Undeveloped land is disappearing, verticality is emerging, natural beauty is vulnerable and the City’s identity is facing a crisis. Our development codes need to reflect our values and our determination to retain our natural beauty and livability. At the same time, we need to find those widely-scattered entrepreneurs who are attracted to Wilmington’s charm, grace and resources.
e: What is your position on short-term rentals and B&Bs in historic downtown Wilmington?
PF: There are two parts to historic Wilmington, the CBD and the residential component (HDR). As to the residential, I am persuaded that whole house STR’s are not compatible with the foundational ideas of the neighborhoods from roughly Front to Eighth streets and from Castle to Red Cross streets–excluding the CBD– which define the district. They encourage absentee ownership, which I believe poses a long-term threat to vitality in such an intimate area.
As to “homestays”, where host and guest are in one house together, I am waiting for legal counsel to help me take a position. It takes time for the law to catch up to digital age novelties like AirBNB. Homes are private, and property rights are real. I am in favor of neighbors coming to mutual accommodations that make city rulings less necessary.
In the CBD, homestays seem much easier to embrace. Whole house issues, to the extent they arise, also appear more viable. I’m open to both there. And await counsel.
About B&B’s in the traditional sense, I am unaware of needed adjustment to the existing codes.
e: What about public transit, such as better bus systems, trains and/or addition of bike lanes across ILM?
PF: Mass transit services–especially buses–are difficult in towns our size. They tend to be unaffordable until population density reaches a critical mass. Americans love cars and I don’t see that changing much soon, except in the most densely packed areas, like Downtown and around the UNCW campus. A trolley system like the kind envisioned on the rail right-of-way once rail relocation takes place is intriguing. That could work, but it’s in the future.
Bike lanes are a feature of well-connected towns and cities. We should add as many as we can where we can and as we have the cash. One thing we should address immediately, I think, is making the existing lanes safer where they intersect with dangerous circumstances. Flashing yellow lights powered by solar batteries and set off by sensors might have saved the life of a young woman on South 17th Street this year. We should identify where those places are and act quickly. It’s a cheap fix.
e: Per GenX, how is Wilmington City Council excelling in leadership throughout this ongoing crisis and how are they lacking?
PF: Council and staff both have responded well. The city is forced into the position of interested observer, and must now allow the system(s) and process(es) to unfold. Once the unknowns are answered and the facts are known, we should weigh our alternatives and act accordingly, to include appropriate legal remedies, if any. I am disappointed in many aspects of the narrative to date, but not with Wilmington City Council.
e: If elected, what actions would you take or pursue to help our community move forward from this issue?
PF: See above. I will add here that my faith in the state and federal agencies to protect us in the manner I’d assumed has been shaken. So much so, that I wonder how much we can believe what they say about our air quality. It also bothers me to discover that chemicals exist that cannot be detected by known means. I want to believe that measuring GenX in parts per trillion signals a reduced need for alarm, but we just don’t know. We need state and federal agencies to deliver on their mandates. Companies that develop new chemicals should also be responsible for producing ways to detect them in our air and water.
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?
PF: Given the fragility of the estuaries and the nature of our coastal environment, my preference would be to develop that resource as a last resort. Fossil fuels seem plentiful enough elsewhere for now.
I do have a natural curiosity about the actual presence, amount and kinds of energy sources exist offshore, up and down the East Coast, where no “inventory” has been taken at all. I acknowledge that one day that resource could become a matter of national security.
Sometimes I wonder if a wind, solar, and fossil energy field could be developed out of sight off the coast, all within the same designated area.
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?
PF: Yes. The city isn’t mandated to address social problems, but they are the source of our most chronic challenges, which carry both economic and human costs. A great city has systems in place that are ready to help people improve their lives when they ask. Wilmington’s social safety net is pretty much in place, but a few gaps and waiting lines exist.
The opioid crisis, for which neither government nor the private sector had budgeted, must be addressed collectively. The city can do its share.
In general, groups that help those who want to help themselves, those that aid innocent victims, those that promote stability, and those that rise to meet heretofore unmet problems.