Montreat candidates answer questions
Election Day is Tuesday, and on the ballot locally are three people vying for two of Montreat’s five board of commissioners seats.
Incumbent Martha Campbell, seeking re-election, is challenged by Bill Gilliland and Kitty Fouche.
The Black Mountain News submitted four questions to each candidate, allowing them a maximum of 200 words per response.
What are your thoughts on the Florida Terrace location for the new town hall?
Campbell: In 2006, the town council identified the need for a new town hall due to inadequate and inappropriate work space for staff. The project was included in town goals and budgets at that time.
More than 20 sites were reviewed. In 2013, the Florida Terrace location was selected. In 2014, responding to citizen concerns, the council paused the process to have architects working on the project evaluate a total of four properties and to engage in citizen discussion before moving ahead with planning.
It is important to me that property considered for our town hall be large enough, within the town limits, properly zoned, and available at a reasonable price.
As a Montreat citizen and member of the town council, I am committed to finding an appropriate location for our new town hall. I continue to engage with other citizens as we await the next step in this process.
Unfortunately, I am unable to comment further due to the lawsuit brought against the town regarding the Florida Terrace location for the new town hall.
Gilliland: The current plans are too big, too costly, are in a poor location and are in the wrong style for Montreat. The majority of those polled were opposed to the current plan.
If the town council had listened to the people, we would have avoided the negative impact it has had on our community.
Kitty Fouche and I will involve the taxpayers in deciding the style, cost and location of a town hall that is appropriate for a small village like Montreat.
Fouche: My thought, along with 79 percent of the Montreat taxpayers who responded to a survey by the town council, is that the Florida Terrace site is unacceptable.
The lot is a steep slope on a narrow street in an area of Montreat that is remote and difficult to reach when pedestrian traffic on Lookout Road is heavy.
The size and cost of the town hall are excessive, and the style presented by the architect is not compatible with Montreat. Since the purchase of the property was not executed properly, the town does not even have a clear title to the property.
Florida Terrace was an unfortunate choice that has caused great division within the community.
What is the best way to address divisions in the community that have arisen around the location of the future town hall?
Campbell: Our community is made up of good people who strive to love their neighbors, whether or not they agree on any particular issue. Unfortunately, over the past two years citizens have not felt heard in the decision-making process of our town government.
I have worked to listen, to be responsive and to build trust among Montreat stakeholders. Within the past 18 months I personally have responded to hundreds of emails and spoken with countless individuals on a one-to-one basis. I will continue to engage in these important conversations.
We serve the needs and expectations of a number of constituencies and institutions. I am committed to open communication through listening and sharing information one-on-one and through more opportunities for meeting and involvement.
I propose we initiate quarterly informal listening sessions and develop additional ways to include seasonal residents and others in discussing facts relevant to current and future issues facing our town. I recommend an update of our Community Comprehensive Planning process beginning in 2016, planning together for our future.
Building trust among Montreat residents involves reaching out to one another, using multiple forms of communication, sharing facts and listening respectfully so that we can move forward as a unified community.
Gilliland: As a businessperson, I believe that we should take a logical approach in finding good solutions. We must decide on a course of action that is acceptable to our citizens who pay the bills.
As I said above, we will listen to citizens, work with the citizens and then make our best decision based on available information. We will not be able to please everyone, but I promise to listen respectfully, communicate with our constituents and work with our constituents to find the best solution.
I believe that by working hard to not just listen, but to really hear what our citizens believe is important, will have a dramatic impact in healing our community.
Fouche: Divisions over the site for the town hall have been widened by the town council’s decision to build a new bridge that is outrageous in both cost and size. The best way to address these divisions is to elect new town council members who will value and listen to their constituents.
In the past 18 months, numerous efforts have been made by citizens to have the town council pursue alternatives to the highly divisive choices they have made and all suggestions have been rejected. Bill Gilliland and I have conducted our campaigns to address the divisions by appealing to all segments of the community.
As members of the town council, Bill and I would be committed to listening and seeking counsel before taking action. It is important that taxpayers’ opinions are valued and their tax dollars used wisely. I am pleased that we have received enthusiastic responses from a wide range of individuals.
One of the positives of this election process has been the interaction of concerned citizens, many who had not known each other before.
What do you think are the two biggest issues, unrelated to the location of the town hall, facing the town of Montreat?
Campbell: Every decision I make as a member of town council is affected by two big issues facing Montreat -safety and taxes.
I am tasked to make decisions that ensure Montreat will continue to be a wonderful place to live, work and visit. I must find responsible ways to pay for town services and infrastructure, keeping taxes as low as possible. One decision that exemplifies my response to these issues is the Texas Road bridge.
Montreat is growing with increased numbers of students, residents, conferees and visitors. Year-round traffic is increasing. Access to homes, some (Montreat) Conference facilities and all of Montreat College requires crossing Flat Creek. Texas Road Bridge was closed due to widespread timber decay. As a commissioner, I understand that multiple avenues for safe traffic flow and access for emergency vehicles are critical for the community.
My commitment to fiscal responsibility involved securing grant funding not only to pay 80 percent of the cost of the bridge but also to add a stone look and secure a commitment to landscape the project with native plants. Montreat taxes will not be raised to accommodate this budgeted project, ensuring that both the issues of safety and fiscal responsibility have been met.
Gilliland: The first is finding a way to solve the bridge problem. The current plan approved by the town council is not satisfactory. After a lengthy study, another site that did not interfere with our only playing field was rated as the number one location.
Then, the council voted to move it to the current site, which will impact our playing field. I am opposed to any plan that affects Welch Field. We need to look hard at the situation and determine if a vehicular bridge is needed, where the location should be, and how much we should invest in it.
There is no “free money,” as the town council calls it. With the so-called “free government money” comes regulations not appropriate for this situation. It is necessary for those who serve the people to make a better decision.
Second, we have too much regulation for a town our size. We need to do a thorough audit of all current ordinances and work hard to simplify them.
Fouche: The decision to build an enormous bridge over our rock-hopping creek has created deep wounds.
Based on the recommendation of the town staff, mayor, the state engineer and a significant number of taxpayers who responded to an informal poll, plans to build a new bridge at Tennessee Road moved forward in 2013.
Then, in 2014, after being warned that a change in plans that would relocate the bridge back to the current site would incur unexpected additional time and cost, the town council scrapped their plans for Tennessee Road and moved the bridge location back to the Texas Road site.
Taxpayers are concerned about the greater than $1 million price tag for this bridge, its blight on the landscape, and its impact on Welch Field.
Taxpayers have been begging for opportunities to be heard and for a more transparent government. The town council members, except for Tim Helms, have dug their heels in and refuse to step back and reconsider unpopular decisions that continue to anger their constituents.
Montreat is a community of intelligent and creative problem-solvers. We need a town council who will tap into such resources and work together to solve all issues.
One of the unique qualities of Montreat is the relationship between the town, the college and the conference center. How would you maintain those relationships, and why are they important to you?
Campbell: Throughout my life, I have been involved with the college, conference center and town. From baptisms and marriages in Gaither Chapel to graduations, several generations of my family have been involved with Montreat College. Generations of us have worked and volunteered with the conference center. Family members served on town boards.
Moving to Montreat enabled me to continue these ties. In addition to the college’s Friends of the Library and Music, I am involved with students, this fall organizing community service projects during new student orientation. I volunteer with the conference center, assist with conferences and promote programs.
I support opportunities to bring these groups together, focusing on shared needs and resources. I was among representatives of the town, college, conference center and cottagers who worked together for months on two separate town ordinance revisions addressing parking and signage needs of each entity. I serve as vice chair of the landcare committee, an eight-member group addressing environmental issues of our community. I facilitate community involvement.
As independent institutions, the college and conference center benefit from services provided by the town. The town, in turn, benefits from the vitality of these integral parts of our community. Working collectively all are strengthened.
Gilliland: The first is to have an attitude of service. The town and its elected officials are by definition public servants. We must serve all the people and entities that we impact, whether or not they pay taxes.
The second is to have open, honest and regular communication between the college, the conference center and the town.
In my years in business, I have found that although all sides may not fully agree on issues, that when all parties have mutual respect, mutual trust and are willing to work hard for solutions acceptable to all sides, great things can happen.
Fouche: An advantage of life in this small community is access to opportunities offered by the conference center and college - concerts, lectures, classes, square dances, worship, tennis, playground, campground, library, craft center, pool, boats, fishing and hiking trails.
The missions of the two institutions should be distinguished from the mission of the town government.
While the college and conference center provide Christian education for college students and thousands of participants in conference center functions, the town is responsible for infrastructure and regulations.
It is obviously in the best interest of the entire community for the town and its two institutions to share a common vision. This can be achieved if there is regular communication among the individuals in position of leadership who share a common vision for the entire community.
As a retired college professor, I enjoyed teaching a class for Montreat College and being a part of that community. As the former volunteer coordinator for the conference center, I got to know many of the “doers” in Montreat.
I value both of these institutions and would like the opportunity to work with their leaders in pursuit of that common vision.
Cast your vote
• Montreat voting is in Anderson Auditorium, 302 Lookout Road.
• Polls are open 6:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m.
• Look for election results Nov. 4 at blackmountainnews.com.