4 Board of Aldermen candidates discuss platforms in online Q&A forum
BLACK MOUNTAIN - Four candidates vying for three Board of Aldermen seats participated in a Sept. 21 online forum to discuss their platforms. The forum, held by Indivisible Black Mountain, was moderated by Sarah Vekasi.
Participants included Matthew Turner, Archie Pertiller Jr., Pam King and Doug Hay.
Both Justyn Whitson and Mike Sobol did not participate in the event after decisions to drop their respective bids. Tonia Holderman and Jennifer Willet, who serves along with Pertiller on the board as appointed officials, also did not participate.
The four participants were provided time for opening and closing statements in addition to two-minute response intervals for four separate questions. Each question was formatted to a selection of questions from four themes.
Themes in the question-and-answer forum included general priorities, the local economy, response to the recent appointments of Larry Harris and Pertiller to mayor and alderman, respectively, and growth and livability.
Prior to closing statements, the forum concluded with a yes-or-no segment with participants responding via hand raises to general questions.
“The one thing that I will do, once I get in there, I will listen,” Turner said. “I will figure out a way to help out with those issues.”
Of the issues that Turner spoke about, his main priority is to provide additional transparency with the board. He said he’s hoping to eliminate “back-door” discussions that happen prior to the board’s monthly meetings.
“The back-door stuff that has gone on, it’s legal, but I think as a leader of the community we can’t have it anymore,” he said.
He said if he weren’t elected, he would support “candidates that will stand up and not back down to certain people.”
Turner spoke out against growing real estate and rental prices in the area, saying that a main concern for the town and locals are residents having to leave Black Mountain.
When asked about maintaining economic stability during the pandemic, Turner said he would look forward to providing downtown businesses “everything that they need” to continue.
“I’m all for making sure that downtown businesses are taken care of, because frankly, without those businesses, there is no downtown,” he said.
In response to a scenario where the town is given $1 million to spend on any project it chooses, Turner said he would focus on building a park, a community center and the development of proper stormwater runoff infrastructure.
Archie Pertiller Jr.
“The reason I think that I could play an important role as an alderman is that I am a proven leader,” Pertiller said. “I am a team player regardless of who it may be.”
Pertiller currently serves on the board following his Aug. 10 appointment to Harris’ open seat. His vision for the board is to provide transparency and a collective teamwork mindset to the board.
“I believe we should all work together as a team and collaborate on issues,” he said. “And bring the community in as a whole to let them know what’s happening, let them know what’s going on. Listen to their voices.”
Pertiller said the most urgent problems facing Black Mountain are the lack of stormwater runoff infrastructure, unknowns concerning the development of Blue Ridge Road and its interchange and a lack of parking.
He said the town needed to focus on supporting downtown businesses during the ongoing pandemic. While doing his part, including buying food from local stores and restaurants, he says the board and community could do more.
“We just need to support, and continue to support, our businesses downtown,” Pertiller said. “Shop there as much as possible.”
In order to provide additional transparency, Pertiller said he would be open to speaking with residents whenever they needed him. He says he is also open to the possibility of the town hosting town hall events for residents to voice their opinions.
“I actually own my own company and they’re amazed at when they message or call me at 12 or one o’clock in the morning that I’ll answer my phone,” he said. “I would do the same thing for this community.”
In response to long-term rentals being converted to short-term Airbnb units, Pertiller said its a “sticky situation” to force changes on property owners who pay taxes. Though he believes its a non-issue and not "the town's business," he said he “would be willing to take a look at it.”
Pertiller closed by saying that he wants transparency restored with the board and would support any other candidate looking to do the same.
“I love Black Mountain. I think all the candidates are going to say that, but it’s a really special place,” King said. “I have never lived in a place that was so caring and friendly, and it’s been very good to me and I’m grateful to live here.”
King added onto previous statements from Pertiller and Turner by saying that she supports adding transparency to the board. She says she would “love to be the person that listens” to those who feel they have lost their voice.
“This issue is kind of what brought me into the race, about transparency and people feeling like they just weren’t being heard or engaged by our local Board of Aldermen,” King said.
She added that she supports a “more open process” with public input when the board must appoint an official to a vacant seat and that those appointed should serve until the next election.
King supports the development of “infrastructure that would save the town money in the long run,” including solar panels on all town buildings, improving insulation and upgrading windows to “make them more energy-efficient.”
“I think that would be a wonderful investment … and a wonderful legacy to leave future generations without being burdened with that extensive electricity bill,” King said. “And it’d also decrease our carbon footprint, which is important.”
Complementing this, King said that completing the town’s greenway project is “pretty high” on her list of priorities, saying that “greenways work best when they’re connected.”
Looking forward to future economic development, King said that “it’s real important that we have a broad base of diverse kinds of economic opportunity” in a community that is “heavily reliant on tourism and the hospitality industry.”
This process would include taking advantage of the town’s commerce park and working with the chamber of commerce to promote downtown businesses. Hopefully, she says, this would support locals looking to remain in town.
King supports all candidates aspiring to provide transparency to the board, adding that it should be the town’s top priority.
“I feel like the No. 1 issue … is bringing back trust to our community’s leadership,” she said.
“When I think about the future of Black Mountain … is the future of the home where I’m going to raise my two daughters,” Hay said.
Hay said that the town “is in a critical moment in (its) history” with the ongoing pandemic and its growth and development. “We need a clear outlook on the future” of how the town will handle development and bolster its available resources and opportunities.
This includes completing the town’s greenway project, which Hay says is “a proven way to boost an economy.”
His main concerns for the town include developing the town’s infrastructure, specifically for stormwater runoff and roads, added transparency to the board and investing in downtown businesses.
Hay wants the town to follow the values of or partner with Main Street America, a movement focused on preservation-based economic development and community revitalization. He hopes to work with the chamber of commerce and the town’s beautification committee to promote any available opportunities.
He also wants to ensure that transparency is provided throughout the board and not just for an individual seat.
“When decisions are being made, when there’s a lot of conversations happening before the meeting begins, it’s hard for us to understand what positions that aldermen actually take and what they have and why they make the decisions they make because a lot of that has already been worked out ahead of time,” Hay said.
Hay says he wants the town to be more “proactive” when making decisions, as those decisions influence the town’s future several years ahead. He also supported the development of an ordinance for a “clear process for how we go about making appointments.”
He hopes that the next board will set the town up to “build for a strong future.”
“The decisions we make and the regulations we set right now in regards to stormwater runoff and the development that’s happening now, we won’t really see how that impacts the community for the next 15, 20 or 30 years,” Hay said.