Both candidates in the Rocky Mount City Council Ward 1 race said they hope voters choose them because of their experience and knowledge of the issues facing the ward and the city.
Incumbent Andre Knight, who has served on the City Council since 2003, said he has been instrumental in a variety of issues in the past few years. Some of the issues he said he has led the effort in include revamping the city’s utility customer service guidelines, offsetting utility rate increases, setting aside funds for weatherization improvements, renovating the former Booker T. Washington High School, supporting neighborhood stabilization efforts especially in the inner city and building bus shelters at some of the city’s most used Tar River Transit stops.
“I’m running on a record of things I’ve done that prove that I’ve done a great job,” Knight said.
Challenger John Manley worked for the Rocky Mount Police Department for 32 years and retired in 2011 as police chief, which he said gives him the time to devote to addressing issues within the ward and the city.
“As a council person, I see encouraging businesses to come to Rocky Mount as a daily venture. I’d constantly be out there working with the Carolinas Gateway Partnership and the Chamber of Commerce to show businesses the positive side of Rocky Mount and how locating here would be profitable,” Manley said. “For me, I think you need to have time on your hands as a council member to get up on a daily basis to work for the needs of the community.”
A lack of jobs and economic development are issues that concern both Knight and Manley. Knight said his advocacy for the Crossing at 64 development shows his commitment to economic development, especially in Ward 1.
“Some of the council members didn’t want to fund the infrastructure for that project, and some of us did,” Knight said. “I was a strong voice because I knew how important it was for East Rocky Mount and Ward 1 constituents to have that economic development.”
Manley said focusing on the development of small businesses throughout the city will not only benefit shoppers and employees, but the city’s bottom line, too.
“Having slow small business growth really hurts the city revenue-wise,” Manley said. “I will work hard to make policies that promote businesses coming and locating within the city.”
Encouraging business development also would address the concern about high utility rates, he said. The energy consumption of larger businesses offsets the utility debt burden paid by residential customers, he said.
Manley said he does not support the money the city has spent to intervene in the Duke Energy and Progress Energy merger.
Knight said Manley is not in tune with what the residents want, adding that the benefits will outweigh the cost.
“Just the cries of people’s suffering outweighs what we’ve spent, and that is why we are investing money in challenging the merger,” Knight said. “The citizens have asked us to pursue whatever possible to bring relief, and every council person should support putting our money here because it is where the people want to see it.”
Knight said replacing him as council member would hurt the momentum of the city’s progress in terms of addressing the cost of utilities, housing initiatives and downtown revitalization.
“I know the issues, and I know the community,” Knight said. “We are at a point where we want to see some major issues come forth, like a housing bond, and I want to keep that momentum moving forward.”
Knight said supporting funding to the police department while addressing unemployment rates will help reduce the violence in Rocky Mount.
“As the City Council, we continue to work with nonprofits, schools, the Boys and Girls Club, OIC and other groups to train and educate people as far as employment because a lot of this violence is coming from unemployment and drugs,” Knight said. “People don’t have jobs and money, so they succumb to crime and violence.”
Uniting all of the community – regardless of race – is essential to addressing the violence, Manley said.
“Racism does exist, but it does not have to be on the forefront of every issue. By raising racism with everything that goes wrong, it actually creates greater issues for our community and hurts our growth – it is time for that to end,” Manley said. “I’m here to serve all of Rocky Mount and move it forward together.”
Rocky Mount Mayor David Combs, Councilwoman Lois Watkins and Councilman Tom Rogers are running unopposed in the May 8 election.