Six quizzed at Indian Trail forum

Sep. 28, 2013 @ 04:31 PM

Six candidates for Indian Trail Town Council answered questions about their views during Thursday evening’s forum at Sun Valley High School.

The League of Women Voters of Union County sponsored the forum. It has conducted such forums for 14 years.

Gordon Daniels said his 14-year-old daughter encouraged him to run for council to make needed changes. She asked why roads were so congested and why the family had to drive elsewhere for certain stores. Would these problems endure until she was an adult, she asked him. His experience as a homeowner’s association president gave him the experience need to be on the town council. He mentioned goals like unifying town residents and improving schools.

David Drehs ran for town council two years ago. His reasons for running have not changed, he said. After 22 years in the military, Drehs said he has the experience to be a good council member. He is concerned with pedestrian safety around the Sun Valley Theater, especially with two schools nearby. He mentioned strengthening ties to state legislators and adding school safety measures.

Michael Faulkenberry said he decided to run for council after years of participating in town government. He was first drawn to council meetings over concerns about the Sun Valley Theater, built close to his home. His goal is to separate the “needs from the wants” and to make careful decisions about how taxpayer money is spent. Growth with low taxes is a possibility, Faulkenberry said, but it comes from diligent planning.

Scott Haydel said he is a Louisiana native who moved to Indian Trail about 11 years ago. He described himself as a conservative with interest in state and federal politics, but no previous political experience other than the internet. He ran in order to teach his two daughters about government by letting them see the process firsthand. If he wins, he said he will serve with integrity. If he loses, then he has taught his children how elections work.

Jerry Morse said he is a 27-year resident of Indian Trail. He was not active in town government until the council considered a proposed animal control ordinance that limited his business. He said he found the current council does not properly represent the diverse population, land uses and opinions. His goals are council civility, transparency and to better representation.

Gary Savoie said his wife encouraged him to run after listening to his statements about the changes he wanted to see in Indian Trail. He has 15 years of business management experience that qualifies him to be a good council member. His goals include bringing civility to the town council and making residents proud to live in Indian Trail.

Bjorlin asked the candidates a series of questions submitted by the audience.

“Some of the questions submitted really deal with personalities, not issues, so they will not be used,” Bjorlin said.

Most agreed that a larger place to hold town meetings is needed, but questioned if that required building a whole new facility including a senior center and other public-use areas. Haydel said a new town hall is not needed. Meetings with large crowds should be held in schools where there is plenty of room, he said.

“There are many schools, I’m sure, who’d be willing hold town hall meetings we feel will be controversial that would draw a large a large amount of people,” Haydel said.

Morse said the town’s meeting place is inadequate by design, a “hidden agenda” in Indian Trail, to discourage people from attending meetings.

“When I first started coming to town meetings, I was not met with open arms,” Morse said. “I was met with hostility.”

He said the building currently housing the cultural arts center should be repurposed back into town hall as it once was because it has more room.

Savoie said the town has bigger needs, like infrastructure and traffic congestion relief that should be the first focus. A new town hall would be possible after economic development creates jobs, thereby expanding the tax base.

All agreed that public safety is a top priority, but had different ways of funding added deputies. Most suggested budget cuts.

“If we are to add more deputies, the best way to fund those deputies is by cutting spending,” Faulkenberry said.

He opposed grants because the funding is only temporary. Unless the town makes room in its current revenue stream, Faulkenberry said funding additional deputies could mean budget deficits.

Morse favored waiting until the town’s public safety study was complete. Then the council could use it to decide if more deputies are needed.

Savoie defended use of grants, comparing it to a loan that did not require payments for the first year. The town can fund extra deputies with grants for as long as it lasts while it raises the revenue to pay for the positions.

“Even if you get a grant for a year or two year’s payment, at least you can put that in the budget later on or the next budget or the budget after that,” Savoie said.

Drehs said that one deputy costs the town about $90,000 out of its $12 million annual budget. He admitted not knowing details about the budget, but doubted that enough “fat” could be cut from it to fund more than a few additional deputies. Public safety is the town’s moral and financial duty, which will increase resident confidence and property values.

“I might be the only one on this table to say this. I don’t think we need to raise taxes, but I’ll tell you right now, if I’ve got to do it to keep kids safe, I’ll do it in a heartbeat,” Drehs said.

Bjorlin asked about a news report where a sitting council member commented that three candidates favored firing Town Manager Joe Fivas. Morse said he worries that Fivas is too involved in town boards and committees, which should be run mainly by residents. But he opposed firing Fivas without reviewing his performance. There are five major projects the town is undertaking, and council should examine Fivas’s performance on those projects before deciding to dismiss him.

Savoie said he thinks Fivas is doing a great job.

“I think the firing came from other individuals who are looking to place someone else in that position,” he said.

Daniels said he has met with Fivas several times. From his perspective as a CFO of a business, Daniels said Fivas is a good town manager.

“We do have projects underway, and having talked to Mr. Fivas, he is very adept in writing grants, he has experience as town manager, he has integrity and he’s able to do his job,” Daniels said.

Faulkenberry asked if Fivas has done something worth of being fired.

“Until there’s a justification to show that he has be fired, no,” Faulkenberry said. “If I’m elected for town council, I have no intent of firing anybody. I have to find out if there’s justification.”  

When asked if candidates supported districts to better represent Indian Trail, Morse answered emphatically.

“Absolutely,” he said.

The town is spread out, bisected by N.C. Highway 74. There are many land uses and residential densities. He said the town needs to protect against having every council member come from the same densely-populated neighborhood.

“What is my concern is to fairly represent everyone and for everyone to be represented in Indian Trail regardless of where they live,” Morse said.

Faulkenberry agreed, saying there are residents asking questions who are not getting answers.

Savoie said he would support districts only if the idea is throughly studied and it becomes apparent that districts are necessary. Daniels agreed. While the entire council made up of residents of one neighborhood would not be democratic, Daniels said a council that does not reflect population density is also a problem. He worried that two good candidates would be eliminated just because they are from the same area.

Drehs said that voters nixed the problem a few years ago of most council members living in the same area by electing people from other areas of the town. If there was a way to create districts that are fair to all voters, he said he would support it. Otherwise, some problems take care of themselves.

“I trust the voters a lot more, I guess,” Drehs said.