Mayoral candidates discuss ways to move city forward

By Paul Nielsen The Daily Advance Staff Writer


With early voting getting underway this week, Elizabeth City voters are already casting ballots for who will serve as the city’s next mayor for the next two years.

Three candidates are vying in the May 17 election for the right to succeed Mayor Bettie Parker, who is not seeking a third term. They include City Councilor Jeannie Young, former councilor Kirk Rivers and political newcomer Christina Williams.

Williams, 44, is the executive director of the Pasquotank Political Action Committee. This is her first run for elected office.

Young, 57, is the owner of several local businesses and she currently represents the First Ward on City Council. She has served a total of eight years on council.

Rivers, 48, is entrepreneur and a former city councilor that served a total of 10 years.

The Daily Advance recently submitted questions about key city issues to each of the three candidates. Their answers follow each question.

TDA: Why are you running for mayor?

Williams: “I am running for mayor because I want to be proud of my city and I want others to be proud to call Elizabeth City home. There needs to be changes to get to where we should already be. I can bring about a new era of prosperity and growth and opportunity.

“Elizabeth City is in dire need of stable and honest leadership without motive. I constantly talk to people from all walks of life and hear the struggles many of them face. I want to help residents meet those challenges. I want to see confidence and faith in city leadership replace the hopelessness I hear from long-time residents.

“I’ll work hard to get us back on track financially and demand better budget planning to keep us there. We can beautify our city and we can make our city safer. My job doesn’t end with attending City Council meetings and participating in committees. The biggest part of my job is talking to people and listening to everyone.

“I believe in trying to incorporate people’s ideas and wishes into plans we make for the future of Elizabeth City. I intend to ensure that Elizabeth City sets goals and works toward them.”

Young: “I have served the city of Elizabeth City for eight years on council. When I’m not on council, I continue my service to this beautiful city, through multiple programs that my husband and myself have implemented to help provide a stable environment for the youth. Also, to help provide the best quality of life for our entire community.

“In performing these different tasks, I believe I have proven myself to be a very strong and capable leader. The accomplishment that I’m most proud of is the ability to foster and grow amazing relationships with all people. My greatest hope as mayor is to unite our community.

“I will work with the help of council and community to create a stable environment not only physically but financially. I want to create a community of one.”

Rivers: “I am running to provide visionary and experienced leadership to all citizens of the city and to steward growth, ensure safe neighborhoods, encourage programs for youth and be a champion for small businesses, Elizabeth City State University, Mid-Atlantic Christian University, College of The Albemarle and U.S. Coast Guard.”

TDA: Former interim manager Ralph Clark, in a farewell memo to council, said that the “divisiveness” and “constant bickering” is keeping City Council from more important work. Is Clark right? If not, why? If he was, how can City Council better work together on issues facing the city and what role would you as mayor play to get council to better work together?

Rivers: “I am not here to judge past councils. There are nine persons on each council. That is nine different opinions from different walks of life, economic backgrounds, work experiences and nine ways of expressing their views. We are not always going to agree and we have to not take differences personal but respect the opinions of each councilor and not judge anyone.

“The mayor must treat every councilor the same and with respect. Mayor (Bettie) Parker does an amazing job with this; I have big shoes to follow. I am going to encourage that the mayor and council have team building excises throughout the year.”

Williams: “I couldn’t agree more with the sentiments Ralph Clark expressed in his outgoing remarks. As mayor, part of my responsibility would be to ensure that City Council meetings are conducted responsibly and represent our citizens appropriately. I will not allow council members to argue, or leave early because they don’t like what is being discussed.

“City Council needs to act in a more professional manner towards its constituents and city businesses. Each council member should have the opportunity to present their differing viewpoints uninterrupted and without fear of criticism by the rest of the team. I will use proper Parliamentary Procedure to move discussions forward in a manner that ensures a productive meeting environment.

“I believe that everyone who is running for City Council cares about the city, so there’s absolutely no reason why we can’t sit down and have a grownup conversation at every meeting about what we each believe will be in the best interests of our citizens.”

Young: “Yes, Mr. Clark was correct in making the statement that the bickering was keeping the council from more important work. The way that I would promote the council to work together is I would lead by example and would not make issues personal. Second, I would educate myself on the policy and procedures of the city, the personnel policy and the city charter. I would encourage the council to do the same.

“But if needed, I would make sure that while conducting and presiding over the meetings that they would be run with respect. We need to respect each other, conduct ourselves in a professional manner and concentrate on the business of the city in order to move the city forward. We don’t need to concentrate on the personalities of each individual on council. Put the city first, not personal agendas.”

TDA: The city has faced numerous crises and problems the past 18 months including the deadly shooting of Andrew Brown Jr., the hiring and firing of a city manager and the subsequent hiring of different short and long-term interim managers and problems with the city’s financial books among others. As mayor what would you do to instill public confidence in city government?

Young: “To say that the city has been through a lot in the past 18 months is an understatement. We need to instill confidence back into city government and into the community from the top. I believe it will take a candidate such as myself that has a proven track record of being a strong and stable leader, a leader who can always make the right choices when faced with the most difficult vote to accomplish this.

“When I am mayor the first order of business will be to have a townhall meeting where I can share as much information with the community as possible without divulging any of our confidential information. This will dispel some of the false narratives that has been put out into the community and have a dialogue to inform and educate ourselves together on issues and ideas that hopefully will be bringing forth solutions.

“Some of the topics would be city management, community policing, budgets and audits and infrastructure. Along with council, I would promote round table discussions. This would give the community an opportunity to provide input that would give the mayor and council an opportunity to seek solutions to problems within their communities. The most important value I will bring to the table will be to listen. Let the community be heard.”

Rivers: “Transparency and communication are the key to solving these problems and allowing the council to make the decisions. As mayor, I will consistently put forth ideas and policies. Then, council shall debate each issue thoroughly and then vote on it.”

Williams: “Communication goes a long way towards earning back trust once it’s lost. I would issue a quarterly report made publicly available on what the council has accomplished, where we have spent taxpayers’ money, and what plans are in the works.

“I will ask that controversial issues be brought to public forum or by referendum to the voters. I will seek a forensic audit of where money has gone for the last two years and make that information available to the public. I will host regular public forums to allow all citizens the opportunity to speak about issues that come before us.

“I will vet our staff better before they are hired. We are paying enough for various positions to not settle for employees who are not the best candidates. In my personal life, I ensure I get my money’s worth. I want the same thing for Elizabeth City. If we are paying well for a job, that job needs to be performed well. There is always someone looking for an opportunity that will do a better job than a person who doesn’t take pride in doing their best work. With a good staff working hard for all citizens comes improvement.”

TDA: Elizabeth City is a diverse city with a lot of different points of view. Because of that, it’s important that the city’s mayor be able to work with many different types of people. Can you name a project or activity that you worked on that involved people of different races, political points of view, or other differences and what was the outcome?

Williams: “Before coming to Pasquotank, I had a successful and award-winning career in radio where I reached people from every walk of life. I trained many interns of all backgrounds for over a decade in radio, web design, and marketing. In Pasquotank, I started a political action committee in which I invited speakers that have engaged citizens throughout Elizabeth City and Pasquotank County. With the many speakers, we’ve brought Democrats, unaffiliated, and Republicans together to learn about North Carolina’s political history.

“By bringing these groups together we’ve been able to discuss many points of view with positive outcomes. I look forward to creating more opportunities for everyone to come together.”

Young: “I have worked in multiple settings that has afforded me the opportunity to work with numerous diverse groups. Those include the Visit Elizabeth City Tourism Board, Downtown Elizabeth City, Inc. board, E.C. Frightnights, American Legion, Connect EC, Police Athletic League and the Fraternal Order of Police.

“All of these different organizations have been very successful in their fields. The division in the city, I think this is one of our hardest problems facing Elizabeth City with one of the simplest solutions. Treat people the way you want to be treated. Show someone else’s family the love and respect that you would want your family to be shown. If we all live by these rules it will transform Elizabeth City into one community.”

Rivers: “I reflect upon when I was on council when a hurricane hit our area and the community had needs not being meet. I organized a hurricane breakfast where the Elizabeth City councilors and candidates cooked and served the food, cleaned up and had fellowship together. The money from the ticket sales went to provide monetary assistance.

“It showed that we may disagree on issues but we all love serving our community. We had all the councilors from all of the wards and mayor, males and females, white and Black, Republican and Democrat and old and young serve our community.”


The Daily Advance: