Walnut Cove residents will have a choice of six candidates for two town board of commissioners seats when they go to the polls on Nov. 3.
Incumbents Kim Lewis and Elwood Mabe are facing four challengers, Charles Byron, Danny Hairston, Sandra Hazelwood and Charles Mitchell.
The Stokes News sent each of the candidates a list of questions concerning their thoughts for the future of the town. The questions and the candidate’s unedited responses are printed below.
1. Please provide a history of your public service including any boards or councils you have served on and any subcommittees you have served on.
Byron —I am a member of the Walnut Cove Planning Board and I am an active member of the Walnut Cove Small Town Main Street Committee. I lead the effort to replace and improve the “Welcome to Walnut Cove” signs and personally installed them. I completed that project on time and below budget. I served on the subcommittee in charge of organizing the successful Walnut Cove Springfest and Christmas tree lighting. I have attended almost every council meeting since moving to Walnut Cove.
Hairston —I have actively served on the Planning Board of Walnut Cove for seven years. I am also the President of Fairview Cemetery in Walnut Cove.
Hazelwood —I have not served on any public boards, councils, or committees.
Lewis —I am completing my third term on the Walnut Cove Town Board. I also serve on the Stokes County Health Advisory Board, which has overview over the Stokes County Health Department and Social Services. I have served as the Walnut Cove Town Board’s Liaison for the Walnut Cove Volunteer Fire Department. I have been on the Walnut Cove Library Board, serving as President, then Treasurer during the expansion, and also as Secretary.
Mabe —Serving on Planning & Zoning Board as chairman, serving last four (4) years as Town Commissioner, two (2) years as mayor pro tem.
Mitchell —I previously served town council as a commissioner also served on the color school board.
2. How long have you lived in Walnut Cove? Are you involved any any civic organizations or church groups? If so which ones?
Byron —I have lived in Walnut Cove for about 3 years. I am not yet a member of any local civic organization. I was a pastor and missionary while living in Bethania, NC and while I no longer serve as a Pastor, I maintain my affiliation with The Bridge Christian Church near Colfax, NC.
Hairston —I have resided in Walnut Cove for 60 years. I am affiliated with Rising Star Baptist Church, where I serve as the Vice President of the Deacon Board, Asst-Superintendent of Sunday School Department, Member of the Trustee Board as well as a member of the Pastor Aide.
Hazelwood —I have lived in Walnut Cove town limits for the past 11 years. I have been a resident of Stokes County for over 40 years. I have two daughters, Audrey and Lauren. I am a member of Friendship Baptist Church. I am a member of the Women’s church group. I volunteer with church events, also.
Lewis —A native of Stokes County, I have lived in the Town of Walnut Cove since 1985 – for 30 years. I attend Christ Episcopal Church, and on the Vestry. I am the Senior Warden for the Vestry, and also the Clerk to the Vestry. I am a member of the Episcopal Church Women group. I am a member of the Walnut Cove Lions Club, serving in the past as President, and currently as the secretary.
Mabe —Lived in the city limits of Walnut Cove for 25 years and lived within a 5 mile radius of the town since birth. Attended Bethesda UMC for 48 years and have been a member for 28 years, served as church lay leader, served on finance committee, nomination committee, pastor-parish committee, and trustee chairman. Served as Cub Master for Pack 444 four (4) years then became Scoutmaster of Troop 444, have served as Scoutmaster 27 years and continue to serve in that position to date. Old Hickory Council Religious Emblem Committee, Hanging Rock District Committee, Hospice Volunteer, Senior Citizen Advisory Board.
Mitchell —I lived in Walnut Cove for forty-two years and I served on Freedom Road Prison Ministry and teach Sunday school at Walnut Cove Health Care and at Walnut Ridge Assisted Living.
3. What do you consider to the best assets/skills/experience you will bring to the table if elected ?
Byron —I have been a proven and effective leader in roles throughout my business career. I graduated number one in my school with my engineering degree and have had a diverse and successful career in manufacturing and banking. My success has always been based on the ability to develop and implement good short term plans as well as long term visions. Walnut Cove has immediate opportunities for improvement as well as significant long term potential. As my campaign slogan states, we can truly “restore the pride”.
Hairston —I have advocated for the needs of the people in Walnut Cove for the past seven years as a member of the planning board. I think the best asset that I bring to the table is my willingness to get things done in a decent and orderly manner.
Hazelwood —I have worked in Human Resources for the past six years. I also have a customer service and accounting background. I have gained many valuable skills. I am able to listen to all sides and research information. I have excellent people skills and give attention to details.
Lewis —I am a fact gathering person who likes to get input from all viewpoints before making decisions. I suppose it comes from my profession. I am a pharmacist, and that’s what I do all day. I gather information from many sources, and then make a judgment in the patient’s best interest. That carries over to my experiences on the Town Board. Decisions should be made for the good of the entire town.
Mabe —Worked 35 years as Stokes County Vehicle Maintenance Supervisor preparing and working within yearly budget, serving last four (4) years as Walnut Cove Town Commissioner.
Mitchell —Having a vision for the growth of Walnut Cove, economically and physically.
4. Why have you decided to run for commissioner?
Byron —I fell in love with Walnut Cove when I first started visiting the downtown here 20 years ago. Over that time I watched it slowly lose much of its vibrant business and country charm. However, the citizens have never lost their love and respect for our town and their desire to see it thrive again. I believe I can bring the commitment and vision to create a path back to the Walnut Cove that was the economic and social hub of Stokes County again.
Hairston —The Town of Walnut Cove needs new faces in office that also bring fresh ideas.
Hazelwood —I have decided to run for commissioner because I want to help our community grow in the right direction and let the people have a say in what happens before it happens.
Lewis —I feel the Town of Walnut Cove needs Board members who consider facts and opinions, and weigh the consequences on all neighborhoods and parts of the Town. I believe I do that.
Mabe —As a citizen of Walnut Cove I hope to see the town grow, I enjoy helping people and by serving on the Board of Commissioners I have the opportunity to speak to and for all citizens of Walnut Cove.
Mitchell —To serve the people in the town and make it a better place to live.
5. What do you feel the Board of Commissioners can do to improve the quality of life in Walnut Cove?
Byron —The first point in my five point plan for Walnut Cove is proactive economic development. Currently, the town has no business liaison to encourage good businesses and jobs to return to Walnut Cove. I believe the town needs to establish a business liaison that understands and promotes the business assets of our town. On average about 6,900 cars pass through our downtown daily. This is far more than many towns enjoying much more business development. Our commercial real estate is reasonably priced and our labor base in plentiful and talented. Effectively spreading the message of the great opportunities that potential business owners and job creators have in our community can bring the downtown and the surrounding communities back to the thriving economy it once was.
Hairston —I feel that the Board of Commissioners needs to be more personable, informative, and considerate to the concerns of the people as well as being eager to act to make Walnut Cove a wonderful place to call home.
Hazelwood — The quality of life in Walnut Cove can be greatly improved by providing more space for more events. We need to attract all age groups. The Board of Commissioners needs to help ensure that Main Street is neat and attractive. I think our town would benefit if we could have a history museum. We also need a dog park.
Lewis —The Board as a whole needs to work to attract new residents, new business growth, and to strengthen current business activity. Improving the appearance is one means to that end. Having façade grants available for 1:1 match helps business owners. Applying for grants and low-interest loans to achieve improved water/sewer services is another. People driving through Walnut Cove need to see what this town has to offer. “Stokes 2035” is a long-term plan that Stokes, and all the municipalities, are working on. This plan addresses the physical appearance (Streets, sidewalks, public and private buildings) with an eye to stimulating economic growth. Recreation will be addressed in this plan also. This type of planning requires both public and private involvement and spending.
Mabe —Revitalization and maintenance of down town area, encourage new businesses to come to the area, continue to give the citizens the services needed also work with the small town committee.
Mitchell —To seek more economic development and to improve the infrastructure.
6. What do you see as the three biggest issues facing Walnut Cove during the next term? How do you propose those issues be addressed?
Byron —The three biggest foreseeable issues Walnut Cove faces in the next term are the need for downtown restoration, infrastructure and water improvements, and a fracking moratorium. I expand on my plans to address each in questions below.
Hairston —Keeping taxes lowered, maintaining our streets, and continuing to keep the town beautiful. I think the best way to address these concerns would be to talk with the people of Walnut Cove with open and listening ears to gage their concerns. From that, then we could move forward as a Board.
Hazelwood —The three biggest issues facing Walnut Cove are: (1) environmental issues – no fracking and coal ash removal is an ongoing battle, (2) replacing our aging water/sewer system, (3) attracting new business to our town without disrupting our small town charm. A detailed plan needs to be developed for each issue. Research needs to be done to define each issue and to act in the best possible manner to benefit our community.
Lewis —1) Our infrastructure is old, and needs replacing. Water and sewer pipes are old, and break, causing water cutoffs. Small diameter water pipes do not meet current requirements, and cannot deliver the volume of water needed. Our town streets develop pot holes, and small sink holes, stretching our budget for repair. The State of North Carolina has a Bond issue for this type of project, for which the Town should apply as the program is activated. Sewer lift stations need removal to lower costs, and the possibility of leaks. A low interest loan application has been approved for this project, and work is in progress. In the event of water pipe breaks, cutoff valves allow water to be cut off only in affected areas – not the entire town as in the past. 5 of 16 needed cutoff valves have been installed. These have been planned in the Town budget. 2) Economics – as above, Stokes 2035 is a long term plan. We can’t wait 20 years, though. I encourage people to participate in the Small Town Main Street group – which has economic, appearance, and event goals. 3) Finally, the town has a long-term plan in place. But, it seems, that with every election (or manager change), the focus comes away from that plan. Without an eye on that plan, the long-term goals are not achieved. The focus needs to stay on the long-term goals –even while maintaining current services.
Mabe —Aging infrastructure, loss of business, tackling issue of fracking. Seek a grant for Economic Development, the board has to work with NC State agencies on the fracking issue.
Mitchell —Need to find funding to improve the infrastructure and to address the concerns of the people.
7. Fracking has been a big issue in Walnut Cove in recent months. What is your stance on the issue and what do you feel the town can do to address it?
Byron —As stated in my widely distributed five point plan for Walnut Cove, Fracking is not economically viable or environmentally safe in Walnut Cove based on the finding of the core drilling sample taken earlier this year. I did not oppose the core drilling because I believed it would prove conclusively that Walnut Cove was not a viable place for Fracking investment and that was proven correct. I spoke with a leader of the No Fracking in Stokes committee several months ago and suggested they submit to the town council a specific moratorium with wording that has passed the legal review to not conflict with the state guidelines on fracking. Such a moratorium was just passed for Stokes County and if submitted to the council in Walnut Cove I would support and advocate for its adoption preventing any fracking operations within Walnut Cove for at least 3 years.
Hairston —I am 100% against FRACKING. As a whole the Board of Commissioners can meet with the citizens of Walnut Cove to listen to their concerns while continuing to educate ourselves on the adversity as well as other risks that fracking brings to our town.
Hazelwood — I am against fracking. I feel the community needs to stand strong and be vocal that we do not want fracking in our community. The county just recently voted in a three-year moratorium against fracking. The Town of Walnut Cove is having a public hearing Nov. 10 to consider a three-moratorium on fracking for the town.
Lewis —I am against fracking. It is simply an ecological disaster waiting to happen. I believe, based on the 2012 DENR report, which the core sample, although tentatively positive, will prove not to be enough to be cost-effective for “harvest”. I will vote for the Walnut Cove moratorium. While it cannot stop fracking, it can slow it down. It would require the State to determine the health risks for our particular area, and make those available.
Mabe —No, I don’t support fracking. The town board has a public hearing set for our next meeting to discuss the proposed moratorium.
Mitchell —I feel it’s not in the best interest in the town to allow it, because it’s not been enough research and we don’t know the impact on the environment.
8. During the fracking debate, several Walnut Tree residents have complained about not being part of the town and thus unable to have an impact in town leadership. Would you support considering a boundary adjustment/annexation to bring this community into Walnut Cove?
Byron —This is a good example of another one of my five platforms for Walnut Cove “Hear the voice of the people”. This decision will have service and cost implications for the town AND for the citizens of Walnut Tree. A decision on potential annexation should be made with all the implications being developed and presented in cooperation with the town and Walnut Tree citizens and discussed at length in public forums until consensus can be reached among the town and the Walnut Tree citizens. The town council should not make this decision independently and impose its will upon citizens.
Hairston —Yes, because the quality of life in the Walnut Tree community is equally important.
Hazelwood — I would only consider a boundary adjustment/annexation if the residents of the Walnut Tree community would be asked for input on the decision. Each person of legal age to vote should be allowed to complete a questionnaire on the decision.
Lewis —Annexation cannot be ruled out. Annexation of the Walnut Tree area has been discussed several times in the past 20 years or so. Then, the Walnut Cove Town Boards’ stance was that annexation would have to be purely voluntary – that all property owners of the affected area be in favor of annexation. When several Walnut Tree property owners were not in favor, the petitions failed. I was not on the Town board at these times, but I am strongly against involuntary annexation, even if 1 property owner objects. The best decision would be made after determining several things. What are the services legally required by annexation? What are the costs and the feasibility for the Town to supply those services? What is the impact to the current Town residents and taxpayers? Annexation would increase the towns’ tax base, a positive. However, impact on the Walnut Cove water system must be studied. The water/sewer system is required by state statute to be self-supporting – that the water bills themselves pay the costs of the water system. Dropping Walnut Tree water bills to the inside-town rate would decrease revenue. Would annexation force an overall tax rate increase for all users for the system to meet this self-supporting requirement? In addition, there would be additional costs for Walnut Tree property owners / residents. If annexed, Walnut Tree property owners/residents would have Walnut Cove property and/or vehicle taxes. Would this be savings for them, even with decreased water bills? It would depend, I suppose, on the value of their land, homes, and vehicles. For other services, would the increased patrol area for our contracted law enforcement increase town costs? What would be the impact on the WC Fire Department? The impact on Street maintenance costs? Would Powell Bill revenue, received from the State for roads, increase with the annexation? Would annexation force a tax rate increase for all concerned? Without examining these issues, I, nor anyone else, know the answers. Reviewing each possible impact, financial and otherwise, must be done before a decision is made. This is essential – as future services, costs of those services, and taxes, depend on that decision. Annexation should be beneficial to both sides – both to Walnut Tree and the Town of Walnut Cove.
Mabe —I don’t recall anyone presenting the board with request for annexing Walnut Tree area, with all the new requirements from the State it is more difficult to annex any area.
Mitchell —Yes, I would support annexation of Walnut Tree into the town of Walnut Cove.
9. Walnut Cove has seen the loss of several businesses, including two banks, over the past year and several buildings in the downtown area are in a state of disrepair. What would you do as commissioner to spur economic development in the town as a whole and revitalize the appearance of the downtown area?
Byron —As stated above, proactive economic development is the top item in my five point plan for Walnut Cove. Currently, a perspective business has not point of contact within the town to get information about the commercial real estate status and business advantages of downtown Walnut Cove. Appointing a business liaison who fully understands the unique assets of our town, what’s available and why Walnut Cove is the best place to start or expand a business would allow us to again attract businesses like auto parts, dry cleaners, bistros, art galleries, and others which will provide jobs and downtown revitalization. The town can also offer economic incentives for new businesses, offering loans or subsidies for renovations to commercial property or short term rent assistance. We need to effectively foster a good working relationship with the downtown land owners. The second point in my five point plan is downtown clean-up and maintenance. Our downtown is our face to the thousands of potential job creators and customers that pass through our town daily. It should be clean, landscaped, and maintained to reflect the pride and historic grandeur of our town. Codes must be enforced. Citizens passing through may have seen me personally weedeating and picking up trash in abandoned lots with no compensation or personal business interest. I remember what Walnut Cove could be and I honestly believe with the support of the commission and in cooperation with local churches and businesses we can make the downtown shine again and “restore the pride”.
Hairston —First, I think by continuing to keep Walnut Cove a beautiful place is the beginning of attracting economic development. Second, I think that by having local businesses to support one another with the each one teach one mentality, we could attract more businesses as well. As far as the appearance of the downtown area, I think that by educating the public on the value and the history of Main Street; revitalization would be easier.
Hazelwood —I would promote our small town theme. I think we need to advertise our services. We need to buy local to help our town. I would need to research who is responsible for what and then proceed from there.
Lewis —No one person or group can solve this issue. It will take the entire community actively choosing to spend their money in this town, this community, to support their own neighbors. Residents need to buy local goods and services when possible. More in-town spending could attract new businesses while supporting current ones. The long term Stokes 2035 plan to change the appearance of Main Street Walnut Cove is being planned. Please don’t wait 20 years to change your purchasing, dining and entertainment spending, though!
Mabe — The town has received a grant for a study on the revitalization and land use of Walnut Cove, I would seek and encourage new businesses to come to Walnut Cove and willing to work with the Small Town Committee on improving appearance of the downtown area.
Mitchell —I would suggest the owners of the dilapidated buildings be given a tax break over a period of time to have a repair and upgrade the buildings.
10. What is your favorite thing about your community? What do you think is your community’s greatest strength?
Byron —That’s the easiest question on the list. My favorite thing about Walnut Cove and its greatest strength are the people. Whether you’re in Tuttle’s hardware, Just Plain Country or Alley’s, or Main Street Diner, you always know you will be met with a smile, hardy welcome, and an opportunity for an uplifting conversation. Very often those conversations meander to what we remember Walnut Cove was in its prime and our regret that things have not been changing for the better. The people of Walnut Cove are ready to step up and do what we can to restore the pride and reenergize the town. We need leadership and commitment to channel that effort.
Hairston —Family atmosphere of the small businesses located in town. As a community we come together to support individuals who are in need.
Hazelwood —My favorite thing about the community is the friendly people. You can walk or drive down the street and everyone waves and smiles. The community’s greatest strength is also its residents. We like living here.
Lewis —Favorite thing? Our small size – you might not know a persons’ name, but you recognize that person as “us”. Greatest strength? Everybody jumps in, at times of need, to help others.
Mabe —Meeting people with happy smiles and always ready to catch up on news around town, proud to live in small town Walnut Cove. Our greatest strength is the citizens and business owners of Walnut Cove working together for the betterment of our town
Mitchell —It’s a beautiful community and I feel it has potential for growth and opportunities.
11. Walnut Cove has an aging water and sewer system, and is in need of additional water supplies during warmer months. What steps would you take to address these issues? Would you consider an increase in water or sewer fees in order to improve the system?
Byron —Walnut Cove needs to work toward water independence. There is a decommissioned well in the downtown area that needs to be analyzed for possible reuse. The cost of infrastructure repair and improvements can often be offset by grants or low or no-interest loans from the state if these can be effectively identified and pursued. This should offset any need to increase fees to the citizens. Effective management should allow the town to ultimately REDUCE the fees for services which are now the highest they have historically been.
Hairston —Walnut Cove has not had any substantial repairs to the local water and sewer systems in a considerable amount of time. Presented before the people, prior tax increases to address the issue were not supported. I stand in agreement with the people of Walnut Cove. I feel that it is up to the Board to find a way to address the issue without causing a divide among the people.
Hazelwood — I feel this project should be done in stages as not to affect the cost of the water/sewers bills greatly. The commissioners would need a detailed study of cost and labor before a decision on this matter. Research would need to be done and budget reviewed to consider other ways to finance the systems.
Lewis —Replacing and repairing our current system is needed. The amount of money required is beyond the Towns’ budget. Grants and low-interest loans will have to be used. By statute, WS must be self-supporting – water bills must pay the costs of supplying water. The Town, and thus the Board, has no choice in this. Prices for all goods and services increase over time. As costs of supplying water increase, the cost of that water must also. Attempting to hold the water rates down result in major increases, which can be drastic to residents’ budgets. In the past, the town did not increase water rates for over 10 years – then had several price increases. I believe that it is easier to pay a little more periodically than get hit with major increases suddenly.
Mabe —Would like to prioritize our aging systems starting with replacing oldest lines as funds become available and seeking grants to help, like everyone else I wouldn’t want to see an increase in fees but in order to get more efficient services, as a last resort we may have to increase fees. We will continue to seek grants to help in these projects.
Mitchell —I would suggest a small water increase that we might be able to get grants to upgrade the existing water system.
12. Commissioner Natalie Smiley has said that she will be moving from the area soon and, as a result, resigning from the Board of Commissioners. If that happens the Board elected in November would be responsible for appointing someone to her seat. What criteria would you use in selecting someone to fill this position?
Byron —As stated above, hearing the voice of the people is one of my five platform points. The ballot is a key way for the people to communicate their opinions. The candidate that receives the third highest vote count in the November election should be offered the open position if Mrs Smiley chooses to resign.
Hairston —Follow Parliamentary procedure in filling the position. Seeking an honest and fair candidate that sincerely cares about the Town of Walnut Cove and its’ people.
Hazelwood — Natalie Smiley’s resignation was accepted at the October 13 Town Meeting. I feel the commissioners should allow the person that comes in third in the election to fill the position.
Lewis —This appointment is important, as her un-expired term ends in the fall of 2017. Should it be the third place candidate in the election for the 2 open seats, which includes voter input? Should it be someone who has been attending Board meetings all along, showing their interest by investing their time and energy to the town already? In the past, when this situation arose, the Board had interested persons fill out applications to “apply” for the seat. Personally, I think the Board should use a combination of all these things.
Mabe —Someone interested in improving Walnut Cove, willing to work with the citizens and other board members to achieve this goal, also, someone that doesn’t have a personal agenda.
Mitchell —I would suggest the next board and the mayor appoint the person to fill that position.
13. Is there anything else you would like the voters to know about you or your candidacy?
Byron —I have not been a Walnut Cove citizen for long, but am I a Walnut Cove citizen by choice. I choose Walnut Cove because of what it is, and what it can again one day be. I have a five point plan for Walnut Cove: Proactive Economic Development; Downtown Clean-up and Maintenance; Hear the Voice of the People; Vision for the Future; and Honor the Heritage. I am a planner, and a doer, and I know that with the right team of citizens from the local community, churches and businesses that the town can get back on the fast track to prosperity and vibrancy. I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty, to make the hard choices, and to inspire commitment to a long term vision. My wonderful wife and I plan on being proud Walnut Cove citizens for the rest of our lives, Lord willing, and we want to be able to tell our sons that we were part of the effort to restore the pride.
Hairston — I am an honest, hard-working, fair, firm-believing individual who seeks to serve the people of the Town of Walnut Cove with the utmost dignity and respect.
Hazelwood — I am here to listen. I encourage residents to be more involved in the community. Your support is needed to help maintain and nurture the future of our community.
Lewis — I have served the citizens of Walnut Cove for a total of 12 years over 3 terms. In that time, voters have seen how I arrive at decisions, what information I use to arrive at those decisions, and how I try to involve all the different people and neighborhoods of Walnut Cove. If you like what you have seen, I would appreciate your vote on November 3rd.
Mabe — I consider it a privilege to have served as Town Commissioner for the past four years and hope to be able to serve another four years to see projects already started completed and help carry our town forward.
Mitchell — I have no personal admirations or certain individuals; I just want to serve the people and the town.
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.