Graham’s city council race pits two veteran councilmen (one a four-year incumbent the other a 12-year former member) against an appointee named last year after then-councilman Jennifer Talley was elevated to the mayor’s office, and a newcomer, both to Graham and to electoral politics.
Seeking election to two, four-year terms are: incumbent councilman Ricky Hall, the city’s mayor pro tem, who was first elected in 2019 after having served 11 years on the planning board, the last two as its chairman; 12-year veteran former councilman Chip Turner, who gave up his council seat in 2021 in order to run for mayor against Talley, a fellow council member who won the post after the retirement of long-time mayor Jerry Peterman who planned to move to Arizona; Bonnie Whitaker, who was appointed to the council to finish out the two years of Talley’s term on the council; and Ryan Kluk, a first-time candidate who says he has lived in Graham for about two years.
[See biographical information on the four council candidates here: https://alamancenews.com/meet-the-graham-city-council-candidates/]
Talley faces no opposition this year in her race for a second, two-year term at the center of the council dais.
There is general agreement among the four on Graham’s tax rate, with all four terming the 45.5 cents per $100 valuation as “about right.” Graham was the only county municipality to enact a so-called “revenue neutral” property tax rate, estimated by the county’s tax administrator to bring in the same amount of revenue as prior to the county’s revaluation.
All four also hope to see the rate “maintained” into future fiscal years.
Kluk, Turner, and Whitaker put a “high” priority on the need to add additional police officers, firefighters, and to build a satellite (second) fire station. Hall rates all three issues as “moderate” priorities.
Hall, Kluk, and Turner rate the possibility of Graham joining the Link Transit bus system as a “low” priority, while Whitaker says it is a “moderate” one.
Kluk, Turner, and Whitaker say that making additions and expansion at Graham Regional Park is a “moderate” priority, while Hall rates is “low.”
All four candidates say Graham does not need to join some other North Carolina cities that have adopted ordinances in recent years that seek to ban discrimination within their jurisdictions based on sexual orientation (i.e., lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people) in public accommodations and employment.
All also say they believe current pay for city council members ($473.84 per month, or about $5,686 annually) and mayor ($771.86, or about $9,262 annually) is an adequate and fair amount, and they would vote to “keep it the same” during their next four years on the council. Whitaker adds, “I would serve for free.”
All candidates believe commercial growth in the city is “too low.”
They are divided over residential and industrial growth. Hall, Kluk, and Turner believe residential growth is “about right,” while Whitaker says it is “too high.”
In terms of industrial growth, Hall, Turner, and Whitaker believe it is “too low,” while Kluk believes it is “about right.”
The issue of the density of new developments also divided candidates. Candidates were asked about the issue of whether some new developments are “too dense,” relative to nearby existing neighborhoods.
Hall and Whitaker are skeptical about density. “More often the proposed developments are too dense and land locked also,” Hall observes. Whitaker says, “Density is a HUGE factor. The council,” she adds, “prior to 2 years ago, paid no attention to those factors (of being in harmony with existing areas, communities).”
Candidates were asked about rezoning issues along Cherry Lane, a bustling area now home to individual residences and several subdivisions, but increasingly a target for industrial development inasmuch as it is on the back side of the North Carolina Commerce Park. They were also asked about tractor trailer traffic along Cherry Lane.
“Zoning in that area should be Conditional Zoning,” Hall says. “In that way there is more control of ensuring harmony between industrial and residential properties.”
“Decisions such as these must consider the impact on the current residents,” says Whitaker. “Traffic, noise and lighting will all have huge impacts. We must be mindful of these things, listen to the residents and try to reduce those impacts.”
Kluk says, “This area brings businesses which in turn brings jobs. An open and honest dialogue between the city and the businesses as well as the residential communities is paramount to sustaining a proper relationship.”
Turner, who worked for the DOT for 30 years, recommends “building an interchange at Cherry Lane” to handle some of the traffic-related issues.
Most candidates (Hall, Kluk, and Turner) are opposed to the idea of renaming the Sesquicentennial Park for Wyatt Outlaw, a black Reconstruction-era figure who was a Republican leader and local lawman who was hung by a white mob. Several years ago, the local NAACP urged that the park be renamed, but the council has shown little interest in the idea.
Among current candidates, only Whitaker supports the concept. Hall, Kluk, and Turner are opposed.
Hall notes that “Private donations, city and county tax dollars paid for Park. Mr. Outlaw should have a State Marker on W. Pine St. for visibility and information.”
Candidates were also asked their views about the Confederate monument on the north side of the courthouse, which has been the subject of some controversy over the past few years.
“While legal authorities generally contend that the city council has no jurisdiction over the statue,” the newspaper’s question asked, “what is your own view on what, if anything, should be done with it?” Most said to leave it, with several noting that, as the newspaper’s question noted, it is largely a county issue, since the monument is on county property (at the Historic Court House).
“Leave it. It’s a legal matter. Nothing can be done by the city,” says Turner.
“This is a moot point,” says Whitaker. Neither the city nor the city council have any jurisdiction over the statue, regardless of the sensitivity that surrounds it.”
The full Graham city council questionnaire is reprinted HERE