Photo: Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer
Two candidates looking to represent Ward 1 in the upcoming City Council election participated in a candidate forum Wednesday evening inside the former Chamber of Commerce building in downtown Fayetteville.
Alderwoman Sarah Marsh faced challenger Paul Phaneuf in front of a crowd of about 30 people in an hour-long question-and-answer-style forum moderated by Taylor Shelton, the chamber’s director of government affairs.
Ward 1 encompasses south and southeast Fayetteville, including the areas south of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Huntsville Road. Mount Sequoyah, Happy Hollow Elementary, and Ramay Junior High School are also included in Ward 1.
Each candidate was asked why they were seeking election.
Phaneuf said he’s running because he wants to see more business growth, and said that it won’t happen without significant changes to city policy. He said he thinks Fayetteville has a reputation for having “a suffocating regulatory burden” and said that the city won’t be able to maintain its quality of life unless the tax base is expanded and more funds are generated without raising property taxes.
“There is no way we will be able to do it without putting intravenous into people’s veins to suck the life blood out of them,” he said, adding that his approach to serving on the council would be “substantively different” than Marsh’s.
“This is what I hear from Ms. Marsh: government, government, government, government, government, government, government, government,” Phaneuf said. “There’s a whole lot of too much government going on in Fayetteville.”
Alderwoman Sarah Marsh / Photo: Todd Gill
Marsh said she wants another four-year term to help implement some initiatives the council has already set in motion, and to build upon some of the accomplishments made over the last few years.
She mentioned the city’s newly adopted economic development plan, a recently completed recycling master plan, and an upcoming update to the transportation master plan.
Marsh also noted the preservation of Mount Kessler, the new regional park, a near-complete extension of Rupple Road and the council’s recent decision to enter a $1 million cost-share agreement for an affordable housing subdivision near Walker Park.
“We’ve accomplished a lot during my first term and I want to be there to finish the job,” said Marsh.
Another question asked the candidates to name their favorite priority from City Plan 2030, and how they’d manage the city’s growth to be consistent with it.
Marsh said the highest priority in City Plan 2030 is appropriate infill and revitalization, which, she said, can be attained by creating a diverse variety of housing options instead of adding to an excess of suburban, single-family home development. She said growth statistics indicate that more than 80 percent of households will be child-free by 2025, making that sort of housing obsolete.
She said transit-oriented housing developments that also encourage walkability lead to sustainable communities that provide easier access to goods and services for all age groups.
“What we’re hearing is that you want a walkable city. Well, I will build you a walkable city,” Marsh said. “You want access to transit, so we are looking at routes for expanding Ozark Regional Transit, and I’ve also been a very strong advocate of regional light rail.”
Phaneuf said he prefers a free market over regulations, and criticized the city’s plans, calling them a “regulatory nightmare” that inhibits business growth and does nothing to increase the tax base.
“There is nothing that is in any of the plans the City Council has made that doesn’t require a lot of money,” said Phaneuf. “None of the things that Ms. Marsh is talking about are going to happen without funding.”
He said he thinks Fayetteville’s prosperity is a veneer, and that when it receives accolades, like being named the 3rd best place to live by U.S. News & World Report, those rankings are actually for the region, not Fayetteville.
Phaneuf criticized the city’s recent economic development contract with local group Startup Junkie, which provides consultation services for new area businesses. He said startups have an 80 percent rate of failure and called putting faith in the startup community “pure folly.”
“I applaud startups, but there’s a reason why they call it Startup Junkie,” said Phaneuf.
Paul Phaneuf / Photo: Todd Gill
Someone asked if either candidate would support a city-wide smoking ban for all indoor locations in Fayetteville.
“Absolutely,” said Marsh. “This is about indoor air quality and it’s about worker safety.”
Marsh said the City Council has an obligation to help keep citizens safe, and told the audience she would support a policy to prohibit indoor smoking (Marsh later clarified that she meant only in places of employment).
Phaneuf said he thinks cigarette smoking is disgusting, but he can’t support regulations against smoking in all indoor places, especially if it includes people’s homes.
“Are we going to become Romania where we have to report when we smell cigarette smoke coming from underneath a door?” he asked. “It’s ludicrous. It’s insane. And it leads to absurd situations.”
An audience member asked if the voter-approved civil rights ordinance would be a part of either candidate’s platform if elected.
Phaneuf, who was a vocal opponent of the ordinance, said his issue was not with discrimination, but rather what he saw as the government over-reaching its authority. When pressed to address whether the ordinance would be a central focus if he’s elected, Phaneuf refused.
“That is an absurdity, and I’m not going to answer it,” Phaneuf said.
Marsh said she strongly supports equality and will continue to work towards inclusion and diversity.
“I’m a moral person, and I believe in the inherent dignity and equality of all people,” she said. “We’re not going back to 1957, and we’re certainly not going to have adverse economic impacts like North Carolina is seeing.”
She said Phaneuf’s philosophy on government is built upon “ambiguous ideas” and urged the group to vote for her based on her qualifications and experience.
“I, unlike my opponent, will serve and value every member of this community,” said Marsh. “Do we really need another John La Tour on our City Council? I would say no, we do not.”
Early voting for the Nov. 8 general election begins Oct. 24.