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Johnnie E. Chestnut and William “Bill” Darden are challenging incumbent Derrick Creech for the Wilson City Council’s District 7 seat.
Candidates provided written responses to six questions The Wilson Times distributed by mail to all city council hopefuls on the same day.
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?
CHESTNUT: My vision is the community and business here in downtown Wilson. I would like to see
downtown Wilson with a new facelift, not just signs. Nash Street is the main corridor for downtown Wilson. When I’m elected, I will work with the business owners to help gain infrastructure to assist with building up the downtown part of Wilson.
CREECH: The city’s FY 2017-18 budget document sets out a comprehensive plan which sets out 51 goals for Wilson which includes a re-vitalized downtown, stronger neighborhoods, enhanced transportation and improved partnerships between the city and Wilson County. Please refer yourself to this document which begins on page 18 of the subject budget. It is an extensive vision and includes most aspects of a comprehensive vision for our City.
DARDEN: To enhance the appearance of downtown Wilson to incorporate a vibrant atmosphere for shopping and browsing. I would work with the Wilson city administrators and councilmen to make this a reality.
What qualifies you to represent constituents in District 7? Please share any details about your background that you feel are relevant to the office you’re seeking.
CHESTNUT: I serve as a Master Mason in District 7 and am the director of outreach ministries at Faith Temple Mission Church under the leadership of Pastor Jasper L. Kent. Outreach ministry allows me to organize events, feed people, head up a back-to-school drive, issue school supplies to children in the community working with church organizations and businesses giving back to the community.
CREECH: My accomplishments during this term include creating community action committees, having a close working relationship with police and creating partnerships with organizations for job creation. Additionally, my positive working relationships which I have developed with my fellow councilmen and local, state and federal officials not only provides for continuing support of my constituents and support for programs in my district and the city of Wilson community at large.
DARDEN: I am already helping the community. I fought and won the first reduction of electric rates in the city’s history. I got $50,000 for the citizens who could not pay their electric bills. I worked to reduce crime and drugs in my community and got several gang members in military service.
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?
CHESTNUT: Recreation opportunities are very important, if you are upgrading all the parks in the city of Wilson. “No” to bond or tax increase.
CREECH: Recreation opportunities and cultural development are hallmarks of a vibrant, progressive community. It is my intent to enhance our commitment to provide quality public recreation, diverse cultural recreational and athletic activities appropriate for our population. I am a strong advocate for neighborhood parks and accessibility to walkways, trails and greenways for our citizens. If a bond or tax increase should be considered to pay for improvements, we must investigate the best way to finance our community’s vitality. The people should decide that.
DARDEN: Any improvements must be directed to help and serve all communities and not just some. I am not for taxing or bonding to create these improvements unless directly necessary.
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?
CHESTNUT: Yes. The fees should continue to be used. I see no problem with the City Council’s Discretionary Fund.
CREECH: As far as I know, there is no slush fund. Late fees are given to the United way to be distributed to the community. The Community Reinvestment Fund can be viewed as a valuable tool for any government entity. I am a very concerned person when it comes to the use of our city’s taxes. One of my main initiatives for the next term is to focus on helping low- to moderate-income individuals obtain affordable electrical power, especially to help those citizens who have been left behind by our economy. We have many ratepayers in our system who experience difficulty putting food on their tables. I am hopeful we can bring sustainability into focus as a new and powerful aspect of our community. I want to focus on renewable energy and programs like community solar projects which can provide incentives to the city of Wilson. As we go forward and focus on sustainability, my initiatives will look at the problems with punitive fees.
DARDEN: I believe that these fees should be used directly to help the consumers and not be allocated to any slush funding. This funding should be restorative to the community to assist the poor and those who, for whatever reason, could not pay their bills.
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?
CHESTNUT: Yes. Parking is better in most places, especially during business hours.
CREECH: Issues with zoning and sign regulations must be managed in a manner which maintains our city in a viable and growing posture. I believe we, as a city, must make every effort to comply with our stated rules and where our written rules are challenged by a justification which calls for an exception to policy, we must be both careful and flexible in our analysis of a request for exception while simultaneously understanding no single policy can address all situations.
DARDEN: Not really. Example: Zoning was changed to install a car lot off Martin Luther King Boulevard. Citizens complained because the area was zoned for residential housing only. The city changed the zoning to accommodate a known businessman in spite of citizens’ objections. The site is now an empty lot and an eyesore in the community.
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?
CHESTNUT: I believe you should pray 24 hours of the day, not just during an open public meeting. Pray silently or individually. I do believe it will help set the tone if a prayer was done before the meeting and possibly led by one of the leaders appointed.
CREECH: As it concerns freedom of religion, I believe in our God and I am a Christian. As a city leader, I don’t feel I have a right to impose my religion on others. I believe in prayer but perhaps a moment of silence prior to public meetings for all believers of all faiths to offer a personal prayer would be appropriate, if that is what the people want.
DARDEN: Yes, we need more prayer than ever before and we should be praying daily, because there is destruction and death waiting like a roaring lion seeking whom it can devour at any moment. There are fires in the west, floods in the east, hurricanes in the south, earthquakes in diverse places, tornadoes in the Midwest. There are wars and rumors of wars and death and destruction runs rampant across this nation. Your life can change in the blink of an eye. We need to be in constant prayer as often as possible. The mayor, councilmen, a minister or even an everyday citizen should or could lead the prayer.