City of King Councilmen Wesley Carter and Charles Allen faced challengers Steven Hewett and Ashley Turner to a crowd of around 75 at the Stokes Family YMCA Monday night in a candidate forum hosted by the King Chamber of Commerce.
Candidates tackled everything from economic development to liquor by the drink, downtown revitalization and religious freedom.
Attorney Gretchen Kirkman moderated the two hour forum which began with an informal meet and greet, 30 minutes of questions provided by the Chamber and then, submitted questions aimed at individual candidates.
Hewett explained he’s running for one of two open seats because of his experience in law enforcement and the military. He added he would represent all citizens.
“That’s everybody in the community, no matter what faith you are, no matter what political party you belong to. We’re all community. I don’t have any personal agenda. I’m here for the city and to make sure we run the city properly and responsibly and not waste tax dollars,” he said.
Turner admitted to having little interest in politics until forming Make a Difference in King, a group that recently completed a successful community park project.
“I’m running because I fell into community involvement. I was your average citizen, your mom that was taxying kids. I actually approached the city with a complaint and found very quickly that wasn’t the route to go. After I became active and started learning the process it led me to basically get things done. I’m an individual of not many words, I like action, positive action.”
Her voting record was challenged by a submitted question and Turner disclosed she hasn’t voted in the past.
“It was the playground that got me involved. After I got involved, I went to all these meetings and learned what goes on and what doesn’t go on and it kind of led me to this direction. After we started the playground effort, I got hooked. So yes, that’s why I didn’t vote and I haven’t voted before, and here I am,” she said unapologetically.
Incumbents Carter and Allen said they chose to run again because they want to serve the people in the City of King.
Carter came on the city council at 24-years-old while working at a local small business and felt like there needed to be a fresh approach to economic development and growth.
“In the past several years we have gotten great traction. Obviously, we all know about Wal-Mart, what it has brought. That decision alone that the council made brought in 200 plus jobs. They’re not $100,000 a year jobs, but they’re jobs we didn’t have. From the numbers I’ve been told, that produces about a million dollars a year for our Stokes County government that can go into our school system, go into other forms of government,” he said.
This year Carter began an economic development group which meets monthly.
“We’re looking to actively recruit, actively pursue companies and properties that can be developed.”
Allen echoed Carter’s sentiments and said the city has progressed in the past eight years and Wal-Mart has made a positive impact to many folks in the community.
Turner was asked to weigh in about a petition formed to bring liquor by the drink.
“I’m for liquor by the drink. I don’t think it has anything to do with if you’re for or against this. It doesn’t define the person you are. If you want to order a drink you can,” she said.
Adding liquor by the drink isn’t a form of economic development Carter said he’s interested in pursuing.
“I’m not a proponent,” he said. “If I’m not mistaken this passed a while ago in Walnut Cove and they’ve had little to no economic growth because of it. It doesn’t mean it’s a guarantee for things to happen. I think we need to be pursuing jobs, companies, factories. Obviously, restaurants would help our sales tax revenue, but I don’t think it would make a tremendous impact. I think there’s bigger things we need to be pursuing and I don’t think we need to be distracted by an issue like this that would be very contentious. I don’t think it would ultimately be good for the city.”
Allen said he was aware of the petition going around and he wouldn’t sign it.
Although he isn’t a drinker, Hewett said it was an issue he would consider and would let it be up to the people to decide.
When it came to downtown revitalization, Turner said the area needed a makeover and if updates were made, she believed it would attract people.
Carter delved a little deeper.
“This is something we’ve talked a great deal about on the city council. I’ll be honest, it’s a tremendous struggle and challenge. Even when you look at cities like Pilot Mountain and Mount Airy, their downtowns are much better designed. We can blame the people from 100 years plus that designed it here, but at the time King was a very small town.”
Carter added the city did recently provide a $75,000 parking lot to help with the parking problem in hopes to make it more accessible for people to walk and shop in the downtown area.
“Business is driven by traffic. The buildings are old; they need updating. It’s a hard thing for our city to fix, but we want do everything we can,” he said.
Hewett was asked about a recent video circulating on social media where he publically received an award from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. When accepting the award, he said he could hit Christians hard with it.
“We were at a conference, everyone opens with a joke and that was it. The piece they gave me was quite heavy and I said, ‘Yeah, there’s a few Christians I could probably hit with this.’”
An audible gasp was heard from the front of the room.
Hewett continued, “Guess what? I’ve had many people sitting in this room that have threatened me, threatened my life. It was done in jest and I don’t believe in assaulting people. I’m a very peaceful person. It was taken out of context.”
Hewett was also asked why he’d chosen to run for city council in the same town he sued in 2012, when he brought a federal lawsuit against the City of King for flying a Christian flag at the Veterans Memorial.
During that time, Hewett said he wished the council would have upheld the constitution.
“They were in violation. King Council members voted to keep it going. I would uphold the constitution.”
Amanda Dodson may be reached at 336-813-2426.