By David Rogers. November 1, 2019. BLOWING ROCK, NC — First and foremost, candidates for public office are people — each with a background not just in Blowing Rock, but past experiences that most voters don’t have a chance to become familiar with.
All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
Blowing Rock News is pleased to present these edited transcripts of hour-plus interviews with each of the four candidates for the two open seats on the Blowing Rock Board of Commissioners. They are intended as a service to the community, going well beyond the scope of either of the earlier candidate forums. Our purpose with these interviews is to get to know the person, his background, and his qualifications for the job of commissioner, all wrapped up in a discussion of key issues that we think are of interest to Blowing Rock voters — and we give each candidate an opportunity to articulate his views.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Neither the order in which these interviews is presented nor the interviews themselves is intended as an endorsement of any candidate.
The Other Candidate Interview Links
JS: I was raised in New England and graduated from Colgate University with a major in Economics and English. Upon graduation I started my own company; designing, furnishing and leasing commercial interiors. After 15 years, I joined Herman Miller Inc. in their commercial furniture division. There I worked in three different regions/markets for them as a “turn around” manager with unusual success. Eventually moved to North Carolina to start my own sales company in the commercial furniture arena. Over the last ten years I have been retired from the furnishings business.
BRN: What qualifies you to be on the Town Council?
JS: For the last twenty years living in Blowing Rock, I have served the Town 17 of those years. I have been on the Planning Board 9 years and on the Town Council 8 years. I have never attended a meeting that I wasn’t fully prepared to discuss. I am well versed on the regulations and procedures of our Town Codes.
There are three major areas in our form of town government that the Council is responsible for management: budget, infrastructure, and long-range planning. All other areas are managed by the Town Manager only. Keep these four thoughts in mind:
- The Town Manager reports only to the Council. They have hiring responsibility, evaluation, and overall performance on this individual. The Town Manager executes the policies of the Council.
- Council oversee the towns infrastructure, which is water and sewer, roads, and building assets.
- Council is responsible for the town’s budget. It’s formation, it’s execution and audit.
- Council also has a visionary function, which sets long range plans and goals. These however can be changed by each council as deemed appropriate. They are usually discussed at the annual retreat.
In summary, to answer your question specifically, between my professional business career and my service to the Town, I have the experience level required to execute the duties of a Board member. I had hiring and evaluation responsibilities for over 80 personal reports plus budget management of $3-6 million dollars per year. I learned water and sewer while serving on the Council. The skill set required to effectively perform my duties are: interviewing, critical thinking, evaluation, financial and team-building.
BRN: What are your thoughts on some of the important issues voters in Blowing Rock should be concerned about this election?
- WATER & SEWER — People who live in the township of Blowing Rock, but do not get water and sewer service, do they still have to pay for the service? No, if they have their own well and septic tank. If water and sewer is available to them then they must connect within a certain timeframe. If the Town cannot provide the service due to cost, then we must figure out a solution that is equitable to all parts. The town taxpayers would have most of the burden if we had to provide service to a remote area. In some areas it would not be economical to provide those services due to the terrain, i.e. rock.
- ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT — Having a healthy, vibrant economy in Blowing Rock is essential to the quality of life we desire. In order to foster economic development, town management needs to encourage people to invest in our town and help them navigate through our system of approvals. Our job is to help them get through the F.U.D.’s (fears, uncertainties, and doubts). We can help through the TDA and Chamber of Commerce, as well as the County with introductions. I do not believe in financial aid to new business from our taxpayers. This program has not worked in many cities and towns. We have invested money, time, and other resources in the development of Middle Fork Greenway. This project when completed will be a great spurt in our economy.
- SHORT-TERM RENTALS — Over the past 10 years the town adopted a short-term rental ordinance that allowed rental, on a restrictive basis, in the R15 residential zone. This would allow a homeowner to rent their dwelling for a 28-day consecutive period to a person or family. This could be done on a monthly basis but could not be sublet during that period. The owner could not rent to one person 15 days then to another for 13-15 days in any given month. Neighbors objected to a “transient occupancy.” There are several loopholes in the ordinance that need to be changed. Having said all the above, NC State legislature is considering making a uniform code that would affect all cities and towns. We feel that our town must resist this legislation. It would be financial harm to many of our citizens. I support this effort.
- SUSTAINABILITY — We want to protect our environment and over the past several years instituted recycling of our trash. We also investigated electric cars and trucks but found them not within our budget or they did not meet our performance expectations. We did pass a solar panel ordinance that allows 10-20 percent panel on a given roof plane. If someone wanted more, they could apply for a variance. There still is an issue of electric storage that needs to be addressed. I feel confident that in the near future this will change in Blowing Rock.
- PARKING — Over the last 20 years, this has been a big issue. We thought we had a fix when we built two parking garages downtown at a cost over $28,000 per car space. That didn’t last long because our town changed from a resort town to a resort tourist town. Especially our seasonal population increased with new home construction and more short-term visitors and tourists. This increase is mostly during June-October, roughly five months’ duration. On weekends it is crowded on all the main roads and walking in downtown is shoulder to shoulder. Even streets become sidewalks. Cars park wherever they can find a place. As a town we do not have many parcels of land to provide parking. We haven’t completed our last bond issue so access to funds is limited. Alternatives must be found. To accomplish this a Town Hall meeting with all stakeholders given a chance to discuss the issue and possible solutions is a good place to start. We should begin this process in 2019 and the beginning of 2020.
- BUDGET — Over the past eight years I have been on the Council, the line item revenue and expenditures in the budget has been my “hallmark,” if you will. I am known for my analytical approach to budgets, separating “needs” from “wants.” This past year we trimmed over $100,000 from the budget and postponed many wants. My recommendation to the Council for this year is to increase user fees for non-taxpayers who are using our programs and facilities. We also need to see if we can postpone some items until we have a revaluation of our real estate by Watauga County. And we should couple that with a plea to the County for re-instatement of the monies that they took from us in sales tax sharing.
JS: I want to be a part of a new beginning for Blowing Rock with our new manager. I think we can build on each other’s strengths. Being a part of this TEAM would be special. Please help me by voting Jim Steele.