After two more challengers signed up in the last days of filing, a total of five candidates will vie for two seats on the Clayton Town Council.
Kurt Bienias, Bobby Bunn and Jacqueline Jones will try to oust incumbents Butch Lawter and Jason Thompson at the polls in November.
Bunn, a 53-year-old operations manager for Executive Management Services in Morrisville, ran for council in 2013 but fell short against incumbents Michael Grannis, Art Holder and Bob Satterfield.
Lawter, 50, a senior engineer for the S.T. Wooten Corp., is finishing up his third non-consecutive term on the council. Thompson, 38, a manager for Johnston Ambulance Services, is seeking reelection for the first time after being voted in four years ago.
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Bienias and Jones are seeking council seats for the first time.
Bienias, 54, works in the administration office for Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools. While he hasn’t run for Clayton Town Council before, he did lose a bid for one of three seats on the Johnston County Board of Education in 2014.
After living in Clayton for about four years, Bienias said he’s taken note of the town’s rapid pace of growth. He wants to make sure it’s smart growth, he said.
“I don’t want Clayton to be that town that grows faster than its schools and roads,” Bienias said. “That’s where we’re heading, if we don’t get a firm grasp on this.”
An Air Force veteran who has worked more than 10 years in education, Bienias said he was “born to serve.” He said his experience living in a long list of places can bring a broader perspective to issues.
“I’ve seen cities that do things well and cities that do things poorly,” he said.
Jones, who owns Senior Housing Liaison LLC, said she can bring more fiscal responsibility to the Town Council.
“I want someone to be a better steward of the taxpayer’s money,” she said.
Earlier this year, Jones was critical of town’s current budget, which increased property taxes by 2.5 cents per $100 of valuation. She said there seems to be a large disparity between what town leaders consider a “want” and “need.”
“So much of our infrastructure is not in place, yet they will ask for an elaborate lighting system for a park,” Jones said.
Jones, a Wilmington native who has lived in Clayton for 11 years, said she can not only bring a “dollar-conscious” attitude to the board, but also a female’s perspective. No women currently serve on the Town Council.
“It’s all guys, and it’s the good-old-boys network,” Jones said. “That’s a weird, lopsided, situation.”
The mayors of Clayton and Archer Lodge won’t be challenged as they seek reelection in 2015.
Clayton Mayor Jody McLeod and Archer Lodge Mayor Mike Gordon filed for office within minutes of each other on July 15 at the Johnston County Board of Elections in Smithfield.
McLeod, 49, is finishing up his third four-year term. He’s running again because after 12 years, “I’ve gotten really good at what I do,” he said. “I’ve finally mastered what a mayor’s role in a town is all about.”
His goals include a stronger focus on economic development. “This includes creating an aggressive marketing, promotion and branding of the Town of Clayton,” he said.
“I think it’s important to recruit new, but it’s also important to maintain and foster those relationships with the ones that are already here,” he added.
McLeod also wants to continue to improve the quality of life in town, which means expanding parks and recreation programs, public art opportunities and programming for active senior adults.
One of the largest parts of his job, McLeod said, is promoting what the the town has to offer. He said that’s something he’s excelled at through engaging with the public around town and serving on boards like the N.C. League of Municipalities.
“For me 12 years ago, it was time to redefine the role of a mayor,” McLeod said. “It wasn’t about cutting ribbons at a chamber event; it wasn’t about running a meeting two times a month.
“For me, the role of the mayor was about promoting and marketing the town, recruiting business and industry and giving people a reason to live here,” he added.
Gordon, 58, was appointed as mayor when Archer Lodge was incorporated as a town in 2009. He was reelected in 2011 when he ran unopposed.
Gordon, a past president of the non-profit Archer Lodge Community Center, was part of the exploratory committee that sought incorporation nearly six years ago. He said he wants to continue what he and other town leaders have started.
“We are so young and so new at everything, we are still learning and we still have so much to get in place and get done,” Gordon said.
One of those projects is an Archer Lodge Park. The town made expanding recreation space a priority after town residents suggested a need for it in multiple studies.
But Gordon also wants to see the town hire a part-time administrator that one day may become a full-time manager. Currently, the town employs a clerk and a part-time planning director, which leaves the mayor responsible for a lot of duties a town manager would typically handle.
“It would help with day-to-day things, paperwork and some of those processes,” Gordon said. “It will help organize projects like the park and other ordinances.”
Archer Lodge council
Three incumbents and one challenger have filed for three open seats on the Archer Lodge Town Council.
Debbie Barnes, a retired state employee who is seeking office for the first time, will be on the ballot. So will incumbents Clyde Castleberry, 59, of Reliable Tank Line LLC, Mark Jackson, a 47-year-old retired military veteran, and Matt Mulhollem, a buyer with The Tarheel Electric Membership Association.
Jackson, who retired after serving 26 years in the U.S. Army, was born in Fayetteville and raised in Dunn before moving to Archer Lodge in 1993.
Jackson was appointed to the council in 2014 after Jeff Barnes stepped down because of an illness. He said he’s enjoyed serving his community and thinks he can look at town issues without bias.
“With any debate, there are always two sides of it and you do have to weigh them,” Jackson said. “You can’t go blindly into something without understanding there is an opposing view.”
Like other town leaders, Jackson is looking forward to developing a park. His other priorities will be based on the wishes of the town’s residents.
“I’ve always thought that folks have an obligation of service of some sort,” Jackson said. “And that’s what I try to do.”
Mulhollem, 42, was also a part of the exploratory committee that led to Archer Lodge’s incorporation in 2009. He went door to door to homes, talking to residents about why it was important for the town to be chartered.
“I feel like I still owe some time to that effort,” Mulhollem said. “I’m certainly willing to serve, if that’s what they want me to do.”
The proposed Archer Lodge Park is a priority for him. Acquiring land for that project is essential, as if figuring out how it will be paid for.
Mulhollem said he wants to make sure the town can accomplish those types of projects while maintaining the lowest tax rate in Johnston County.
“That’s an issue that’s very important to a lot of people in town,” he said.
“I’d like to see us operate in that manner as long as possible,” he added.