By Taylor Welsh. October 17, 2017. BLOWING ROCK, NC – It is commonly understood that lightning never strikes in the same location twice due to the simple laws of nature. Contrary to this rule, controversy struck multiple times during the Blowing Rock Town Council and mayoral candidates forum Monday evening, filled with opposing views on current town topics and issues.
The Candidates Forum was hosted by the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce Leadership Challenge and a program alum, Rich Scheurer, served as moderator. Approximately 60 people attended the event at Blowing Rock School Auditorium.
The public forum began with each mayoral candidate, including incumbent Blowing Rock Mayor JB Lawrence and challenger Charlie Sellers, introducing themselves, addressing why they are running for office and how they envision Blowing Rock to be in five to 10 years.
Lawrence, who has served as Mayor for most of the past two decades and held an earlier seat on the Blowing Rock Town Council as Commissioner for eight years, shared what project motivates him the most in seeking re-election for another term.
I want to be in office when that sucker gets done.
“In the first five months of my first term as a city councilman, I remember we started an infrastructure project. Well, now that project is finally coming to an end and I want to be in office when that sucker is done!” Lawrence declared, describing the Valley Blvd./U.S. 321 widening project. “That’s why I’m running for office.”
Sellers’ introductory comments also addressed infrastructure-related issues, what he might be able to do differently, if elected, and the significance of the U.S. 321 widening project’s completion.
“It takes way too long for these (water, sewer, and street) infrastructure projects to be completed,” Sellers said. “If elected, I will do whatever it takes to shorten (the time it takes to get) these projects done and move on. But with the completion of the highway (widening on Valley Blvd.), Blowing Rock will be on a new level. Having a conservative, yet fresh approach is perfect for this town’s progression.”
The two mayoral candidates benefit from similar, local upbringings, but differ significantly in their professional backgrounds. Both candidates are Watauga County natives and both went to Watauga High School and Appalachian State University. A longtime banking professional, Lawrence has been in local government and politics for nearly 30 years, including as a former chairman of the executive board serving High Country Council of Governments. Sellers, meanwhile, admitted Monday evening that he is not a politician — but plans on using that to his advantage while also bringing his experience in running successful businesses.
What is right for this town starts with taking care of the citizens.
“I am not a politician,” he said, “but as Blowing Rock continues to grow, I believe what this town needs is a fresh approach, and that is what I can provide.”
Although he has not previously been involved politically in town affairs, Sellers claims a wealth of knowledge when it comes to Blowing Rock. Sellers’ grandfather, Grover C. Robbins, reportedly contributed to important town advancements in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. Sellers was the regional manager for Rochester Midland Corp, a Fortune 500 company, for 24 years. Now, the Blowing Rock native is the proprietor of The Blowing Rock attraction and is the 2016-17 Blowing Rock Rotary Citizen of the Year.
“I believe I know what is right for this town, and it starts with taking care of the citizens,” Sellers stated.
Four town council candidates also attended Monday’s candidate forum, running for three open Commissioner positions. These candidates include Doug Matheson, Ray Pickett, Virginia Powell and Sue Sweeting.
Town Council candidate Powell is the newest of the candidates to Blowing Rock, falling in love with the quaint town in 2007 while accompanying her husband when he came for an interview at Appalachian State University, she recalled.
“That kind of love is hard to explain,” she said during the candidate forum.
Powell’s main priority if elected as a councilwoman is to keep the town thriving and relevant while keeping the small town vibe alive in Blowing Rock.
The roads in Blowing Rock are in worse shape than I initially thought.
Ray Pickett, Town Council candidate, might not be a native, but he has spent the majority of his life in Blowing Rock, moving here from Charlotte when he was 17-years-old. After returning from Raleigh in 2000, Pickett became part of the family businesses at the Blowing Rock Inn and Boxwood Lodge. Since his return, Pickett has been involved in town event committees, Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Committee, Blowing Rock Historical Society, Rotary Club of Blowing Rock, Blowing Rock Planning and Zoning Board and is one of the three incumbents running for re-election to the Blowing Rock Board of Commissioners.
Pickett’s top priority, he said, would be focused on finishing infrastructure projects in a timely manner.
“The roads in our community are in worse shape than I initially thought before getting involved in local government. This isn’t just an issue in Blowing Rock, but also one seen across the nation. We can’t keep prolonging these infrastructure projects. The time to fix it is now,” Pickett noted in the latter parts of Monday’s forum.
Blowing Rock native Doug Matheson, Town Council candidate, has spent many years serving the town of Blowing Rock in a variety of ways, including as the President of the Blowing Rock School PTO, Blowing Rock Parks and Recreation and has 30 years of experience as a firefighter and now as a retired fire chief.
With a new term comes a new approach for Matheson, he said during the candidate forum.
Helping this town begins by listening to the citizens.
“My new approach this year is simple, yet proven to be effective. I am going to help this town make the best decisions possible by listening to the citizens of Blowing Rock,” Matheson said.
Sue Sweeting, Town Council candidate, is a current member of the Blowing Rock Town Council and has been in Blowing Rock for the past 35 years.
Recently, discussions of a multi-million dollar project to revamp Sunset Drive to become the “gateway” to downtown Blowing Rock have floated around the community, a project Sweeting said could be the next big project for the Council.
“It’s an idea that at the very least should be considered and talked about. Nothing is set in stone, but we have been getting a lot of feedback from citizens and hopefully we can get started on that sooner than later,” Sweeting said.
Talks of relocating the Blowing Rock School on Sunset Drive out of town have been heard by Sweeting, but she has a strong opinion about that notion.
“I don’t think the school should be moved out of town. I think it is in a perfect location for the kids,” Sweeting said. “They can walk to downtown, get some ice cream and be kids. It brings a smile to my face seeing those kids enjoy all that Blowing Rock has to offer.”
Along with the Sunset Drive project, Sweeting said another high priority of hers, if elected, involves strategically constructing underground utilities across the town.
The mayoral and Town Council candidates also discussed their opinions on ways to improve parking in the downtown district of Blowing Rock. Coverage of that topic will be featured in a future edition of the Blowing Rock News.
Blowing Rock and other area voters are encouraged to go to the polls on November 7th, on Election Day, for municipal elections.
Noted one observer as she walked out the doors of Blowing Rock School Auditorium after Monday’s candidate forum, “There was marginally more people at Thursday night’s roundtable, but I really wish more people would get engaged and attend these important ways that we can be more informed about local government, which more often than not has a more profound impact on our daily lives than the arguably higher profile national and state elections.”