Who's running in Black Mountain? Meet the candidates
With the Nov. 8 election looming ever closer, seven Black Mountain residents are looking to hold office.
Mike Sobol and incumbent Larry Harris are running for mayor while Alice Berry, Rick Earley, Weston Hall, Sonny Moore and incumbent Bill Christy are all vying for two Town Council seats. Vice Mayor Ryan Stone is not running for reelection.
Sobol, a developer of affordable housing, has lived in Black Mountain all his life with the exception of going to school.
Like Sobol, Harris grew up in the town. He left for Appalachian State and to live in Greensboro for three years, but he has been back for 35 years. He has served on several regional boards, including the Land of Sky Regional Council and French Broad River Metropolitan Planning.
Berry is a clinical mental health counselor and has lived in Black Mountain full-time for four years but said she has been a part of the community for longer than she has been living here.
Earley also grew up in Black Mountain and moved back in 2017 after retiring as a national sales manager.
Hall is currently a firefighter and a veteran but also has experience as a senior manager and a coordinator in early childhood development in Uganda. He has lived in Black Mountain for 14 years.
Moore, a resident for 11 years, previously worked for both Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry.
Christy moved to the area in 1995 and spent 27 years in Black Mountain as an attorney.
Sobol, who previously served as mayor, said he is running because he is not happy with the way the town is being run.
“I’m frustrated with what is not being done in this town,” Sobol said. “Specifically, stormwater; the $750,000 we spent on greenways, and we have nothing to show for it; the lack of parking and any vision to help eliminate that; and of course the budget that has gone up.”
On stormwater, Sobol said the most important thing the town needs to do is observe to find where the water is and where it is draining to, as well as to find out the conditions of the lines.
Harris said doing anything with stormwater is expensive and the town is looking for state grants to help fund the projects that are federally mandated.
Last year, the town began charging residents a stormwater utility fee as part of their efforts to be in compliance with federal mandates.
Moore said he is subject to this fee, but that his street does not even have a ditch line in it.
Hall is also concerned about stormwater, noting that he has seen housing developments that were built with no plans for stormwater causing problems for those below the developments.
The growth that brought in these housing developments is something on candidate’s minds.
Earley, who currently serves on the town Planning Board, said he would ask the “tough questions” to ensure people are still able to build homes while also protecting Black Mountain’s infrastructure.
“I really think responsible management of development is significant, I think it’s huge,” Earley said. “We’ve got to protect our neighborhoods, our streams, our natural resources and how we plan to do that now and in the future. It’s really going to shape the way Black Mountain looks 20, 30, 50 years from now.”
Berry said while the town is feeling the strains of growing, so are others in Western North Carolina. Still, Berry said, there are people getting pushed out of Black Mountain because of high rent prices.
She said she would like to see the council work to address affordable housing.
“That requires looking at zoning and how we want to manage growth, making sure that we are creating incentives for affordable housing,” Berry said. “That takes collaboration with the county. I don’t want to pretend that that’s something that the Town Council could solve on its own.”
Hall is also concerned about housing, specifically workforce housing. If elected, he said he wants to work with the town, county and state governments to use land that was absorbed into the women’s prison to build housing and parks.
Moore said when he worked with Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry, he put a lot of his focus on housing, specifically for those with low income. He said he is concerned about housing becoming increasingly scarce with the influx of short-term rentals.
He said while he does not have a problem with those who own property in the town establishing short-term rentals for income, he takes issue with those who are using Black Mountain as a way to profit on a what he called a tourist town.
“I have a problem with that,” Moore said. “I feel like they’re not putting our town first, they’re putting their own personal financial situation first and those are some things I would look into.”
Hall said he believes he can make a difference not only with housing, but with Black Mountain as a whole.
“I don’t just have the words, but I also put it in action,” Hall said. “A lot of people would just say we need this and we need that and we pretty much all say the same thing, but how are you going to get it done? I see the problems and I’m working on the solutions.”
One problem Hall said he sees in paying town employees a living wage. His idea is to give employees step raises where they receive a raise every few years. This would be in contrast to giving raises when the minimum wage goes up, giving those who have been with the town longer better pay than those who have only just been hired.
Christy agreed that it is important for the town to pay a living wage because it makes it easier to retain employees.
“It’s a lot easier to keep employees rather than having to keep training them,” Christy said. “I look forward to seeing what the salary study shows as far as how we’re doing with that, but we’ve made some progress on it in the last year, so I think that’s very important.”
Harris said the pay study should be available for the town council to review by the end of the year. He said he doesn’t know how extensive changes will need to be, but it’s important to work on.
“I think we’re all aware that there’s a labor shortage and it’s not going to get better anytime soon and it’s important for the town to position itself so that we have a very capable workforce in town,” Harris said. “In every department, every job we have, we have to pay attention to paying our employees competitively so that we have people to provide services. It’s not a small thing, it’s pretty important.”
Berry said none of the issues the town faces will be easy, but it is important to look into all of them.
“These are complex issues,” Berry said. “They require a lot of input from the community, creativity. We’re not going to solve them overnight, but we can’t get discouraged by the bigness. We need to keep looking at how we can do our part in Black Mountain to continue to make this a great community to live, raise a family, retire. We’re going to have tourists, but we shouldn’t just cater to tourists. We want to be a great place to visit, but also a great place to be.”