GARNER — At the lone gathering of town council candidates before Tuesday’s election, a glimmer of contrast emerged between the three people vying for two open seats in a race noted by many for its lack of separation among the candidates.
Kathy Behringer, Jeanette Hagwood and Gra Singleton presented themselves to about 20 residents at the event organized by Garner Concerned Citizens United at Rand St. Christian Church, and took questions. It largely morphed into a hybrid of a candidate forum and a public comments section of a Town Council meeting, with residents airing issues regarding various parts of Garner. Hagwood, the lone challenger, used that backdrop to make her first public criticism of the current council.
“I promise never to just pass it on (to someone else). What’s taken so long?” she said. “It’s time. We need to build up the relationships with the other elected officials. I will be a very loud advocate.”
She made the comment in response to questions regarding Timber Drive’s intersections with Vandora Springs and Aversboro roads and efforts to advocate to Wake County Schools on behalf of Garner.
“Let’s try a little new leadership,” she said.
Two-term council member Kathy Behringer thanked people for airing their concerns and invited them to continue to do so at council meetings. She and five-term incumbent Singleton noted sparse public attendance and comment at town council meetings. Between that the sheer number of things to attend to, she said sometimes quick responses prove difficult.
“It’s not always neglect; it’s not knowing. And if they don’t get heard the first time, instead of getting upset, taking it personally, come back, come back, come back, and if you come back enough, something is going to get done,“ said Behringer, who runs a Tupperware business. “There’s an awful lot of work to be done. And they don’t see that. I didn’t see it until I was on the council.”
Singleton, who owns a communications company, promoted some of the work council had done during his speech to the audience. He in particular cited increasing the commercial share of the tax base, taking the burden off the residential taxpayers. Coming development at White Oak Crossing and the prospective sale and redevelopment at the ConAgra site will help with that, he said.
“When I started back in 1993 it was 80 percent residential, 20 commercial. We’ve gotten it to 60-40, our goal is to get to at least 50-50,” Singleton said. “As Mrs. Behringer said the ideal situation would be to switch it to 40-60.”
He also talked about the bond projects. During her speech, Hagwood had continued to position herself as a fiscal conservative. She said “some things might have to wait” while noting public safety – nearly 40 percent of the town budget between police and fire – was not one of those things.
She expressed concern that the police station had been presented by architects as over-budget as well.
“If you don’t have it, you can’t spend it, and you can only borrow so much,” she said.
Singleton resisted the suggestion that the council was letting overages happen right off the bat on bond projects.
“Mrs. Hagwood brought up a good point, that it came in at $4.9 (million) instead of 4.5. It’s 4.5,” Singleton said, noting that the council made it clear that the overage wouldn’t be allowed and citing parts of the projects already falling on the cutting room floor. “The architects understand it will be $4.5 (million).”
Much of the meeting centered around various concerns from citizens. They ranged from drainage problems and street-light concerns to questions about various bond projects (planned and needed), and whether there were enough activities for youth in the area. Some questions had easy answers, like one about when more nice sit-down restaurants would come to Garner (Singleton said announcements would come within weeks about restaurants to be built at White Oak Crossing).
As for other concerns, candidates encouraged bringing the ideas to council meetings or using the Garner Info complaint submission app so they could be put on record.
None of the challenges were specific to a particular candidate. So although the challenger did challenge the town council, the race remains one largely predicated on personal preference of the personalities involved -- and whether voters decide to bring in new blood.
“I think we have three good candidates running. It’s too bad we only have two seats available. I’d like to see all three of them win,” said meeting attendee Bruce Andrews, who has been helping the town administer the ConAgra property as a director for the Garner Development Corporation.
Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland