Differences between candidates emerge during forum
U.S. 74 creates “a massive hole in our town,” Chris Chopelas told an audience Monday night, Oct. 17, at Sun Valley High School. “Information stops there.”
“When you live on our side of 74, you do feel like you don’t have a voice, that you’re not heard,” added David Cohn, a Bonterra resident sitting on the auditorium stage to Chopelas’ right.
But two seats to Cohn’s left, fellow Indian Trail council candidate Ash Minor immediately pointed to sidewalk, crosswalk and bike lane projects for Bonterra, Fieldstone Farm and other communities north of U.S. 74.
And Indian Trail council member Roger Stanton and Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Goodall, who’s running for mayor, said the town has spent more in recent years on projects north of U.S. 74 than south of the thoroughfare.
Nonetheless, no one disputed that most members of the current town board live in the southwest sector of Indian Trail. And during a two-hour forum featuring nine candidates for Indian Trail mayor and town council, one issue most clearly divided the candidates: Should the town switch to district representation on the town council to guarantee residents from all parts of Indian Trail a place at the table?
Newcomer Mike Sailors joined Minor, Goodall and Stanton in opposing district representation. Sailors pointed out that growth from Charlotte and Weddington has driven the growth south of U.S. 74, and if a future Monroe Bypass suddenly boosts the population north of the highway, “do you have to redraw them all over again?”
But the remaining first-time challengers – mayoral candidate Mike Alvarez and council candidates David Drehs, David Waddell, Chopelas and Cohn – said they favor switching to district elections.
Drehs qualified his support, however. If the town has to “jump through hoops” to satisfy federal election officials about the fairness of the districts, “I’m not for it,” he said.
Later, Alvarez acknowledged that adopting a district system “is not an easy process” and “very complicated,” requiring approval from state and federal officials.
Still, he agreed with Waddell, who said, “I favor putting it before the voters on the ballot. Let the voters decide.”
The Union County League of Women Voters and Chamber of Commerce sponsored Monday night’s forum. Questions from the audience also illuminated other distinctions between candidates, such as:
• Three bonds on the Nov. 8 town ballot, one to finance widening of Monroe Road, another to pay for a new 52-acre park and a third for general road improvements.
Drehs said he cannot support the bond for Monroe Road because he believes a wider highway will only dump more traffic in front of the site in town with “the largest concentration of inexperienced drivers” – Sun Valley High School. While the Monroe Road bond is “a bad idea,” Drehs supports the park and general improvement bonds.
Waddell opposes all the bonds, in part because he doesn’t believe the town should take on the debt. Since Monroe Road is a state highway, the state should pay to widen it, he said, though the state does not plan to widen the road for more than a decade.
Waddell also warned the bonds will lead to revival of “the downtown project.” He favors allowing the “free market” to dictate the pace and nature of development.
But the two mayoral candidates and Sailors, Minor and Stanton emphasized that widening Monroe Road is critical to drawing more businesses, especially employers, to Indian Trail. With better roads and other services, Indian Trail can attract corporate parks and research and development companies, they said.
• Law enforcement and fire services. All the candidates praised the services provided by the Union County Sheriff’s Office and favor renewing the current contract for at least several more years.
After talking with law enforcement professionals he knows, Waddell promised to “immediately push” to add two or three more deputies and a detective, and he favors reviving a public safety committee, with representatives of law enforcement and fire-rescue services. Cohn also voiced support for “at least two or three more deputies.”
Other candidates said they would add deputies as the need arises, especially with the opening of the new $60 million theater-entertainment complex, and in consultation with Sheriff Eddie Cathey.
Chopelas said he regularly sees deputies patrolling his neighborhood, and he’s “more concerned about how fast I’m going to get a paramedic to my house than a deputy” and whether the person is a paramedic, emergency medical technician or first responder. He wants to pay more attention “to public safety as a whole.”