Five candidates running for three at-large seats on the Fuquay-Varina Board of Town Commissioners agreed on many key topics at the first of two political debates Thursday night, but the two incumbents found themselves on the defensive at times.
Every candidate said traffic is the most pressing issue facing the town in the next five years, and they all support allowing mixed-use development in downtown as a way to reduce traffic and create a more walkable atmosphere.
Incumbents Charlie Adcock and Bill Harris were joined in the debate by challengers Marilyn Gardner, Bryan Haynes and Henry Kuhn. Mayor John Byrne, who is running uncontested for his eight term, didn’t participate but gave a speech at the end of the night.
Seven candidates’ names will appear on the ballot Nov. 3. Town commissioner Ed Ridpath suddenly resigned from the board in August, with little explanation. He has said he won’t actively campaign, but that if he gets enough votes he will rejoin the board. Beth Cassells-Anderson has withdrawn from the race. Neither attended the debate.
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The debate featured 14 questions. Each candidate was given 90 seconds to respond. Kuhn missed some of the questions; he left during a break midway.
The debate, at a local retirement community, was hosted by the Fuquay-Varina Chamber of Commerce and moderated by Ran Northam, who started the local broadcast company R3 Productions. About 45 people attended.
How they differed
The candidates separated themselves on issues such as arts funding and economic development.
Adcock and Kuhn often took fiscally conservative stances, although certain issues had them diverging from that.
Adcock, for example, had the most clear statement in favor of building an industrial park to help recruit large employers. The rest of the candidates also support an industrial park. Kuhn wasn’t in attendance for the question.
“I do think the town, whether we like it or not, has to spend some money to make it happen,” Adcock said. “Why do we need to spend money? Because everyone else is doing it.”
On the topic of Stars Theater, which the town bought this year to transform into a cultural arts center, Kuhn argued for a bigger cultural arts center.
Adcock, the mayor pro tem, defended the board’s controversial decision to buy Stars Theater, instead of backing a more ambitious and expensive plan to buy a building from businessman Bob Barker.
“You try to make forward progress, and you try to do that while being fiscally sound,” Adcock said.
Kuhn said the Stars Theater purchase is a sign of the current board not planning for the future.
“This is more like trying to catch up, with a place that’s too small, with not enough parking,” he said.
Harris, who voted against buying Stars Theater, echoed Kuhn’s criticisms.
Haynes and Garnder sought a middle ground, saying the Stars Theater is good, but not good enough. Haynes sat on the committee that presented the idea for the bigger plan that was rejected by the board.
“I think it will be very good for community theater,” Gardner said. “And it will be an anchor that will bring foot traffic downtown, but it will not be the economic driver or anchor” that some had wanted.
Outside vs. insider
Several questions during the debate seemed to criticize the current town board, including one that asked why Holly Springs has had more success with business growth than Fuquay-Varina.
Adcock and Harris, the incumbents, took exception to that. So did Byrne, in his speech after the debate.
Adcock said Holly Springs’ business growth makes sense because it has more people, and N.C. 540 ends there instead of continuing south into Fuquay-Varina. He said in five years, Fuquay-Varina will have caught up due to its fast growth.
Harris mostly agreed. But he also said Holly Springs leaders helped themselves by putting money into quality-of-life projects.
“Part of what we have to do as a town board is to have more of those kinds of things,” he said.
The challengers, though, said encouraging growth goes a step further. All three said the town board should have been more aggressive in recruiting some of the businesses that have come to Holly Springs or Apex.
Gardner and Haynes both said they would support increased spending on economic development.
Haynes said he wants to town to create more “shovel-ready” sites. Gardner said she wants incentives packages and quality-of-life projects.
Good news for developers
Four of the five said they wouldn’t support a moratorium on home building. Kuhn wasn’t in attendance for the question.
Harris said the size of the population, more than anything else, drives business growth.
“(Residential) growth provides momentum as well as leverage,” he said. “We have a $2.7 billion tax base in Fuquay-Varina currently. I don’t want to close the door to that.”
All the candidates, minus Kuhn, also addressed adding additional impact fees to new developments. Such fees could be used to fund road improvements or increase the town budget.
Harris said there should be a small increase. Haynes said he’s undecided. Gardner and Adcock said they are opposed.
Both of them said other towns have increased their fees, only to discover that many middle-class people can’t afford to live there anymore.
“If it’s placed on the developer, he’s going to charge the builder, and the builder is going to charge the homeowner,” Gardner said.
The chamber will host a second debate Oct. 13, at Stars Theater. It’s scheduled for 7 p.m. but might be moved earlier, said Linda Frenette, the chamber director.
Question suggestions can be emailed to to firstname.lastname@example.org by Oct. 10.
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran
Meet the candidates
Charlie Adcock: Mayor pro tem, two-term incumbent, banker. Member of the Fuquay-Varina Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Revitalization Association. Chairman of the town planning board.
Marilyn Gardner: Real estate agent. Past leader of the Fuquay-Varina Woman’s Club and Junior Woman’s Club. Led the steering committee that created the Fuquay-Varina Downtown Revitalization Association.
William “Bill” Harris: Incumbent and longest-serving board member with 22 years of experience. Retired. Former Scoutmaster, former president of the Lincoln Heights Elementary School PTA and former president of the local Masonic Lodge.
Bryan Haynes: Minister and small business owner. Volunteers at Lincoln Heights Elementary School and the Pine Acres Community Center. Chairman of the town’s parks and recreation committee.
Henry Kuhn: Retired from working in the private sector and for the IRS. Started a newsletter for the Ballentine subdivision, volunteers in kindergarten classes and at WakeMed Hospital.