CoastLine Candidate Interviews: Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo
Wilmington is home to more than 117-thousand people. That’s growth of about 11,000 people since the last census in 2010. 73% of the population identifies as white, less than 20% is African-American, and 6% is Latino or Hispanic.
According to current projections, if Wilmington sees low growth – which is not what’s expected in this part of the country and the state -- over the next quarter century, the city will have about 14-thousand more people in 2040. If growth continues at an accelerated pace, the city could be home to more than 50-thousand additional people by then.
The Mayor of Wilmington presides over a nonpartisan council of five members and a Mayor Pro Tem.
The two candidates in the race for mayor, Incumbent Bill Saffo and Challenger Todd Zola, both confirmed their appearance on this program. Todd Zola did not show, so we spent the hour exploring the issues with Bill Saffo.
Bill Saffo first won a seat on Wilmington’s City Council in 2003. During that first term as a Council member, then-Mayor Spence Broadhurst announced a move away from Wilmington. Council unanimously appointed Bill Saffo to finish out that term. Since then, he has won re-election as Mayor five times, and he is seeking his sixth mayoral term.
Todd Zola sent the following bio:
I have 18 credits of University Phoenix Axia. I also studied martial arts which I want to get back into very soon. I do have gift of able to find people or knowing if they been kidnapped or they have been murdered or they left the people they were in love with before. I also can or used to see the future at one time.
Now I can sense the future like super bowl in NFL who will win the games. Out of 6 I got 5 right the last one I just wanted to pick one I like not the one I knew would win. Well I knew the thought the guy would retire why they won the last game.
I can also tell you who shouldn't be in relationship because I see things in different ways others don't. I see things where people try to hide from others to see. Like Personally information not your SSN like, you like a person. And once a blue moon I may end up having a dream in the future. I have and it was about this guy he was White, robbing gas stations with 6 shooter. And it was on the east coast. Well he didn't have 6 shooter had 9mm instead. And he did have grey hair and he got arrested up north.
Another one was I knew that Monkey Junction Walmart was going to end up having someone shot either because of the vests they had or something. Soon as I left from working there. in 2014 in Nov. Remember in Dec that some guy shot neighbor than shot himself? Yeah I told WalMart and warned them. Did they care? No Management didn't care to listen to me. That is me in a nutshell. Whether you believe me or not.
I was quick learner. I had or photographic memory. And employers never moved me up because they saw I could take their job away from them. And if your like me working at jobs out there. Best thing for anyone to do create your own small business where your the boss of yourself. And come home any time you want make the hours and increase the amount of pay.
More you work for these corporate companies your not able to move forward in your own career. How many of us Want to be the boss? Everyone!
Rachel Lewis Hilburn: Bill Saffo, welcome to CoastLine.
Bill Saffo: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.
RLH: Mayor Saffo, just going back to 2009, you beat Paul Knight by winning 61 percent of the vote to his 39 percent. In 2011, you beat Justin LaNasa by taking 71 percent of the vote to his 28 and a half percent. In 2013, no challenger, 92 percent of the vote. The last time, 2015 you also had no formal challenger and took 95 percent of the vote. What do you think you're doing in this job that the overwhelming majority of Wilmington voters appreciate?
BS: Well, I would hope that they feel that I'm doing a good job and that I try to be a consensus builder. I tried to represent all of the citizens of this community --- and it's a diverse community -- to hear their concerns and to try to formulate policy. Great policy that -- you know -- they want to see happen. It is difficult at times, obviously you know, working with so many different groups and so many different people. I think it's the job of a mayor to bring a community together, and then to make certain that we move forward with the plans that the city council has adopted, working with our city management and our city manager to get those plans in action as quickly as possible.
RLH: We've been hearing from social scientists and political scientists that this country is more polarized than it's ever been. People are self-sorting and aligning with ideologies in a way that they haven't before, and rejecting people that they see as having different ideologies or beliefs or political views. How have you seen the tone on city council change since 2003 when you were first elected to the way it is now?
BS: Well, I can tell you the tone of the council has always been one of consensus, to try to work together as elected individuals. We were elected by the people to get things done. So I feel that the council hasn't changed much, but the way people contact us, the way people organize, has changed dramatically with social media. There's no doubt about it; it happens overnight where I can see a large group of people come forward against a particular issue, or voicing their concerns much quicker than they did in the past, where they pick up a telephone, or they would e-mail you, or they would write you letters. Today it's much different. I do feel that there is a polarization; there's no doubt about it. We are sorting ourselves into enclaves of people that think like us or vote like us. There's no doubt about it.
And, I've said this many times, we're more diverse as a community, we're more diverse as a nation than we've ever been. But we're also more segregated than we've ever been, based on a lot of different things. I just read a book by Bill Bishop, University of Texas professor, that talked about this, and how this is happening in our communities throughout the country in our counties. I think that the mayor's job, a council person's job is to reach out to different parts of the community and try to bring the community together.
What I find is that most people -- no matter what their political stripe is or their ideologies -- have a lot of things in common. And I think that when people can talk to each other, and look at each other, and kind of work through their differences, people will come together and come to some sort of compromise and make things happen. I think that when you're kind of stuck in your place, and I'm stuck in my place, and we don't talk to each other or see each other, but maybe are kind of talking to each other through Facebook or social media, this is where we can say things to each other that we wouldn't say if we were face-to-face.
I think it's different, and I see the difference when people come together, especially in public hearings when people come in and express their opinions or their views. They then develop, you know, if it's a zoning issue where they take that information back and kind of work through their process and make something that the council would support or approve. So, you know, I think we've got a lot of work to do in this country to make certain that we're talking to one another again, and it's not easy in this social media climate that we find ourselves. But it can be done.
RLH: (Sorry, I'm getting over a cold here.) Brian and Jim wrote in during an interview with candidates for Wilmington City Council, and they pointed out that a majority of city council and planning commission members have a connection to the real estate and development industry. Jim and Brian are not the first to make these observations. There is concern out there that the push for growth is running roughshod over concerns about infrastructure to support that growth and the environment. What do you say to Brian and Jim?
BS: Well, I would say to Brian and Jim, first of all, there is a process that the city planning staff and the City Council have adopted that any kind of development has to meet based on, you know, the amount of traffic that development is going to generate. What are the impacts to the roadways? How is that going to be mitigated, not only for roads but also to the environment, especially with stormwater regulations and making certain that people take care of all their stormwater in a way that does not hurt or harm the environment? And then obviously, does the plan that the person is bringing forward meet the criteria of what we would like to see built there and designed there? So they have to meet a certain criteria based on a comprehensive land use plan that the citizens helped put together with the planning staff.
If they meet that first hurdle through the planning department, because what a lot of people don't see is the amount of development that is turned down, or where developers will come in and say, I want to put this there and the planning department will say, we will not support that particular development here because it does not meet the regulations within a comprehensive land use plan. That is never talked about, never seen. So they have to meet a certain criteria through the planning department, then it has to go before the planning commission and the planning commission then has to determine whether they feel that it is a good project or not. And then of course, you know, kind of spell out the things that they find that they would like to see changed in the plan, and then it, of course, then goes on to city council that finally makes the ultimate decision.
One thing that I will tell you is that I've heard that comment many times. Currently on the city council that we currently have, which is seven members, two of us are in the real estate industry. The majority of the council is not in the real estate industry, and there's one person, Mayor pro-tem that used to have a real estate license. I don't even know if she still does, was part-time in the real estate industry at one time. But there are only two members, myself and Mr. Rivenbark that currently have real estate licenses that are actively involved in the real estate business. The vast majority of council is not part of the real estate industry. I will also, let's talk about growth for a second. You know, we live in a dynamic area. People are moving here for a lot of different reasons.
The two biggest growth pods in our community, and I've said this over and over, is the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, bringing us almost a thousand additional students a year, going from about 15,000 to about 20,000 over the next seven to eight years. There is no other community, neighborhood in this community that is bringing that amount of people. Believe me, I like to see the university grow, but there are growth issues that are tied to that. The other thing that we have here that brings a lot of people to our community on a day-in and day-out basis, is our hospital; New Hanover Regional Medical Center is our largest employer with over 6,000 people. So we're going to continue to see growth in that particular segment, because it really services a five county area and a lot of people coming in from medical services every single day.
RLH: Mayor Saffo, short-term rentals are a source of tremendous controversy and head scratching, I know, among city staff. This has been a tough nut to crack in terms of developing policy. Some stakeholders, of course, say stricter standards must be applied before homes can be rented out on a short-term basis. Others say short-term rentals are a critical part of Wilmington's tourism industry and certainly the right of the property owner. You've been, of course, directly involved in some of these discussions. Where do you stand on the issue, and how do you think policy needs to evolve on this front?
BS: Well, I definitely feel that we need some regulation on the VRBOs. There's -- I think -- a consensus among council that we have to have something in place. I think what that looks like is something that we have been struggling with since this issue came up. We've been looking at best practice methods around the country. We've been looking right here within the state of North Carolina to see what they are doing about it. There's pros and cons in each one of these regulatory environments that people are looking at. We're talking in the 21st century with uber-type of an economy, and how do you regulate it? And then how do you enforce it? And there are passions on both sides. Where I come down is that I do have a concern as to what a VRBO, these short-term rentals could do to the character of a neighborhood. I also feel that people have a right to be able to rent out their property in a way and in a form that does not destroy the character of the neighborhood and also gives the opportunity for that homeowner to make money.
RLH: How can VRBOs or Airbnb destroy the character?
BS: Well, I think that you get to a point where all of it becomes much more financially viable to rent out your property on a short-term basis than not. And then the character of the neighborhood then starts to look like everything is there temporarily, where you have character, where you have a neighborhood where you have neighbors, where you have people out in the street talking to each other, or a neighborhood concept where somebody is there today, somebody is there tomorrow, somebody is there the next day and the character of the neighborhood starts to slowly disintegrate. Not that these people that come here are bad, not the people that rent out these places because I've gone by and taken a look at the homes that they're renting out. They're in great shape. They're usually taken good care of, better than even long-term rentals. I just think that the character of the neighborhood starts to disintegrate to some degree. I will tell you that I believe, that on council the consensus is if somebody were to be in their home and lives there, and is there, I don't see that as a problem. I think it's the whole house rental where somebody is not there. That is the concern the council is looking at more intently. And look, we may have to go through a couple of different rules and regulations before we finally get it right. I'm not saying we're going to get it right on the first time, but I think that we have to be prepared that once, or whatever regulation, council decides to move forward with has to be enforced. And that's the other part of that, how do you enforce it? Because it is a large undertaking with the amount of people out there that are running their properties over the Internet, is how do you regulate them? And that's also a very important piece because the next caller I'm going to get is from a neighbor: Why aren't you enforcing your own ordinance? So that's the other piece of this that has to be clarified and unfiltered before we get to that point.
RLH: What are some of the new thoughts on how to enforce it, because we've heard from city staff that certain cities like Asheville have tried to regulate these and it just doesn't work, because you can still go and find in districts where these kinds of rentals are supposedly out of compliance with zoning ordinances. You can still find those properties.
BS: I think, obviously, registering your property and making certain that registration number is a company with who's in the house, and how do we get in touch with them, if there's an incident and parking and stuff of that nature. I think there's some systems out there that we are looking at, that other communities around the country are using that may be viable here. We have to check that out, and go through that process and make certain that they've got a good reputation, and what they say they can do, they're doing. And we are looking at a few, but it is difficult, and that I think is one of the things, that at least, from my perspective is how do you regulate them after the fact? And I think that we will come up with some regulation, but we've got to make certain that we can enforce the regulation.
RLH: So you've said that if necessary, you'll tweak the policy as you go along to make it fit. But what's the timeline? What's the next thing that happens on this front?
BS: Well, I think we will have some sort of a public hearing, at some point time, in the very near future to start, you know, to hear what the community has to say. Hear the passions of the community, for those that want them and those that don't want them. And then the council will have to make a decision. You know, maybe not then and there, but we may ask for it to be sent back to get some more information before we make a decision. We may be at the point where we're ready to make a decision. I think there are some council members that may be ready to make a decision now. But I want to make sure that we try to get it right. This is -- I know -- a very emotional, hot topic issue. And, you know, I've heard from people that are in this type of business that are making money and some of them are saying it's the only way that I can keep my property. And if you do away with it, I'm going to be hurt financially. On the other side, those people are saying to me I've made a big investment in my house here and in this neighborhood here, and I don't want to see the character of my neighborhood destroyed with this type of a rental situation. And please, protect our neighborhoods. So we're trying to find some middle ground here, some sort of a compromise that will work hopefully for both sides. Usually it doesn't make any group happy. Well, I am personally looking for non-zero solution to this very complicated problem. And, believe me, council has asked a lot of good questions, continues to ask questions, has asked our staff to reach out to other communities around the country and see who's got it right, who's got it wrong. And, even as of this morning, I was talking to one of the planners from Charleston that have gone back through another rendition and putting a task force together to evaluate the policy that they had in place, that they felt was not working for them.
RLH: How has Charleston changed their policy?
BS: Well, Charleston's concern has been the affordability of rents down there, and what the Charleston City Council was hearing from people, from citizens, was I want to live in Charleston. I can't afford to live in Charleston because every time I go to rent a piece of property, the owner is telling me it's more viable for them to rent a VRBO as opposed to a long-term rental. And we're going to find that to be the case in Wilmington, any city that's on the coast that's a popular tourist destination. It's got a lot of people who want to come here, and it is probably going to be more viable for most people to be able to rent out their properties on a short-term basis as opposed to a long-term basis. So, there's another point to this whole debate is affordable rental property, and one of the things that we are wrestling with here in Wilmington, because of the popularity of the community and the availability of land is affordable housing and affordable rents. So, it's a complicated problem. But, at the same time, I think we can find some common ground, some middle ground here, that hopefully will work. But, here again, we're probably going to go through one or two renditions of this. We may even see the state legislature take some action on this in the future, because I think it's not only affecting the city of Wilmington. I know Raleigh is dealing with it, Greensboro, Asheville, Charlotte, everybody, every major city in the state of North Carolina is wrestling with the same issue. It's just the 21st century economy coming into, you know, your community, and we're still dealing sometimes in 20th century technology, and how we monitor and how we regulate these things.
RLH: Are you saying -- we're going to get to Darcelle in just a moment. But just before we leave this discussion about short-term rentals so how specifically would either the city of Wilmington or the state of North Carolina regulate rents?
BS: I don't think regulating rents, but how do you regulate a VRBO? Some are saying they want no regulation, just leave it the way it is. You know, no harm, no foul. Everything is perfect now, and others are saying, it is causing parking problems in my neighborhood; it's causing noise issues in my neighborhood. I don't have permanent neighbors. I have people that are moving in and moving out on a daily or weekly basis, and that's just not what a neighborhood should be or look like.
RLH: But, you also talked about this whole idea of the VRBO business model changing the market, in terms of, for longer term renters. And so, how do you address that? Do you put limits on it?
BS: I think that's one of the issues that we have that we are wrestling with. You probably would have to put some limits as to how many of these are allowed in the community, or in an area as opposed to everybody being able to do it.
RLH: So then would be first-come, first-serve?
BS: Possibly, and here again, that's one of the options that we would have is first- come, first-serve, a lottery. You have to use it within a certain time period. So, is that fair or not fair? These are the things that we are struggling with as a council, and as I've said, I think we've asked some really good questions. I think the staff is getting some answers to those questions. I know that they're out there scurrying around to find out who's got the best policy out there. But, here again, a policy that may be good in Charleston or Savannah or Asheville, may not be good for Wilmington.
RLH: The last I heard from city staff they hadn't found a policy that was working. One that was actually working in any of those cities.
BS: That's right. And that's why you're seeing Asheville revisiting this issue; that's why you see Charleston revisiting this issue. That's why Raleigh has put it off so many different times, because they keep finding issues that they run into that they haven't been able to answer. So it's got all the ingredients of a tough policy that you have to make. You got free market dynamics involved; you've got regulatory processes involved to protect neighborhoods. How many are you going to allow? How many you're not going to allow? Who should pick and choose that? So I hope everybody can understand that we are looking at it, and we're looking at it very seriously. We've had a lot of concerns from both sides. But I feel that we will come up with some policy that will make some sense, and if it doesn't make sense and we have to tweak it, we will.
RLH: And from the point of view of the General Assembly, what might the state do? What kind of regulation would that involve?
BS: The state could come in and basically say to the cities, we don't want you to give and put any regulations in place, that could happen.
RLH: Is the scuttlebutt that legislation might be in the works?
BS: It could be out there. I mean, obviously there are lobbyists on both sides. You have the hospitality industry that is losing some business because of this. They may weigh in on this discussion. You have the VRBO industry that's also a big player in politics around the country, and they may weigh in on it. So, you know, stay tuned. This is not going to end with a policy the city of Wilmington makes. It is going to be altered, changed; we may get some federal law, some state law.
RLH: Darcelle, welcome to CoastLine, you're on the air.
Darcelle: Great job, Rachel. And let me be the first to congratulate the mayor for his next term, based on what I heard at the beginning of the hour. I've gone to some of the neighborhood discussions that's been going on in the city. My concern is about the black youth, specifically in the summers. I was hoping some of the house flippers would consider putting some young staff, young people to learn some needed job skills. And how could you encourage businesses to want to mentor black youth? And I want to know how would you go about engaging -- I've seen you in many different, diverse groups. I think you do reach out. I'm very complimentary with you, but I do see Wilmington as a greater divide. I tell people Wilmington stands for the letter W, and that is white. So how can you encourage me to be more hopeful that things will change for the black youth, specifically in the city of Wilmington?
BS: Well, thank you, Darcelle. Thank you for that question. I know that one of the things that we put together several years ago was the Blue Ribbon Commission. And that came from an initiative from Dr. Sheridan, who sits on the city council, who asked what are the pitfalls and the ills that are affecting underprivileged youth in our community. What can they do rather than joining a gang and dropping out of school and getting into situations that are dire? And through that process, working with our district attorney, working with our sheriff, working with the university, the hospital, the city nonprofit organizations, and the Chamber of Commerce, we all came together in creating this group called the Blue Ribbon Commission. Using a model in Harlem called, The Children's Zone, --that was created many years ago by a guy named, Geoffrey Canada -- is where we started to look at the issues that are affecting underprivileged youth in our community, and that involves so many different aspects. It involves health; it involves nutrition. It involves education; it involves housing. Just like any other family structure, you have to make sure that everything is in place for people who are in need of specific services that you can provide. For those services to those youth, you use family, in fact.
So we were able to work with our nonprofit organizations in creating a model that we feel has had some impact. And we picked an area in the north side, which had some of the highest crime rates, highest teen pregnancy rates, highest dropout rates, and implemented this program in a very small area to see what kind of impact we could have. And from what we have seen, we feel that we've had some impact. I think a good impact, to say dramatic impact, no. But I would say an impact where we're hearing from the community as to what their needs are.
And one of the things that the community did share with us -- like Darcelle mentioned -- is their youth need programs or jobs in the summer. So we -- this is the second year that the city along with many other organizations have been part of this program through the Blue Ribbon Commission, which has created a jobs program for at-risk youth. Now, the job program started off with a very small group to begin with the first year; this is the second year that we did it. We had over 40 youth; we hope to expand that next year to maybe 80 youth, and then from there engaging the private sector to help employ these young people in the summer months, so they can get job skills. So if they can open up their eyes that there's an opportunity for them, if they get an education, if they graduate from high school, if they get to community college or college. And also, give them hope and aspirations that there is another way out as opposed to, you know, maybe a dead end street that some people find themselves in. So obviously it's a big social experiment that we're working on. But I think it has a lot of merit, and we're doing whatever we can in our community with the monies that we have to do that. Plus, what the other thing that we found out, from talking to the community was the fact that they needed more afterschool programming, recreational facilities, so in the parks bond that was just passed...
RLH: When you say the community, you're talking about communities of color here in Wilmington?
BS: Communities of color, when we were talking to the community here, and what the people are saying, and they're telling us we need job skills. So that's one of the initiatives that the community college is working on with the county commissioners in creating this vocational high school, which is something that I think is desperately needed in the 21st century today. Not everybody is going to go to college, and then just the other part of it was the recreational facilities, putting in two new recreational facilities: one at MLK, one at Maides Park for additional gymnasiums, so these kids have some afterschool programs and summer programs in the summer months to get them off the street and involved in something.
RLH: Just before we went to break, we were talking about the Blue Ribbon Commission and initiatives to make sure that children of color in the community have job opportunities during the summer months, and how that initiative is growing, and some other work that the BRC is doing. But of course we know that Wilmington is a very segregated city, and you said yourself when we were talking earlier, that people are self-sorting across all kinds of lines. Racial lines are one of those lines that are very observable here in the city of Wilmington. It's something that you've grappled with throughout your time on city council. Let's start with some specifics, like the Confederate monuments. There are two statues near the entrance to the downtown area in Wilmington. One is of George Davis, attorney general of the Confederacy, at the corner of Market and 3rd, another is honoring the soldiers of the Confederacy at Dock and 3rd. What do you think about having those monuments marking the entrance to the downtown area?
BS: Well, you know, there was something on CBS this morning on Sunday, and the professor said that all politics is local but so are all memories. And one of the things that I was most impressed with, was when we erected the 1898 memorial. And, as I shared with you, Rachel, there were people in this community that did not want to see that memorial erected; they just thought it was a bad time in the city's history, that we should not be erecting that type of memorial. But through the efforts of a lot of different people, especially Bertha Todd, the Macrae family, Mr. Rountree, and others, that became part of this process of healing, talking about it, having symposiums to explain what had happened on both sides, especially from family members that were part of this whole process. The community was able to come together, and to sit there the day that we did the ribbon cutting for the memorial, to see people in the audience that were part of this insurrection sitting there with other people that were possibly victims of this insurrection, was a beautiful and a proud day, from my perspective as the mayor of this city. And I feel that those monuments have been there for quite some time, over almost 90 years now. And I think that the community is at a point that they should have a conversation, and have a process very similar to 1898, because there are people on the other side that believe -- very passionately-- that these monuments should stay there. They have family members that were part of the Confederacy.
RLH: But, some historians would argue, then those monuments should be in that person's living room because this is -- you know -- if it's about their family, what is a representative of white supremacy doing in a public space?
BS: And I won't disagree with that comment, but I do think that they have been here for so long, and they're part of the historic fabric, that I do believe that whatever happens to the monuments, there should be a conversation with people, so that people on both sides could face each other, so they can tell other the group how they feel about it, and what it means to them. And maybe somewhere in that process, we can come to some sort of a compromise as to what maybe we should do with or not do with them. Obviously there's a state law in place that protects them, and it was passed in 2015 by our state legislature. Those monuments, no matter what decision the community or the city takes, will stay there until the state legislature changes that particular policy. I will tell you that I think that we need to have these types of discussion, because as we saw what happened in Charleston, when this first kind of thing reared its head, and people started talking about the removal of these monuments, that I don't think this issue will go away.
I also have to take a look at the trend lines as to what generations feel about the monuments, because I've heard from younger generations and older generations as to how they feel about them. I can tell you there's passion on both sides of this debate. My job as the mayor is to try to bring people together, to have a conversation, and to see is there a better place to move the monuments to or maybe not? So, that's from my perspective, I think that's the way that the city should approach it as opposed to if you start taking them down arbitrarily, and you say, they need to go, then you can have other groups that will take matters into their own hands: So why are we putting this monument up there? And then there is another discussion, is there room enough in the community to put other statues commemorating other things, or good people that have done good things in our community that reflect the history of our community.
Even though the Confederacy and the Civil War is very much a part of the history of this city, and remember Fort Fisher was the last port of the Confederacy that failed, and after it failed, the whole thing came apart. Understanding that the state of North Carolina was the last state that seceded from the Union, was the 12th of the Confederate States, and understanding that North Carolina lost more people than any other of the Confederate States during the war, as far as the war dead. There is passion, strong passion for those monuments. And I can also see the strong passion about times have changed; let's move on. They represent something in a symbolism that we don't agree with anymore.
RLH: So, Dr. Earl Sheridan, your colleague...
BS: Who I respect very much.
RLH: Yes, and he has chosen not to run again. He served for a long time on city council. He joined us for an edition of CoastLine, when we talked about these monuments and the role they play. And of course these monuments were erected not right after the Civil War.
RLH: But during this time, when some historians argue, people were trying to re-establish this notion of white supremacy. And I asked Earl Sheridan how he felt when he looked at the monuments, and he said he can't look at those monuments and feel good. Now, if you, Mayor Bill Saffo, are walking a child of color, let's say a six or eight-year old child, through town and pointing out things to him, how do you explain that George Davis monument to that child, and what that means to that child?
BS: And there lies where the big rub is. What do you say to those kids, and what does that monument represent? And that is a very difficult question for me to answer. I will tell you as a person that is of Greek descent, we had our issues with the Turks. There was an annihilation of a lot of Greek and Turkish land, where it was Constantinople. I can feel some of that sentiment. If I see something erected to somebody that did something bad to my family's origins, I can understand that side of it. That's why I think we have to have a conversation, because there so many people on both sides of this issue that need to be able to look and to talk with each other. And as I said before, Rachel, I think we did it right with the way we did 1898 memorial. And I think that we can use the same concept and the same programming and the same planning to do this with these monuments in such a way that we don't have what happened in Charlottesville. But to do it in a way that people will come together and have some agreement as to what we do with them.
RLH: One of the people who is running for Wilmington city council this election year has talked about the need to rebuild trust between law enforcement and communities of color, especially here in Wilmington. There has been an effort to do some of that. As you know there have been off the record conversations between members of law enforcement and members of the minority community, and they've talked about -- on both sides, they've taken off their badges and just sat down eyeball to eyeball and talked about why they've been frightened of each other and where the communication gaps happen. We can't report on it because the whole point is that this is off the record, and these are real conversations between people, but are you tuned into that effort?
And can you tell us how it's going?
BS: I am tuned into the effort, and I'm very supportive of the effort. I think it's an effort that needs to be ongoing because there is a lot of mistrust. There's a lot of misinformation on both sides, and I think that when people get to know each other, and they talk to each other, and they visit with each other, I think a lot of those walls come down. I think that we need to have more young people that are involved in these discussions. I don't think that we've had as many young people as part of the process that I would like to see more of. So as I've shared with our city manager, I would like to see more of these conversations continue. And I want to reach out to different groups because there is still a mistrust from the youth of the community that feel that if they sit down with the police officer that police officer might arrest them. And I want that to break down because we need for these folks to understand that they have a job to do.
The police officers are going to uphold the law, and make certain that they're going to protect the citizens when they get a call for service. And I want them to understand how that process works. And I also want to make certain that, that officer that is stopping that person or apprehending that person or engaging that person does it in a way that is respectful, that the people feel respected, and that if they feel that their civil rights in some way were violated, there's always another process that you can go to, to file something if you feel that has happened to you. In addition to that, I'm a strong believer in transparency. I know that when I first came into city council in 2003 that discussion then was putting cameras in the cars, that has stopped a lot of the issues about respect: I've been stopped for harassment or stuff of that nature because at this point in time we can go right to the camera. We can sit down with the chief where we can see if that officer did stop properly or not. I'm a very strong proponent of body cams. I think that the more transparency we have, where people can see what's happening, and how that officer is engaging that individual -- I think the better we all are.
RLH: And where is Wilmington PD on that?
BS: We're very close to getting it all done, but it takes a lot of money, and the amount of computer hardware and stuff that we need, the memories and all that, because we're downloading all this information on a daily basis. And obviously if there's an incident, I know that you in the media and others would like to have that information as quickly as possible. We've got to make sure that we have that information, and we can access it very quickly. At the same time when that officer is scanning with that body cam, there are other people that are in that shot that may not be maybe innocent, but because the body camera has scanned them and put their face online, they may be perceived to be part of an incident that they may not have been part of. So there's civil rights issues that we have to deal with, and make certain that when we're going through those tapes and we're working through that process, that we can block out people's faces, if need be. There are innocent bystanders who just happen to be in that location when it happened, so there are some issues that we have to work through, but we're getting, we're trying to roll it out as quickly as we possibly can.
RLH: It was 2015 that the Star News published an examination of the 10 highly populated cities in North Carolina, and found that of those cities only Wilmington had at-large seats for council with no districts. In 2017, it looks like more than half of the current council lives in one precinct. Is there an argument for creating districts and are all sectors of the city well represented?
BS: I think that all segments of the city are represented because we're all elected at-large. So we represent the entire city. Every one of us, whether we're from downtown, midtown, or wherever the case may be, we have to represent the entire city because that's our job.
RLH: You have to, but is there, if you happen to be a stakeholder, in say the historic district downtown Wilmington...
BS: And then there's the other side of this, is that when you go by districts then your job is to represent that district, and not maybe another part of the city, that's the other part of this equation. I don't know what's right, what's wrong. I think the process that we've had in place has been a good process. I think a good candidate with a good message is going to get elected, no matter who they are or what background they come from. Obviously it's something that we've talked about in the past. And then how would you gerrymander a district to make sure you reflect, you know, the composition of that particular neighborhood or that particular area? I'm not opposed to taking a look at it or having a discussion and debate about it. I will tell you that I think the current system that we have has represented the community very well, and if you look at the bonds that we have supported in the past, although the citizens have passed. I think they reflect something that somebody gets at every part of the community. And I think it's served us pretty well. But here again, times have changed. The city is not that big of a city. Geographically it's 43 square miles. So it's a very small area, so it could be done, but I think here again, we'd have to have some discussion, debate.
RLH: And just looking at the population growth that we're expecting here over the next quarter century, what role does WAVE transit play in that conversation? And there are certainly people who say we should just fund it at the minimal level that we need to fund it, because people really around here don't ride the bus. They just don't. Do you think that there is an argument to be made for that? Or does the city of Wellington need to work harder on recruiting choice riders?
BS: I think that WAVE transit is probably one of the most important things that we have, and I agree with you, people are not riding it for a lot of different reasons. I think as the population grows in this area, and let me just tell you, I'll tell the citizens this: there's not so many places you can put a road in the city of Wilmington or expanded highway. No matter where you put that or do that, you could affect somebody's lives or somebody's business. I think public transportation is something that we need to desperately work on, and do a better job with, with an additional, possibly 57,000 people in the city of Wilmington, in a region that may double in size from 300 some thousand to over 600,000 people. Most major metropolitan areas have good public transportation systems. And I think that we will evolve into one. I don't think we're there yet, but part of that, and I think WAVE does a very good job with the money that they have. But remember, we've set up an authority years ago that did not fund these people the way they needed to be funded, like other metropolitan areas fund their public transportation system.
RLH: Why has it been hard to get public support for this?
BS: I just think there's a disconnect between people that are riding their cars and have the luxury of riding their cars, and those that don't have the opportunity or have the luxury to be able to own a car. But I will say this: what I see, I have to take a look at the long-term trend lines, and the long-term lines are telling me that a lot of the young people today, whether they use public transportation or their automobile…When I was 16 I couldn't wait to get a car, and a lot of the young people don't even have driver's licenses, so I think that trend line is changing dramatically. I think -- at some point in time -- public transportation will be much more looked upon as being a positive thing as opposed to a negative thing.