There was a packed house Thursday evening at the Old Fort Depot as candidates for the town’s Board of Aldermen answered questions from the public through the Old Fort Community Forum.
The candidates present were Andrew Carlton (who is mayor pro tem), Emmett Lee Carson, Brandon Boan, Manya Mankiewicz and Jerome Effler. Scottie Surrett showed up at the end due to traffic problems, he said, and was allowed to give his name and introduction. Current aldermen Jamie Grindstaff and Jimmie Harris were not present.
Each candidate was given one minute to introduce themselves, and two minutes for each of the seven questions.
The questions asked were:
» What is your vision for the future of Old Fort, and what steps do you plan to take, if elected, to bring that vision to fruition?
» In the past, there has been tension between the Old Fort government and the Old Fort business community. What is your plan to improve relationships between the business community and the local government?
» Community residents have expressed frustration at lack of communication from Old Fort government. What is your response and what are your plans to improve communication?
» The N.C. Main Street & Rural Planning Center presented an Economic Development Assessment Report at the August Town Board Meeting and one of their recommendations was for the Town to collaborate with the Old Fort Forum to develop a five year economic development vision and strategic plan for the Town. Are you willing to do this; and can you name two things that you believe the Town needs to do immediately to attract more businesses I the area?
» What are some of the advantages you see that could result from economic growth in Old Fort and surrounding areas? How would you measure the success of this growth?
» At the town hosted forum, budget concerns were discussed related to infrastructure. Please share your plans to address these concerns.
» What do you see as roles and responsibilities of the Old Fort Board of Aldermen?
“All in all everybody was really happy with the turnout of the participants, but not the candidates,” said Ginger Webb, community engagement project coordinator. “The questions were community generated and the voter engagement committee did review them. There was a feeling from the some of the candidates that increased outreach to the broader community is necessary. Everybody felt energized on the amount of people that turned out, and we will see how that will translated into the election.
Key highlights from the forum included statements that the town needs a manager, branding, strong partnerships with businesses and clear communication.
“I’ve had an ongoing conversation with some about the need for help, restoration and change,” said Boan. “A lot of the answers I hear is ‘I can’t vote.’ A business owner should have a place to express their opinion and voice.”
Mankiewicz, who has a background in marketing and design, said partnerships between local government and business boil down to having strong communication.
“We can’t change the law, but folks who are outside of town limits are welcome to the town meetings,” she said.
In response to the question of measuring success of growth in Old Fort, Effler said with “streets full and businesses thriving… We are not the only small town that has had to turn it around.”
Lifelong Old Fort resident Emmett Carson said he tends to be more abrasive in his answers, but wants what is best for future generations of Old Fort,
“We talk about change, but what are we doing for the youngsters?”
As the only member of the current board at the forum Thursday night, Carlton said he is open and willing to listen to anyone with concerns, suggestions or ideas.
“Old Fort is getting ready to change,” he said. “It’s going to explode.”
Early voting is currently underway for the Old Fort elections from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday until Friday, Nov. 1. There will be not early voting on Saturdays. All of the early voting will take place at the McDowell County Board of Elections’ new office at 2458 N.C. 226 South in Marion, next to Las Salsas Mexican Restaurant. Election Day for the Old Fort race will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 5 at the Old Fort Library. On that day, the polls will be open from 6:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m.
On Saturday, the Old Fort Community Forum is hosting a free Family Fall Festival at the First Baptist Church in Old Fort parking lot from 2-7 p.m.