October 18, 2012
The race for the Ward 4 seat on the High Point
City Council has produced two rather similar candidates, Brett Moore and Jay Wagner. Both are young. Both are attorneys. Both are previous City Council candidates and both base their campaigns largely on reducing taxes.
Ward 4 Councilmember A.B. Henley decided not to run for reelection. Moore had already filed to run against Henley. Wagner, a friend of Henley, had filed to run in the increasingly crowded at-large race but changed his filing to run in Ward 4 after Henley withdrew.
Wagner in 2010 ran unsuccessfully for mayor against High Pointe Mayor Becky Smothers, getting 36 percent of the vote to Smothers' 55 percent.
Moore (no relation to At-large Councilmember Britt Moore), while still in college in 2005, ran against Ward 5 Councilmember Chris Whitley and won 46 percent of the vote to Whitley's 54 percent. Since then, Moore has graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Elon Law School and has been an attorney in private practice for two years.
Wagner has an edge on Moore in name recognition, having run at-large for mayor in the last election and having very visible positions as vice chairman of the High Point
City Project and chairman of the Uptowne High Point
Moore is credited with running a strong ground campaign in 2005, and said he is doing the same this year. Moore obviously has a good grip on the makeup of the ward, reeling off an in-depth analysis of it without taking time to catch his breath. His analysis is useful in understanding Ward 4.
"There's a lot of diversity in Ward 4 now," Moore said. "There's Emerywood. There's the Oakview neighborhood, which is good working people who have owned their own homes for a good while. And then there's the Laurel Oaks area of Davidson County, which is in High Point
. Those are younger people who are mostly just starting out in their careers. And a lot of Main Street – the commercial area – is in Ward 4. You've got the hospital and the library. Some of those areas are doing well. Some are not doing well. Main Street used to be a full and bustling place. Now there are a lot of empty buildings. Ward 4 has not only a diversity of people but a diversity of businesses as well."
Ward 4 contains most of Emerywood – but Emerywood makes up only about a third of the ward.
Wagner, although he is most strongly associated with Uptowne – the recently renamed commercial stretch of North Main Street between State and Ray avenues – also said he is paying attention to the entire ward. He said he has gone through 6,000 door-hangers in his walking and driving trips around Ward 4.
"My main focus is going to continue to be to continue to support business and redevelopment for Uptowne," Wagner said. "That's going to help a lot of folks. But I've walked or driven through every area in this ward, and I think there are some areas that need some cleanup and redevelopment, and I would like to see that."
Like most City Council candidates this year, Wagner and Moore say that, if elected, they will first turn their attention to reducing the cost of government. Current city councilmembers have said that they haven't had one person tell them they want services limited in order to cut taxes, but most of the candidates aren't buying it. Moore, for example, said implementing much of the High Point
Core City Plan may have to wait.
"There's plenty of things that would be great to do as a city," Moore said. "The unfortunate thing is that with the economy, it's nearly impossible to do everything we want to do by funding them at once. That's not the will of the people of High Point
, who find their taxes unacceptably high. That doesn't mean these aren't worthwhile projects, or that they shouldn't be done, but it means they can't be done without economic improvement over all."
Moore barely mentioned Wagner, except to acknowledge that Wagner has strong name recognition, but he did attack Wagner on fiscal responsibility.
"He wants to lower taxes for small businesses in High Point
and fund the High Point
City Project," Moore said. "Those things may not necessarily coincide with lowering the city's taxes."
The High Point
City Project – ostensibly a public-private partnership set up by the City Council to revitalize High Point
's old neighborhoods – gets most of its funding from the city, although it does raise some money. Most of its budget goes to pay the salary of City Project Executive Director Wendy Fuscoe, a planner and engineer.
At a Thursday, Oct. 4 High Point
mayoral debate, Ward 5 Councilmember and mayoral candidate Chris Whitley said the City Project should be moved off the city budget along with other nonprofit organizations. Wagner disagreed, saying the City Project is worth funding.
"I think that's incredibly short-sighted," he said. "I think that what he's saying is that you should defund a group that was set up by council – with him voting in favor, by the way. The City Project was created to enact the Core City Plan, which is city policy. It was created by City Council to do a job for the City Council. To do that and not give them the tools to do the job is not just short-sighted – it's wrong."
Moore said he would save money by limiting city purchasing, limiting funding for nonprofits and finding line items in the city budget that should have already been cut. He said, "All those things put together, you could actually find a good percentage cut of the budget, and it wouldn't be catastrophic to us."
Moore also said High Point
should have long ago paid off the debt of High Point
Electric, the city-owned electric company.
"We've rolled it over at least once or twice in years past," he said. "If we had it paid off now, electric rates would clearly be cheaper."
The City Project aside, Wagner said he, too, would cut funding for outside agencies – although his definition of a group whose funding should be cut was less expansive than Moore's. Wagner said he would cut funding for organizations that do not serve a strategic city goal or increase the quality of life in High Point
He said the city should continue to fund the High Point
Economic Development Corporation, the City Project and organizations that provide services such as homeless shelters that the city does not provide.
"Most of those outside agencies have some kind of quality of life function or economic growth function," he said. "If they don't, we probably ought not to be giving them money. If I can find it in the phone book being done by somebody else, I don't think government should do it, but there may be times when government can do something more efficiently."
As neither Wagner nor Moore have experience in government, each relied on his outside experience as a qualification for the Ward 4 seat.
For Moore, it was his experience as a lawyer – and, unusually, not because that gives him knowledge of the law.
"It's because I am a representative for every one of my clients," Moore said. "They tell me what they want, and I accomplish every one of their goals for them. It's a very similar function. You have citizens who tell you what they want and you try to accomplish their goals. You have inside information they don't have in both roles."...continued on page 2