Three candidates looking to represent Ward 1 in the upcoming City Council election participated in a candidate forum Tuesday night.
Alderwoman Adella Gray faced challengers Sonia Davis Gutierrez and Paul Phaneuf in front of a packed house of about 50 people in an hour-long question-and-answer-style forum moderated by local banker Howard Hamilton.
Gray was absent for part of the forum due to an overlap with Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.
Early voting for the Nov. 4 general election begins Oct. 20.
Here’s how the candidates addressed some of the issues posed by attendees Tuesday night:
Civil Rights Administrator ordinance
The candidates answered multiple questions about their position on the controversial Civil Rights Administrator ordinance.
In fact, nearly half of the questions posed during the forum related to the recently passed legislation.
A couple of the questions centered around whether the ordinance was good for businesses in Fayetteville.
Gray, who was one of six council members that voted for the ordinance, maintained her support for the new law.
“I think it’s good for business,” she said. “I think it’s good for Fayetteville, and as we have been knocking on doors (during the campaign), I think Ward 1 thinks it is good for Fayetteville as well.”
Gutierrez agreed and said her local graphic design and creative business adopted a similar non-discrimination policy a few years ago that she feels resulted in an uptick.
“When you let people know this is a place of inclusion, businesses open doors,” she said.
Phaneuf said he thought the ordinance was poorly written and is difficult for business owners to comprehend what is legal and what is prohibited.
“One of the things you do when you are in business is try to calculate risk, and if you can’t do that, you might as well go to the dog track because it is a gamble,” said Phaneuf.
Gray said the ordinance has a simple purpose – to make sure that discrimination is not tolerated in Fayetteville.
“We are not going to accept discrimination,” she said. “We do not want anyone – no matter what their sexual orientation – to be looked down upon or mistreated.”
Gutierrez said she heard many accounts of discrimination during the 10-hour City Council discussion in August. She also said she’s been a victim of discrimination herself, which serves as proof that the ordinance is needed.
“Discrimination is not something we just think is going on, it is something that we know is going on,” she said. “I personally have been discriminated against, I have friends that have been discriminated against, but at the time, there was no place for us to go.”
Phaneuf said the ordinance is an example of government over reaching its responsibility.
“I think it is a gateway to the government doing too much,” he said.
A noise ordinance for motorcycles
As he has at all three City Council forums held so far, local resident Marvin Hilton asked about motorcycles, and whether the candidates thought they should get special exemptions from the city’s noise ordinance.
Gutierrez said she would do everything she could to make sure every vehicle on the road has the same noise ordinance application.
“When you are trying to run a business and get sleep, and you can’t sleep…it’s not a good situation,” she said. “And I don’t think that any events should get any privilege for any extra noise either.”
Phaneuf said he did not think that the government should intervene in how much noise motorcycles make, but he understood Hilton’s concern.
“It’s legitimate,” he said. “I’ll have to admit I’d have to give this some additional thought.”
Is Fayetteville business-friendly?
Several questions Tuesday night had to do with whether or not Fayetteville is a business-friendly city.
Phaneuf said he thought that government regulations in Fayetteville inhibited business.
“I am a believer that freedom provides the greatest good for the greatest number of people,” he said. “I have talked with over 100 businesses people in Fayetteville, and the commonality is a grave concern over the excessive regulatory environment in Fayetteville.”
Gray said for the most part, she believes Fayetteville is friendly to businesses. She said she realizes there are some concerns, and vowed to conduct focus groups with local business leaders to address those concerns if reelected.
Gutierrez said there was room for improvement, and proposed a business advocates program with appointees that meet with business owners and look for common issues.
“I do think there needs to be a lot of work that needs to be done for business owners,” she said. “I think we need to ask the question, ‘Why is this so inefficient’ because it obviously is.”
Do you support sprawl or infill development?
Ward 4 resident Andrew Miles asked if the candidates supported more sprawl toward the outskirts of the city or if they favored infill development.
Gutierrez said she was interested in infill, but had concerns about building up too much.
“I’m not for super duper tall buildings,” she said. “Maybe 4 to 6 stories. I’ve heard of people coming here from Austin, and one of the reasons is because of that city’s high buildings.”
Phaneuf said infill is fine as long as it’s not a government mandate.
“I like the word ‘encourage’ because it implies choice,” he said. “I don’t like the word ‘coercion.’ I think we need to take a look at coercion as a last resort rather than as a first resort.”
Adella said she believes that the city’s master plan was designed to encourage infill, and that is something she expects to continue.
“That is what our staff does, and I support that,” she said.