Incumbent candidates weigh issues

by Cole Dittmer and Sam Wilson
Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Kevin OíGrady

city council candidate, Peace Corps volunteer

What do you see as the biggest issues facing the city?†

The big unknown is what the impacts will be of the cutbacks at the federal and state level because a great deal of what we do at the local level depends on grants from above and they are cutting grants. They are cutting funding and canceling programs that I think our local residents will want to see continued. We are going to have to make some very difficult choices over the next four years on whether we continue programs or cut them.†

We had one example already when the DA came to us because the DUI court was cut. He found a way to get his prosecutor funded I think through the county and he came to us and said he needed a civilian coordinator, and he asked us to fund it for a year. DUI is a big issue in this area and we elected to fund that for one year. That is just an example and the first of many.

What needs to be done to reduce gang violence that is not already being done?†

We have given the police chief everything he says he needs. I have my fingers crossed that it is going to be enough for the enforcement aspect of it but my analogy is that there is this big pot boiling and the chief is holding the top down now with his extra forces; but if we donít turn the fire off it is going to boil over again. So I think we need to address, in the upcoming budget, how we can assist social service organizations that impact the underlying cause of gang participation and ultimately gang violence.†

DREAMS is a great example, the city has supported them in the past, they provided the facility for them, they provided the community development block grant to be able to rehabilitate the facility, and that program actually goes out and recruits young children in the inner city before the gangs are recruiting them and tries to redirect them to pursuits that give them a sense of worth so they donít seek gang participation. But we need to improve the schools, we have to get these kids reading so they feel they have a chance at success. We need to find them some skills; we used to have a youth build program here, which I thought was a great program, but somehow it dissolved and I donít even know what happened to it. There have been, in the past, private organizations and we provide a little bit of funding to them and we expect them to go out and find support. And most of them do that, but I think we are going to have to support them a little bit more, especially now, to address this problem. And also we may have to change the mix of them so we get more that actually deal with the inner city problem.†

Are there any specific policy initiatives you hope to address if you are elected again?

I want to get a significant green space on the river. I think the Azalea Festival last year showed us, when they drew 15,000 people over two nights and had them standing in a parking lot, that we should have a higher quality event space than a parking lot.†

Do you think there is any area of overspending in the budget you would cut?†

We keep the budget pretty tight.†

We have generally come in under budget every year and usually at the end of the year we end up putting money back into the general fund. That is a pretty good indicator that we are pretty tight on the budget and hopefully that will continue.†

Our social service organizations have to go through a pretty rigorous examination every two years and have to demonstrate their worth to the city. We are thinking of a similar type process for the general economic development organizations, which also includes some events we support, to see whether they are producing anything of benefit to the taxpayers of the city so we can at least feel comfortable that the money is being well spent. That could be an area where you might see some changes.†

How do you think the city and the county can continue to work more collaboratively?†

We do a lot of things to work together; people donít realize how often we do. Besides the fire department where we have automatic aid and they are supporting each other and extending their scope and helping us make our four-minute response time, the police chief and the sheriff have a very good working relationship but it goes beyond that. Olsen Park is a joint effort, Althea Gibson at Empie Park was a joint effort. We have others where we work together with the county where it makes sense.†

The concern I have is in making long term commitments because, as we saw with WAVE this year, we had a change in philosophy at the county position. It is simple as that, they have a different philosophy than the previous commissioners had and yanked the funding out of WAVE. Public transportation is a long-term investment, busses last 18 years, maintenance facilities last 30 years. You have got to make long-term commitments to it and if we are going to have consolidated efforts you have to match your commitment to the type of commitment it is. To have consolidation on these types of items we are going to have to have some types of government agreements that ensure that a change in political viewpoint doesnít change the commitment.

If you are not elected how would you continue to serve Wilmington?†

I do have volunteer work that I will undoubtedly continue. I have been the local coordinator for AARP. We have been doing tax returns ó did 1,000 last year ó and helped a lot of people out. Our average income is $22,000 and that is the average of all the thousands we serve. About 35 percent of our tax returns are people over 60 Ö and this will be our ninth year.†

What is one thing people donít know about you?†

In 1970-1972 I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Asia. I worked with agricultural cooperatives helping farmers learn how to plant rice twice a year instead of once. It was part of the Green Revolution, which really changed all of Asia from being in famine most of the time to being self-sustaining in food. It was a great social success for the world and I had a little part in it and today I can still speak Malay.†

ó Cole Dittmer


Charlie Rivenbark

city council candidate, tap dancer and
Vietnam vet

What do you see as the biggest issues facing the city?†

The same three or four issues are always at the top no matter what year it is and two years from now it will probably be the same. One is certainly crime; every year it is maybe not the top thing but in the top four. And then there is traffic, how to handle the roads. We have also talked about annexation versus consolidation; and now with the types of annexation we had been practicing off the table, consolidating some of the services is being talked about.†

What needs to be done to reduce gang violence that is not already being done?†

The unemployment rate is somewhere near 20 percent in our area and among certain classes of people it is probably higher than that; and people tend to turn to crime. Until this spike, we took a lot of gang bangers off the street and now there appears to be some kind of power struggle going on against each other; so we have had a noticeable spike. Gang activity is not unique to our area. Property crime, theft, burglary, I think they are always going to be there but I think all you can do is arrest them, get them off the street and trust that the courts will keep them there.†

Everybody talks about getting the children at a young age. And I am not so sure that is a part of the solution but our chief has come to us on many occasions asking for this or that; and this council I have served on has never said no. If you have more of a police presence it is going to deter crime but some of these people are just mad dogs, they are just mean and have no fear or respect for law enforcement or laws and you have to be brutal to them.†

Creekwood, bless their hearts, there are a lot of fine folks out there trying to raise their children in a less-than-perfect situation; you have got people out there just randomly firing into apartments and buildings. That is just no way to live.

Are there any specific policy initiatives you hope to address if you are elected again?

For the next 15-20 years we are going to have more unprecedented growth; and this council appointed a 15-person committee to put together a new comprehensive plan for growth that will guide us through the next couple decades.†

Finishing our cross-city trail is important. Getting the convention center hotel is important. But as far as new initiatives, we will have enough things coming at us that we will need to react to and be proactive about, I donít have any one item.†

I would like to see us make crossing College Road as safe as possible, whether that be a skywalk or better pedestrian or bike access it matters not to me. I just donít want to see any more children or adults hit. That is a busy, busy area and we have created a lot of multi-family zones across that street and we have created a problem.

Do you think there is any area of overspending in the budget you would cut?†

No I donít. I challenge anyone to look and find fat. One of the things I am going to be really sensitive to, is we need to take a hard look at our pay plan for our employees, particularly those in the public safety sector. We canít continue to have the turnover. It costs money to train these people and then when they come aboard and have an opportunity to go two cities away or a state away and make 20-30 percent more money, we have to fix that.†

How do you think the city and the county can continue to work more collaboratively?†

Fire service is one that really stands out to me, I think we would be better off with a countywide fire service that is funded with a fire district tax, much like the county does theirs now.†

Parks and recreation, Iíd like to see the city take all of that because I think we do an excellent job with our parks and recreation.†

If you are not elected how would you continue to serve Wilmington?†

I donít think about losing the election but I think about when it is over; Iím finishing up my 12th year now. I would miss it, I missed it the last time I left council and got involved in the Azalea Festival for eight years.†

What is one thing people donít know about you?†

I took tap dancing when I was a kid. I can do a little soft shoe. That was back in the late 1950s and early 1960s. And I am an Army Vietnam veteran.†

ó Cole Dittmer


Earl Sheridan

city council candidate, quotes Flip Wilson

What do you see as the largest issues currently facing the city?

Providing additional economic development and jobs for our city; I think weíve made some progress, particularly with Castle Branch and nCino bringing jobs to our area, and I think we need companies that provide a diversity of jobs at various levels. I think economic development will help us also deal with crime issues. If people have job opportunities I think itís less likely they will be engaged in that kind of activity.

What are some specific policy initiatives you would champion if reelected?

We used to have a staff person in the city that was dedicated to economic development. I wouldnít mind getting someone like that again. And itís indirect, but amenities like bike paths, parks and the arts help to draw companies to a city. I think those are things that can help us.

I think weíve done a good job of trying to refurbish our streets and sidewalks Ö if thereís additional park land that we can acquire Iíd be interested in looking at that. Iíd like to get the second access into the Love Grove area. We had an affordable housing summit in September, and Iíd like to see what can be done in order to get affordable housing.†

Do you believe there is any place in the city budget that needs trimming?

I think our city budget is pretty trim. We had to trim it when there was the tax error by the county a few years ago and it had to be trimmed again during the recession.

How can the relationship between the city and county governments be improved?

I think it has been improving. We both approved the idea for the incentives for a couple of companies that were coming here. We have a relationship with the county where some of the fire protection is concerned in some of the outlying areas. Ö

I know what area thatís been a little frayed is with WAVE because the county had cut some funding to them and the city has been a big funder of WAVE. Weíve been working on that and I think we can find ways there of coming together to make sure we continue to have good mass transit in our area.

What needs to be done to address gang violence that is not being done now?

Gang violence is a large issue. Government doesnít have all the answers, and police donít have all the answers. Itís a community issue. As you know, weíve just voted for $142,000 to the police for some expansions in enforcement. Ö Another thing, and of course city council does this, is supporting some of those nonprofits and social service agencies like DREAMS and LINC and other types of agencies that might prevent somebody from being involved in a life of crime.

The police chief said one of the key things, when he came before council, was recidivism, where people have gotten out of prison and get back into trouble. Agencies like LINC deal specifically with that kind of thing. So looking at some of the nonprofit agencies and perhaps giving more aid to them ó thatís one of the smallest parts of our budgets and I see that as crime prevention. It might be possible to also expand some of what the Blue Ribbon Commission is doing on the north side of town; try to utilize that in other parts of the city as well. Ö Itís going to take not just the city and not just the police but parents, ministers, school officials [and] educators; all should have a hand in dealing with that particular issue.

How will you continue to serve Wilmington if you are not elected?

Iím still on some community boards and I would probably continue to be on those and maybe someone would ask me to be on some other boards. Iíve been active on community and nonprofit boards since Iíve been in town and I would like to continue to do that.

What donít people know about you?

I donít think there are any secrets. Itís like the old Flip Wilson used to say: ĎWhat you see is what you get.í

ó Sam Wilson †


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