Aldrich, Evans square off in Wilson’s District 5

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Mark Aldrich is challenging incumbent Donald Evans for the Wilson City Council’s District 5 seat.

Both candidates provided written responses to six questions The Wilson Times distributed by mail. As with all municipal candidate surveys, responses are organized by alphabetical order of the candidates’ last names.

The newspaper’s questions and candidates’ answers are as follows:

What is your vision for the city of Wilson’s future, particularly downtown Wilson, and if elected to City Council, what steps would you take to make that vision a reality?

ALDRICH: We need to focus on creating a Wilson where people want to live, not just visit. We need to support those who live downtown. One cannot even easily walk to the post office from downtown as the sidewalk and crosswalk infrastructure is lacking. Parking and bike racks are needed for residents of Whirligig Station as well as visitors to Whirligig Park.

EVANS: I want to continue working on redevelopment of the downtown area including recruitment of business such as shops and restaurants. I want to work on improving the streets and helping create an ordinance dealing with boarded-up houses. I would also like to work on improving our recreational facilities.

What qualifies you to represent constituents in District 5? Please share any details about your background that you feel are relevant to the office you’re seeking.

ALDRICH: Like many in Wilson, I am a father of a young son, an educator, live in multifamily housing, and am roughly the median age of Wilson citizens. These aspects of my background inform my perspective, but I believe the only thing that truly qualifies someone for an elected position is the vote of their fellow citizens.

EVANS: I was a county commissioner from 1994-98. I have served as city councilman since 2002. I am a businessman, having operated a business for 38 years. I have the experience and desire to make Wilson a better place to live.

Wilson recently completed a parks and recreation master plan that recommended significant investment in city facilities, including a greenway and a modern recreation center. How important are recreation opportunities to the vitality of Wilson? Should a bond or tax increase be considered to pay for the improvements?

ALDRICH: Doing nothing is acceptable only if you do not want Wilson to attract new people to the area. According to Barton College professor John Bethune, last year we had more than 18,000 people commuting to Wilson County for jobs — many from areas with a higher cost of living. If Wilson was attractive enough for these people to live here, we could afford even more recreational opportunities.

EVANS: Recreation is a vital part of the Wilson community. Recreation develops character in our children and recreational facilities are a place where everyone can go and play. As our centers have aged (60-plus years) it is time that we look into the future of recreation. Gillette Park has been an excellent investment for Wilson and I will support a bond issue for recreation.

Should Wilson Energy customers’ late fees continue to be used as the City Council’s discretionary fund, which the Times editorial page has called a slush fund? Does it concern you that fees are punitive rather than restorative since they exceed what Wilson Energy requires to maintain service?

ALDRICH: When paying a utility bill online, there is an opportunity to donate additional funds to help those struggling with utility bills. Late fees could be used to provide additional help as well as to subsidize energy audits to identify ways to lower future utility bills and to provide matching funds for landlords who make their properties more energy-efficient for their tenants.

EVANS: Late fees in the Utility Department are used as a deterrent for those who choose to pay late. We offer different payment schedules to help people. Without late fees, our cash flow would be out of

control. This is not a slush fund. These fees go back to the community through the United Way nonprofits and we also use these funds to help people pay for heating cost during the winter.

Do you believe Wilson enforces its zoning and sign ordinances effectively, fairly and judiciously? What changes, if any, need to be made to city business regulations?

ALDRICH: I believe the enforcement is intended to be fair, but unsurprisingly, those who have experience navigating the rules and procedures are more likely to follow every aspect of an ordinance. This benefits those with multiple properties or with personal contacts within the enforcement arm, and those who can hire attorneys to navigate the processes. An entrepreneur starting a small business is at a relative disadvantage.

EVANS: Wilson’s Development and Planning Department does an outstanding job with zoning and sign ordinances. As you know, some ordinances are designed to help people do what they will not do for themselves. There are times when we need to tweak ordinances as things change. The sign ordinance is one that needs constant changes. Our team does a good job in updating this ordinance.

According to a recent federal court decision, elected officials should not lead prayer at public meetings. Do you think prayer should be a component to city meetings? If so, who should lead the prayer?

ALDRICH: City council should be reflective of the citizens it represents without prescribing a specific belief, just like how public school teachers cannot impede on student religious expression — or lead daily class readings from a Torah scroll, distribute prayer rugs or lead the class in catechism. Citizens who desire expression of belief (or disbelief) as part of the important public feedback component should be welcome to express it.

EVANS: Council will develop a procedure for public prayer that conforms to the law of the land. I do believe that prayer is a vital part of our public meetings.  I have asked Mayor Rose if he would develop a list of local pastors, ministers, priests, rabbis and other people of faith who would have a prayer at our meetings.