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Three seek Ward 3 seat

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From Staff Reports

Sunday, September 1, 2019

A city councilman appointed to fill an unexpired term is facing two challengers in Ward 3.

Nellene Richardson and Gwen Wilkins are each seeking to unseat Councilman Richard Joyner in the Oct. 8 municipal election.

Joyner, 65, replaced former Councilman Lamont Wiggins after he resigned when he was named to be a District Court judge in 2018. Joyner is a pastor who attended Shaw University Divinity School. He is the founder of the Conetoe Family Life Center and a chaplain at Nash UNC Health Care.

Richardson, 60, is a behavior health employment specialist with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s degree in human services from Argosy University and is working on a doctorate in psychology. She has four children, 15 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Wilkins, 63, is a former first vice president of the state Democratic Party and retired from the aerospace industry. She has a bachelor’s degree in justice studies from N.C. Wesleyan College. She has two daughters and five grandchildren.

Shortly after the candidate filing period ended, the Telegram emailed a questionnaire to all of the candidates for City Council. Here are the responses from Joyner, Richardson and Wilkins:

Why are you running for City Council? What do you hope to accomplish?

Joyner: Things started that I want to strengthen — increasing home ownership and equity; uniting faith community and community organizations to better serve community needs; working to reduce crime and support families of victims and families of those committing crimes to reduce crime and violence; and working to serve both neighborhoods and Rocky Mount as a whole.

Richardson: I am running for City Council because I live in a community where my Ward 3 encompasses a large portion of Rocky Mount but is unserved. My community has vacant, rundown and abandoned houses in a large portion of it. Landlords that have people living in substandard housing. There are areas of Ward 3 where crime spreads throughout many parts of my ward. Most of the people in my ward are physically or mentally struggling to survive; though there are lots of hard-working people like myself in this ward, many believe that their voices do not matter. I plan to be the voice of my community and listen to what people in our community have to say, not make decisions for them without their input.

I hope to accomplish an end to the violence by getting our youth things to do: youth events, youth involvement in the community and asking community churches and other community youth agencies to assist in creating a comprehensive youth plan that is free to all youth to better their educational skills and goals. I plan to work with seniors to make their latter years better by having a committee that helps seniors in need or just in want of companionship. I want to address and really work on the economical and affordable housing unbalance that is occurring in my community. I want to seek out all the residents in our ward that need jobs and help finding jobs and/or getting people trained to work.

There is so much I want to bring to my community but safety, housing, healthy food and economical increase for the community are the main things I want to focus on first.

Wilkins: I am running because I believe I am the strong, determined person that is needed to fight for safer neighborhoods, improved housing, business development, jobs and who will work to make the division in our city a thing of the past. I am the one who will ask the hard questions, do the homework and stand up for what is right. Residents deserve a representative who will represent them with dignity and respect. I will be that representative. Having lived in Ward 3 since December 1999, I will work together with residents to make a difference.

I want to work to reduce the crime in our city; build affordable housing, particularly in the underserved and neglected areas of Ward 3; build sidewalks in our neighborhoods; make our parks more conducive and safer for families; (and) bring more business/industry in hopes of bringing jobs to Ward 3 and our city. I would like to introduce a “Council Visit,” consisting of all council members visiting the seven wards once a year as a “team” to see first-hand the needs/accomplishments of each ward.

What sets you apart from other candidates?

Joyner: Experience with community organizing and development and working in ward from 1999; leadership experience with the faith community and with community-based organizations and organizing grassroots community efforts to accomplish big tasks.

Richardson: I am and have been focused on the community for years in what many call the rough side of town; Branch Street is where I live. I have given Christmas, Thanksgiving and school giveaways and feed my community effortlessly because it has been an honor to see the smiles on their faces. My caring spirit and loving kindness set me apart from the others. I am not just working hard in the community to win an election, I work in my community as a labor of love and to improve the environment in which I live in.

My community taught me that everyone matters; no matter how low we live or how downward life has taken us, we can recover. I talk to my community about my life and what I had to do to change a lifestyle that had only several ways as an outcome: jail, institution or death. I come from the streets, so I believe what God did for me, He will do for others. I work hard trying to show my community there is another way and I am willing to show them the way because someone invested the time in me, so who am I not to do the same? Helping people be their best is an honor for me and I work hard effortlessly — it is a way of life helping others.

Wilkins: My leadership experience sets me apart. Having been second in charge in this state for my political party, a county/district chair, on the state and city MLK Jr. Commission, Utility Review Board, PTA president, district president of the Congress of Parents & Teachers and working for four Fortune 500 companies in my lifetime, I learned how to negotiate, research, strategize, compromise and analyze; yet it was everyday life that taught me humility and compassion.

I will not “stutter” nor hesitate when it comes to being a strong voice for Ward 3. I believe, as my pastor preached recently, “Everybody is God’s somebody.”

What is the greatest challenge facing a) Rocky Mount and b) your ward and how do you propose to fix it?

Joyner: A) The racial divide that results in a geographical divide (distressed neighborhoods and flourishing neighborhoods; north of the river and south of the river; and the Nash/Edgecombe county line) and inequity in access to resources and amenities for quality of life; willingness to acknowledge the past and present impact of racial segregation on that current and continuing divide. To fix, (we need an) honest and transparent dialogue; sharing of resources, access and equity.

B) The loss of homeownership and equity in homeownership and lack of sufficient community and economic development; crime and violence; unaddressed dilapidated and abandoned commercial and industrial buildings; inadequate housing; lack of access to fresh and affordable foods and quality of life resources. To fix, implement city plans and policies to address fair housing and 14 distressed neighborhoods (identify which ones are in Ward 3); urgently increase and improve neighborhood partnerships with police and other agencies involved in crime and violence prevention including faith organizations on a block and small community basis; strengthen community organizations to focus on home ownership and equity and get needed training and resources to stabilize (the) community with more adequate housing, services and jobs; implement city plans to eliminate the blight of dilapidated commercial buildings.

Richardson: The changes in our city and the fear that many people feel that they are being left behind. Fear has started many flames within the city; racial, classes or level of economical standings, political division and more; but I believe that if we put more effort in working together than fighting over things we cannot change like color and remember that under the skin we are all the same. If we remember we have come a long way from past years of our fathers and see each other as human beings worthy to live together in decent and safe environments. The greatest challenge in my ward is safety; everything else is and can be fixed but the deaths cannot be overlooked nor the crimes forever coming to justice. Most of all jobs, education, better housing, housing and accountability. Accountability, transparency and caring for our wellbeing. I will have an office within the community that I can be touchable and available to the community that I serve — yes, serve.

Wilkins: Reducing the crime in our city and ending the racial divide I see as our greatest challenges, right now. “A house divided cannot stand.” The longer we continue to attack and degrade others, the longer shootings, murders and other crimes infect our area, the longer it will take our city to “rise” again.

The greatest challenge facing Ward 3 is crime, dilapidated/boarded up/abandoned housing and a lack of jobs/businesses in the ward. We must first address the crime in Ward 3 by working with law enforcement agencies and community advocates/residents and identifying those responsible for perpetrating crime. Form a task force to work with Community Code, landlords, owners of dilapidated/abandoned houses and residents to improve our neighborhoods; then work with the Chamber and Carolina Gateway Partnership to present plans to bring business and industry to a new, improved and safer Ward 3. We must be relentless.

What do you enjoy most about your ward?

Joyner: People, engaged communities and families that have a hunger to work together and build Ward 3.

Richardson: I enjoy the people. As I meet them and really get to know them, I meet me over and over again. I believe that no matter how some of my neighbors look down or people think of them as a problem they are still some of the most heart-filled persons I know. This is a true story: I moved back in the community after moving away, got a house, set it up to move in the day before it was broken into. They took four TVs and other things of value. The police department worked with me and a detective brought three TVs back. I started feeding the community and most of my other items came back.

I am known as “mom” in the neighborhood because if there is an event going on in my community, normally it is me. Whatever I am doing I go to them first because caring goes a long way. My community not only enjoys my events, many will help. The joy of my community is that no matter what is perceived, we look out for each other once we know each other.

Wilkins: Without a doubt, it is the people I enjoy the most. They have been supportive and welcoming to me in my visits with them. They were enjoyable to speak with, honest and have given it to me straight. They want the crime to stop and want neighborhoods conducive to a peaceful, thriving and family-oriented environment. They want businesses to come and bring jobs so they can continue to provide for their family. Ward 3 may be split between Edgecombe and Nash counties, but we are all on the same page.

How do you think the city of Rocky Mount can improve the quality of life for its current citizens, those who are moving here and those who visit?

Joyner: Address disparity in economic and quality of life resources in the distressed neighborhoods, access through the city to communication and community involvement for every citizen, continue to develop and connect the exciting tourism attractions and a visitor-oriented agenda and calendar.

Richardson: Helping all, equality for all and protecting thoughts within the city at all cost. Safety first. Better housing for all. Jobs and training. Jobs for people with felonies.

Wilkins: I have found city employees to be helpful and accommodating to its citizens and I feel certain that spills over to visitors as well. I do believe the city could improve the quality of life by reducing crime. Many residents have told me they do not go out at night for fear of being a victim. This should not be the case. Making our city secure for its residents and visitors must be a priority. Improving our school scores and touting our nationally credited senior center will make our city more enticing to families and retirees.

Former longtime department head Rich Worsinger told the council if they didn’t fix the city’s water and waste system infrastructure that Rocky Mount would be the next Flint, Mich. How will you handle this possible problem?

Joyner: Fortunately, here in the great City of Rocky Mount, this isn’t a potential or current problem. Last Monday evening, the public and City Council heard from our Director of Utilities Brenton Bent as he explained the current state of our water system infrastructure. He shared infrastructure improvements that have been consistently made along with current and upcoming system upgrades. The city’s five-year Capital Improvement Program has and will continue to fund the infrastructure needs of our system. In addition, City Council will continue to work with our city manager and identify additional options should the need arise.

I am proud of the city’s water treatment methods and the proactive steps taken to exceed federal regulatory compliance standards. We are poised to meet the needs of future growth in our city all due to our fine staff and their commitment to supply clean, safe drinking water to all residents and business owners. With our continued compliance, I am well-assured that we will keep our drinking water clean and our community safe.

Richardson: Mr. Rich Worsinger asked the council to fix the infrastructure of the city’s water and waste system. In handling the problem, first I would investigate to see if there is a problem with our system. I don’t like elaborating on things I don’t know are true or not without knowing for sure. I researched what happened in Flint, Mich., and it was horrible. A dozen deaths, 87 sick in 16 months in 2014 to 2015. Unfortunately, I am unable to answer this question properly.

Wilkins: First, I would form a task force consisting of three council members, a state representative from the Water Resources Dept of the N.C. Division of Environmental Quality and a resident. Secondly, we would request and review all files pertaining to the city’s water and waste infrastructure. Third, we would determine if, in fact, there is $62 million being hidden that is not being used to repair our water system. Fourth, should we find Mr. Worsinger’s concerns to be valid, we would move immediately to fix and repair the water system. Lastly, we would release the findings to the public.

How do you envision the future of Rocky Mount over the next few years?

Joyner: Thriving conscious entrance into eastern North Carolina, corridor for tourism, economic development, fair and exciting livable communities for singles and families, with great access to education, health care and jobs.

Richardson: I see Rocky Mount as a place where people will desire to live, raise their children and spend the rest of their lives. A place that many years ago drew a city girl to raise her children, a safe place; that girl was me. My love for Rocky Mount envisions this place as a cornerstone for all to see how loving and caring we really are. I believe that our city will continue to grow because our city government has worked effortlessly to bring businesses back in our city. I envision jobs for all and competitive salaries.

I envision Rocky Mount as being not just the city on the rise but the city that has grown to great heights.

Wilkins: I envision leaders on our City Council working together to ensure there are no underserved areas of our city. I envision business and industry returning, a low unemployment rate, low crime rate, children enjoying learning at our schools and playing together regardless of race or socio-economic lifestyle, thriving neighborhoods and parks, a bustling downtown and a sense of community commitment that engulfs us all.

It will take all of us working together to make this a reality. I believe we can do it.

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