ASU students host Boone candidates forum
by Anna Oakes
Appalachian State University's Student Government Association, College Democrats and College Republicans organizations on Tuesday hosted a forum highlighting candidates for election to the Boone Town Council and Boone mayor's positions.
Forum organizers allowed each candidate to present two-minute opening and closing statements and allowed 45-second responses to three questions. Two questions posed to each candidate include "What kind of relationship would you like to see between the town and university?" and "What do you see as the most important issue facing students at Appalachian?" Facilitators also asked a "randomly selected" question that was different for each candidate.
Following are brief summaries of each candidates' comments at the forum.
John Mena could not attend the forum because of a family emergency but communicated responses to the forum questions through his campaign manager, Bishop Glover. The owner of downtown salon Haircut 101 since 1989, Mena said he would not be beholden to any one political party, business interest or citizen.
Mena said that ASU has goals and that in the past, the town has only seemed to react to those goals.
"We need each other if we're going to thrive," Glover said, quoting Mena. The mayoral candidate said students need gainful employment during and after their college careers and that Boone should create an environment that encourages students to become a part of their community. He said the town's biggest obstacle in achieving its goals is the "epic polarization" of the political parties.
Brad Harmon, owner of Harmon's Dixie Pride in downtown Boone, said he has been familiar with the ASU campus since being born in Founders Hall and that he has 41 years of business experience. Harmon said he wants students to become involved in city matters and that "I'm here to work for you, not a political party."
He called students "the next generation of leaders for us," urging them "to develop your ideas about how to solve problems -- you may have the solution that we need."
He mentioned debt and housing as significant problems facing students and believes that bringing businesses and jobs to Boone will help graduates remain in the area.
Jenny Church, a senior at ASU and native of the area, said she is running as a write-in candidate for mayor because she feels it's important to have a different kind of candidate not backed by a political party.
"It's really important to have a voice speaking for everyone," she said.
Church said she felt the town could use the expertise of professors and students at ASU instead of spending more taxpayer dollars to award study contracts to outside firms. Gaining experience is the most important issue for students, she said. In response to a question about student housing in Boone, Church said "there is no easy answer," and she said the town and university could do a better job of educating students about their rights as renters.
Andy Ball, a current Boone Town Council member and bartender at Westglow Resort and Spa, said his platform centers around protecting single-family neighborhoods, ensuring the town has a strong relationship with ASU and providing an open and responsive town government.
He said he believes the ASU-town relationship has "never been better than it is right now" and mentioned the Town-Gown Committee as a successful and ongoing collaboration between the two entities. Voter suppression is the top issue facing ASU students, he said, and reminded students that the Supreme Court has upheld their right to vote in the communities where they attend college.
"You're here nine months out of 12," Ball said. "You're just as important as someone living here all their lives."
In response to a question about U.S. 321 traffic improvements, Ball said he opposed the concept of a new Boone bypass that would take away revenue from town businesses.
Mark Templeton, manager of Templeton Properties, said his mother and father met at the ASU student union and that he wanted students to have the same opportunities his parents had, including affordable housing and the opportunity to graduate without debt.
"Students are a big part of the success we've had as a family, and we are forever thankful," he said.
Templeton said he would like to see greater participation from students on town committees and that he would like the town to explore additional water options with ASU instead of pursuing the planned intake on the South Fork New River near Todd. He said a vibrant economy in Boone would help students find affordable housing options and avoid debt. He said he supports the reversal of the town's new multi-family housing regulations.
Jennifer Pena was out of town at a conference but was able to respond to questions via Skype and telephone. She said she plans to work on solutions for the town while considering the interests of the university and that she is committed to ensuring concerns are "all heard on an equal level."
Students' greatest issue is their ability to vote and make their voices heard, she said. She also looked forward to meeting with ASU's new chancellor, who will likely be named in 2014. Pena, a history professor and chair at Wilkes Community College, said she has a passion for working with students.
James Milner, a commercial real estate broker and consultant, said he has remained actively involved on campus since graduating from ASU as a speaker at alumni and entrepreneur events, as a fraternity advisor and as a member of the Yosef Club.
Milner said he feels the town and university have a good relationship but that the town must be willing to "sit down and listen" and that the "university needs to have their needs met."
"I think what is good for the university is also good for the town," Milner said.
Milner said he feels the issue of housing costs must be addressed and that he did not agree with recent changes affecting early voting, though neither he nor the facilitators were specific about which changes.
Matthew Long, a partner in the Capehart & Washburn construction business, said he is devoted to promoting green building practices and has been active in the High Country Home Builders Association. Long said he believes the town has missed opportunities to take advantage of university expertise to help solve town issues.
For students, Long said Boone presents challenges related to living and education expenses, travel and parking and that the supports continued efforts to create more sidewalks and bike lanes, a true parking solution in downtown Boone and business development to create career opportunities.
Quint David, a green building and energy specialist at IONCON Engineering, touted his experience in renewable energy and green building. David said he would like the town and ASU to work together to promote the local green economy and that he is "always confused when people said the town and ASU weren't working together."
He said he felt that efforts to protect the environment were important for students at ASU and for the town of Boone. Asked about Boone's noise ordinance, David said he enjoyed live entertainment events in Boone but also acknowledged the importance of being "good neighbors."
David said that as a growing town, it is important for Boone's values and smart growth principles to remain in tact.
Rennie Brantz, an ASU history professor, noted that he grew up in Kansas and Nebraska but that his position at ASU has been the only job he's ever had. He mentioned a collaboration between the town and ASU to purchase a fire truck as an example of a good working relationship.
He cited water as the biggest issue facing Boone: "We can live without a lot of things, but not without water. The town is running out of water."
Brantz said he supports the preservation of the environment and strengthening of neighborhoods, noting that he enjoys the mix of residents and students in his Grand Boulevard neighborhood. He said he believes in maintaining Boone as "a caring, vibrant diverse community for everyone who lives here" and that he is guided by the idea that "helping others is our highest calling."