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by Daniel Schere

Candidates line up to fight for High Point’s future

daniel@yesweekly.com | @Daniel_Schere

The candidate field in High Point is wide open this year. In addition to a mayor’s race that does not include an incumbent, there are eight candidates running for two at-large positions on city council with only one incumbent. The candidates feature a mix of business owners, community volunteers and former civic leaders. As the election draws closer, each is taking a stab at what they feel are the most pressing issues in High Point.

Many of the candidates echoed the sentiment that downtown is in serious need of more small businesses and that this could be done by lessening the amount of red tape business owners must go through to get a building permit.

“I think what you see is that most of the small businesses are forced to compete with large businesses like Walmart,” candidate Michael Holmes said. “High Point is dying. There’s nothing to keep people in High Point. There’s nothing to get people excited about the future of the city.”

Holmes is a manufacturing engineer for IKEA and has lived in High Point for five years. He said he thinks his experience in the private sector can be applied to the public arena. Holmes has a degree in economics and is pursuing a masters in public administration at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Ed Squires Jr., who ran unsuccessfully in 2012 for council, said he also wants to see a better business climate downtown in order to clean up spots where there are abandoned buildings.

“We need to make sure that we as a city council take ownership of those areas so that small businesses do come here and see our downtown area,” he said.

Squires said one thing he would do as a councilman would be to help create a checklist of things business owners would need when petitioning the city for a permit.

Councilman Britt Moore, who is the only incumbent in the at-large race, said he understands the concerns surrounding the inefficient building permit process but says in reality government processes are often not as fast as the public hopes.

“Businesses are going to go where they can make a profit,” he said. “Our job is to create policy for our infrastructure that is conducive and attractive for businesses to want to be there.”

Some candidates such as trucking company owner Regina Chahal have been looking at the lack of opportunities for young people that have persisted in High Point. Chahal has lived there 29 years and used to work at High Point University.

“We’re losing our people,” she said. “We’re losing the youth.

People that come to High Point to go to college, they go to Greensboro or Winston or Charlotte or Raleigh to do things because there’s nothing in High Point for them to do.”

Chahal said she favors putting in a dog park or an amphitheater as a draw for this segment of the population.

“I like Gavin DeGraw. So if Gavin DeGraw was in town it would draw the young people in, my son calls them hipsters.

It would be in the paper, and it would help our city grow,” she said.

In addition to young people, Chahal said many of the traders that come to the furniture market flock to Greensboro when looking for somewhere to eat or spend a few hours. She thinks the lack of development downtown stems from the inability of city leaders to embrace new ideas.

“A lot of companies want to be on Main Street like perhaps a coffee shop that may offer beer and wine,” she said. “They don’t want that on Main Street, and they need to allow the things that the youth would enjoy.”

The inability of the city to embrace change is something photographer and candidate David Rosen has been very vocal about since he founded the grassroots group “We Heart High Point” earlier this year. Rosen said areas of the city like crime-ridden Washington Street often go unnoticed by residents who live on the outskirts, and he hopes to bridge that gap.

“Most people only care about what’s going on in their microcosm of the city and where they live,” he said. “I know that some people don’t want to say it, but our downtown is dead.”

But two of the candidates said the biggest issue facing High Point was the lack of a permanent city manager. Randy McCaslin has been doing the job on an interim basis since Strib Boynton retired this summer. Latimer Alexander, who has previously served on the council, said this is key to achieving anything else in High Point.

“Who’s going to tell the workers what to do,” he said. “And who’s going to establish a budget to pay for the work? The chief executive officer of the business is the city manager. And until you have a city manager in place and until you have a new council to sit with the city manager and discuss priorities, nothing is going to happen.”

Latimer said in a previous interview he does not agree that High Point is a city in need of more downtown entertainment and nightlife.

“That’s not who High Point is or has ever been,” he said. “High Point is a city that has been here for 154 years. High Point has an identity. We are a very international city, focused around furniture and industry.”

Cynthia Davis, who has served on the Planning and Zoning Commission since 2010, said she agrees finding a permanent city manager must happen before anything else.

“He is responsible for the day-today operation of the city, and if we don’t have a good city manager who’s responsible and capable of doing the job, then our city’s in a lot of trouble,” she said.

CANDIDATES REFLECT

When asked what gets them out of bed every morning, many of the candidates responded that it was their faith that motivated them to pursue a career in public service, as did Moore, Davis, and Rev. Orrick Quick.

“I believe that you treat others the way you want to be treated and I believe that Christ is that prime example.

That’s what service is, serving others before self,” Davis said.

Chahal said her children are her biggest inspiration because they have motivated her to improve people’s lives so that they can benefit.

“I was always told I could never have children, and when I did have them it made me want to make sure that they had everything in life that I did,” she said. “And where I was raised I had that, but here where they’re being raised, the opportunity for them in their hometown is not available.”

Chahal said it is important for leaders to make sure they have enough money to accomplish what they set out to do.

“You have to make sure if you’re a leader and you promise to get something done, you have the funds to pay what they’re asking for,” she said. “You can’t promise to put in a $10 million coliseum if you don’t have the funds.”

Holmes also said he thinks effective leaders need to be honest in order to succeed.

“If it’s not feasible, don’t get the constituent’s hopes up to where they’re expecting it and then it doesn’t happen,” he said.

Squires said he thinks the most important quality in a civic leader is the ability to set aside personal feelings and do what is best for the community.

“They don’t come with a hidden agenda, they come with an open mind,” he said.

Rosen also said transparency and communication are paramount when it comes to bridging the divide between neighborhoods that exist.

“None of this has ever been about David Rosen,” he said. “I’ve got a group of people on my committee, and we all work together. It’s been a ‘we movement.’ It will continue to be a ‘we’ movement.”

Rosen said it is important for the candidates not to be politicians.

“I’m not a politician,” he said. “I’m a community leader, I can bring people together. I’m a businessman, but I’m not a politician. I’ll never be a politician.”

For Alexander, leading effectively is as simple as good listening, dialogue with the public, and putting a priority on service. He said his brother-inlaw Ron Matthews has been one of many people that have inspired him.

“He listens, he finds answers for people, and he has a servant’s heart,” he said. !

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