Smithfield Herald

Election season in Johnston County kicks off

Bobby Bunn files paperwork to run for a seat on the Clayton Town Council.
Bobby Bunn files paperwork to run for a seat on the Clayton Town Council.

Municipal election season in Johnston County is under way. The filing period opened July 5, and by Wednesday, the entries featured many familiar faces, though a few political newcomers could shake things up in towns across the county.

Clayton, Johnston’s largest town, is already facing a heavily contested town council election. As of Wednesday, five candidates had filed for three available seats. Three of them – Bob Satterfield, Michael Grannis and Art Holder – are incumbents. The ballot also has two political newcomers, John McFadden and Bobby Bunn.

McFadden is already deeply involved in the community. The owner of Jewelry Design Studio, he is also vice chairman of the planning committee for Clayton’s National Night Out Against Crime, and he is director of the Millstock Art and Music Festival.

McFadden said he’d like to expand the community’s arts programs and bring more special events to downtown Clayton.

He sees the town’s population booming over the next decade, and he’d like to prepare by improving and expanding the town’s infrastructure. Most notably, he said, the state needs to widen N.C. 42, including the bridge over the Neuse River.

“Eventually, it will need to be addressed,” McFadden said.

Bunn, who works for a maintenance company in Durham, has lived in Clayton for 51 years. His biggest issues, he said, are improving town hall’s responsiveness to citizens and its fiscal prudence.

“I’m not trying to run a negative campaign, but there’s a lot of issues that need to be addressed that no one’s paying attention to,” he said. “I’m looking to bring customer service and professionalism back to town hall.”

A change in Smithfield

Regardless of who wins in November, Smithfield will have a change in leadership. Mayor Daniel Evans has announced that he will not seek re-election. Evans has led the town through some difficult times – an economic recession, a bridge closing that ground business to a near-halt and a pay-raise scandal that cost three employees their jobs.

As of Wednesday, only one candidate, businessman John Lampe, had filed to run for mayor. Lampe, owner of a building-materials company, is not a political newcomer; he previously served eight years on the town council.

Lampe said he had long wanted to run for mayor but only recently found the time. He feels his combination of business and political experience makes him a good candidate.

“As each person brings their own personal set of experiences and skills to their work, I believe my experiences in business and on other boards would be useful to the town,” he wrote in an email while on vacation.

Lampe declined to talk about the pay-raise scandal. “I only know what I have read in the newspaper,” he wrote. “Without knowing all the facts in detail, any comments I would make would be unproductive.”

Lampe focused instead on economic development, saying Smithfield needs to better leverage its advantages – proximity to Raleigh and its status as the county seat. This will be particularly important, he said, amid the ongoing evaporation of the light-manufacturing jobs that once employed many Smithfield residents.

Johnston mayoral races

Elsewhere in Johnston, two mayoral incumbents – Will Massengill of Benson and Cheryl Oliver of Selma – have filed for re-election. As of Wednesday, the only other non-incumbent running for mayor was Kenly Town Council member Larry Smith. David Grady has not filed; he said he’ll have a decision by next week.

Smith said he’d change the way the council runs its meetings; he’d like it to have a more professional approach. He said he wants to make sure council members sticks to their agenda and “dot our i’s and cross our t’s.”

“I guess lackadaisical leadership is OK, but I want to do my best to bring a little bit of professionalism to the office,” Smith said, adding that he credits Grady with bringing the town out of a bad financial situation.

Grady said he’s disappointed with the criticism coming from Smith. He’d like to retire, he said, but he’s not sure about leaving if the next election for council brings a slate of newcomers. That would mean an inexperienced council, which he believes would be bad for the town.

“I’ll be 59 years old in September,” Grady said. “I’m ready to quit, but I’m not ready to quit on Kenly.”