October 11, 2012
Anyone hoping to name a clear winner at High Point
's Thursday, Oct. 4 mayoral debate was bound to be disappointed. The candidates were too close on too many issues, and none crashed and burned.High Point
's political spectrum, at least as reflected by its City Council, is narrow. Councilmembers to the extreme left or right don't seem to make it onto the City Council, or perhaps they just don't last long if they do. The meter might wobble, but it always seems to stabilize on center-right.
The fact that High Point
's debates are almost always organized by the Republican Party is telling. High Point
Republican Party Chairman Don Webb was the moderator of Thursday's debate.High Point
has six wards and two at-large seats, in addition to the mayor's chair, and it has been governed for years by Democratic Mayor Becky Smothers and a coalition composed primarily of moderate Republicans. That will change in the November election because Smothers isn't running for reelection as mayor, but the mayoral candidates all said that High Point
's main priority is jobs: bringing businesses to High Point
, making it easier to start small businesses and improving the quality of life in High Point
so that companies and people will want to come there.
The mayoral debate made almost certain what seemed likely from the beginning – that two of the candidates, Tammy Holyfield and Matthew Fowler, are out $96. That's the filing fee for High Point
City Council races.
Fowler – who works for a temp agency in Greensboro but is part owner of an unlicensed real estate rental agency on the side – didn't show up. That raises the odds that he is on the ballot, as some suspected, as a spoiler to draw black votes from Councilmember Bernita Sims, who, if she wins, will be High Point
's first black mayor. Or maybe Fowler just had $96 burning a hole in his pocket.
Holyfield is intelligent, articulate, passionate and shows no signs of knowing how government works. Her answers were larded with business-motivation-speak (logically, since, like High Point
University President Nido Qubein, she is a business motivational speaker).
Holyfield said she was moved to run for mayor by driving her son to school and seeing the pockets of greatness and devastation in High Point
. She also said that she would like to see lower taxes. Beyond that, however, her answers devolved rapidly into "proactive approaches," "working smarter," "performance-management systems," "strategic unified visions" and "organizational strategic processes."
That leaves Councilmembers Sims and Chris Whitley and businessman Coy Williard, the three serious candidates.
Whitley and Sims did predictably well. Whitley has been on the City Council for 19 years; Sims for 10. Both have rotated through committee chairmanships, learned policy, reviewed budgets and represented High Point
on state and national boards. Both know what makes city government tick. They were precise in their knowledge of the City Council's workings, the laws it operates under and its past decisions.
Sims said that, if you haven't sat at the dais, "You don't have the whole picture."
Williard's pitch was his business experience. The president of Williard-Stewart Inc. construction and Marketplace Management Inc., he has belonged to major old-line High Point
business groups and is the candidate of Emerywood. He is also, reputedly, the favored candidate of Qubein, whose university has a Coy O. Williard Stadium.
Williard came across as self-effacing, cheerful and even amusing. He is likable and speaks well.
Williard made no bones about his lack of governmental experience, even joking about it.
After Webb asked the candidates about their lobbying experience in Raleigh and Washington, Williard, following Holyfield, who acknowledged that she had none, said, "I'll have to divert it a little too. I've never been in politics."
Williard had the most concrete plan for what he would do after the election if he won. That 10-point plan involves Williard meeting with the City Council, High Point
City Manager Strib Boynton, the North Carolina Department of Transportation, past presidents of the High Point
Chamber of Commerce, Guilford County School Superintendent Mo Green, schools, churches, ministries and retirement communities to learn what High Point
After all those meetings, Williard said he would form a community advisory group to help decide what High Point
Sims' numbered plan was shorter, but more specific.
She said that the top three things she would address as mayor are streamlining the city's process for approving and giving code approval for new businesses, while trying to retain the city's core small businesses; get rid of blighted neighborhoods, with which High Point
is richly endowed – "That needs to go away;" and increasing the reach of the furniture market through the Internet, reaching business to let them know they don't have to send people to walk into brick-and-mortar buildings. Sims called it, "Getting the low hanging fruit, from the global perspective."
That might be counterproductive when it comes to bringing people and money into High Point
, but at least would keep buyers feeding money into the furniture market.
Whitley pointed out that 2012 is likely to be a sea change for High Point
– it's the first time since 2003 that a sitting mayor hasn't run for reelection, and because of councilmembers stepping down, the City Council will have had two elections in a row with heavy turnover. This year alone, there will be a new mayor, at least one new at-large councilmember, and new councilmembers in Wards 1, 4 and 5. He argued that, under those circumstances, the City Council needs a mayor with experience and institutional memory.
Since 1992, High Point
has had only two mayors, Smothers and Arnold Koonce, who Whitley called a great man and great leader. Whitley cited the extensive work he has done working with both mayors, including recent businesses that have moved to High Point
or expanded their High Point
operations, including Stanley Furniture and Polo Ralph Lauren. He also cited the investments High Point
has made in infrastructure during his tenure that have brought businesses to High Point
Whitley said, "High Point
needs a mayor who has the proven leadership to keep High Point
Webb asked the candidates what one thing they would change that the City Council has done in the last two years, if they don't agree with everything it has done.
Holyfield said she wants to see the city budget based on merit pay, or a "performance-management system."
"I don't agree with maybe some of the spending," she said. "And I don't agree with how funds are stewarded."
Sims said she did not regret any of the City Council's decisions. She said she disagreed with some of them, but supported the City Council's decisions once made. She said that High Point
has been fiscally responsible. She said, "We were prepared for this recession where other people were not."...continued on page 2