A Closer Look: Candidates running for Wilmington City Council - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

A Closer Look: Candidates running for Wilmington City Council

Selling property for a convention center hotel is one issue candidates for Wilmington City Council discussed at a recent forum sponsored by WECT Selling property for a convention center hotel is one issue candidates for Wilmington City Council discussed at a recent forum sponsored by WECT

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – Six candidates are running for three open seats on Wilmington City Council in 2013. Three of the candidates are incumbents, Kevin O'Grady, Charlie Rivenbark and Earl Sheridan. The challengers are Derek Bickel, Felix Cooper and Skip Watkins. The race is non-partisan, and there is no runoff possibility. The three top vote-getters will win the seats and take the oath of office in December.

The candidates met at the Senior Resources center in New Hanover County on Wednesday, October 2nd for a forum hosted by WECT and the League of Women Voters.  They answered questions on several topics, including the recent cease-fire in the city, to the sale of a downtown riverfront property to a developer to build a hotel, to consolidating city and county fire services, and many others.

Derek Bickel is a political newcomer. He works as a director of operations at Infranet Technologies Group.  When asked if he felt the city selling property for $579,000 which will be the future site of a convention center hotel, Bickel said: "I think it is going to be an invaluable piece of real estate for jobs, growth in that area, and for the convention center. Whether it is a fair price or not, it's what someone is willing to pay for it.."

Felix Cooper worked as Finance Officer and County Manager for New Hanover County starting in 1975, and later served as City Manager in Key West, Florida. When asked if he thought the recent "cease-fire against violence" in the city was a success, as terms by the Chief of Police Ralph Evangelous, Cooper said: "It appears to have been a success. I think the city council has been very supportive of the police chief. I think the crime rate in the city depends on the local people being involved in the crime fight."

Kevin O'Grady was elected to a first term in 2009, and served on several local volunteer committees and organizations before running for a Council seat. When asked what role the city council should play in addressing the safety of people living in the city's public housing communities, O'Grady said: "The city can expand its support through social service organizations, and we supported 22 community-based social service organizations last year. They addressed unemployment, child abuse, at-risk youth, hunger, illiteracy, victims of abuse and crime, over seven thousand people were served. But, we can do more. What we have tried to do so far is be part of the assistance to organizations, and then gauge public support through the contributions they receive."

Charlie Rivenbark was also elected in 2009, after serving two terms on city council from 1993-2001. He currently works in commercial real estate. When asked about the "fair" price for the sale of the downtown land, he replied:  "The price was derived via an appraisal done by a person who is a member of the Appraisal Institute of America. His credentials are impeccable. We have had a revaluation since this price was established, so other values have gone up and down as well. The city is operating under a consent judgment, and we are bending over backwards to ensure that everything we do in regards to this hotel development is according to hoyle.

Earl Sheridan won his seat in 2005, was re-elected in 2009 and currently serves as Mayor Pro-tem for the city. He teaches political science at UNC Wilmington, and previously served as chairman of the Political Science department. When asked if the city should find and complete a second access to the Love Grove community, which was recently cut off by a train derailment, Sheridan said: "Absolutely. This is a public safety issue. It would be good to find some partners as far as this is concerned, whether it be CSX or the state or the feds. It is something that needs to be done as soon as possible."

Skip Watkins is a financial advisor, an adjunct professor of economics at Mt. Olive College. He has also volunteered for several local organizations, including the Cape Fear Fair and Expo. When asked if city council should urge New Hanover County Commissioners to deny approval for any future permits required for the proposed Carolinas Cement Company facility in Castle Hayne, Watkins said: "City council and county commission are two different entities, and they need to conduct their own business. That being said, if any business, whether service or manufacturing, can pass the regulatory requirements of the State of North Carolina, then it has the right to operate. We have to have jobs in Wilmington. I think as long as it passes the regulatory muster of the state, I think the city needs to stay out of it with the county."

Click on the video link above to see the entire forum.

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