Whitaker becomes first openly-gay member of Graham council or any local municipal board
Graham’s city council named Bonnie Whitaker – the chairman of the city’s appearance commission and a member of the Historic Resources Commission, two of the city’s advisory committees – to be the newest member of the city council. She will fill out the remaining two years of the city council term of Jennifer Talley, who was elected as the city’s mayor in November.
Whitaker also becomes the first openly-gay member of the Graham city council, as well as the first among any of the local municipalities in Alamance County.
Councilman Ricky Hall nominated Whitaker, which was seconded by councilman Bobby Chin; she was elected 4-0, with the additional votes of Talley and councilman Joey Parsons.
Whitaker, a 25-year U.S. Air Force veteran who retired in 2010 as a Senior Master Sergeant, has lived in Graham for seven years. She said she “likes the small town feel” Graham offers.
She now works as a quality assurance representative for the Defense Contract Management Agency in Greensboro.
According to the questionnaire she filled out, Whitaker shares the current council’s view that the rate of residential development has been “too fast” and that some of that new development has been “too dense.” She noted, “R-7 thru R-15 density neighborhoods next to R-18 neighborhoods detracts from the rural feel of the area. Consider current residents, i.e., what the accesses to the new neighborhoods will be and the amount of increased traffic.”
In fact, asked what action taken by the city council in the past five years she disagrees with most, Whitaker says, “In a nutshell, their unwillingness to take actions to slow the growth rate of Graham.”
Whitaker also voiced opposition to the downtown Master Plan developed by a consultant several years ago. She says she would like to see the plan “abolished.” She adds, “Graham is not Chapel Hill, nor do I wish it to become so.”
Asked specifically about whether downtown parking should be eliminated or minimized in exchange for wider sidewalks, as recommended by the plan, Whitaker expresses opposition. “Parking is already an issue downtown,” she says. “I agree that pedestrians need to be able to negotiate the downtown area safely. Perhaps more crosswalks are needed, but giving up valuable parking is not the answer.”
A Raleigh native, Whitaker graduated from UNC-Wilmington.
Whitaker sat in the audience throughout the remainder of the three hour and 45 minute council meeting. She will be sworn in at the city council’s March meeting on March 8.
Whitaker lives on Greenview Drive in Graham with a woman she describes as her partner of 17 years.
In a separate interview the day after the appointment, Talley emphasized other attributes of Whitaker’s appointment.
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Photos of Whitaker before and after her appointment as Graham’s newest city council member:
“She impressed the heck out of me,” Talley said, referring in particular to a meeting of the Historic Resources Commission last September, when Whitaker spoke up to maintain the commission’s tradition of saying the Pledge of Allegiance and having a moment of silence at the beginning of its meetings.
The city staff person assisting the commission, Mary Faucette, had suggested that the commission might want to revisit the practice of having an invocation, in the form of a moment of silence, and the pledge at the beginning of its monthly meetings.
Though it was her first meeting as a new member of the commission, Whitaker spoke up to suggest the commission continue the tradition that others seemed ready to jettison. The commission ultimately kept the pledge and a moment of silence.
“We need more people who will stand up and speak up,” Talley said.
She characterized Whitaker as having a calm demeanor and being a “natural leader.”
As to Whitaker being a trailblazer for local gay office-holders, Talley added, “I’d hate for people to see her only as gay. I think she’ll do an excellent job.”
ALSO INTERESTED IN CITY COUNCIL SEAT:
The other 11 applicants for the position included four unsuccessful candidates who were on the ballot in November 2021: former city council member Melody Wiggins, who placed third for the two open seats; former city councilman Chip Turner, who had run against Talley for the mayor’s position in November; Edith Montoya, who placed fourth among the seven council candidates on November’s ballot; and Daniel Alvis, who placed fifth among the council candidates in November.
Three businessmen: Adam Miller, who works at Frank’s Jewelry on North Main Street; Alton Eugene “Gene” Myrick, who operates Gene’s Automotive on West Elm Street; and Dean Ward, who operates Triad Turf Management and Jadco container and dumpster service, who is also a long-time member, and current chairman, of the city’s planning and zoning board.
Also applying were Jim Young, who was an unsuccessful candidate for mayor in 2017 against then-mayor Jerry Peterman, although Young was said to have withdrawn his interest in the appointment; Richard Rohrer, who has lived in the city a total of 32 years; and Kyle E. Eckmann.
A 12th candidate, George Graus, submitted his application on January 31, a day after the council’s set deadline of January 30.
See earlier coverage of applicants to fill the Graham’s city council vacancy:
Five more residents, now totaling 11, apply to fill city council vacancy: https://alamancenews.com/five-more-applicants-now-11-total-apply-to-fill-city-council-vacancy/
Four more Graham residents make bid for council appointment: https://alamancenews.com/four-more-graham-residents-make-bid-for-council-appointment/
First two applicants for Graham council post lost bids for a seat in 2021: https://alamancenews.com/first-two-applicants-express-desire-to-be-appointed-to-vacant-graham-city-council-seat/