A few weeks ago I heard about a candidate forum some local community members wanted to put together for our upcoming municipal election. Since my wife and I have have worked on several campaigns in recent years, and she planned and produced a candidate forum for congressional candidates last year, we volunteered to participate in the planning.
Members of the Eastern Randolph Area Chamber of Commerce made up the majority of the group interested in planning the event, so that organization was named as sponsor. I offered to help find a moderator and my wife forwarded her notes, such as ground rules for candidates, to one of the other organizers, Sandra Bullin. Beyond that we’ve had no further input, and someone else ended up finding the moderator.
Roll forward in time to last Monday, September 9.
Invitations had been delivered to all candidates a few days before. During the closing minutes of the September board meeting, Commissioner Cheek announced that he would not be participating in the forum. A few minutes later Mayor Shaw stated that he was still undecided and made a stink about how the invitations were delivered. You can watch their full remarks in the short video clip below.
Two officers of the Eastern Randolph Area Chamber of Commerce are running for office this year; Commissioner Vicki Caudle is challenging Mayor Danny Shaw, and J.C. Parrish is seeking a seat on the Board of Commissioners. To my knowledge the only part either of them played in the planning of this forum was Mr. Parrish’s efforts made in securing the location, Ramseur Elementary School.
All community members are invited to send questions for candidates to SandraSteppBullin@yahoo.com. Candidates will not receive copies of the questions prior to the forum, but any candidate running for a local office should always be prepared for questions a constituent might ask. I fail to see why Mayor Shaw and Commissioner Cheek are so afraid of this. It’s a simple meet and greet affair with a moderated Q & A period. The organizers have gone out of their way to try and make it as fair and neutral as it can be.
Would Mr. Cheek or Mayor Shaw feel differently if Ramseur Watchdog had organized the forum? I doubt it. Perhaps the Ramseur Civitans could have organized it, but one of their members is also a candidate this year. Would Cheek and Shaw be acting out this way if that were the case? What’s the difference?
I suppose the local churches or the ministerial association could have taken the lead on this, but since the mayor and his friends pressured local churches into declaring they wanted no part in local politics, that takes them out of the equation as well. Who could have produced a candidate forum that all participants would be happy with? My money’s on no one.
Some will complain because the lead organizer lives outside of town and cannot vote in the election, but I fail to see a problem with that. Others will gripe that they weren’t consulted. Cry me a river.
Ramseur is a very small town, and it’s not hard to get involved here. If you want to have a say in things contact a commissioner, the mayor, or the municipal office and ask what needs done. Better yet, show up at a meeting. Besides the Board of Commissioners, we have a planning and zoning board that meets every month, and there are numerous volunteer committees involved in planning events like the concert series, the fall festival, the fishing tournament and others. If you sit on the sidelines and complain about not having your say in things around here you have only yourself to blame.
No matter who organizes our events, whether a candidate forum or a little league team, some people are going to be unhappy. Two years ago another candidate forum was held at the municipal building. It’s my understanding that Mayor Shaw had a big part in planning that one. It was scheduled on a day when one candidate, J.C. Parrish, would be unable to attend due to a mandatory work commitment. Some people say this was done deliberately, to dampen support for Mr. Parrish’s campaign.
Given Mr. Shaw’s vocal opposition to the prospect of J.C. Parrish ever holding a seat on our Board of Commissioners, which he has expressed to me and to others in my presence, and his habit of scheduling meetings without consulting all parties involved, the accusation seems to have some merit. Ask Mr. Parrish about it. I’m sure he’d be happy to tell you.
While I was in the process of writing this report I received a message from Sandra Bullin, informing me that after the Board of Commissioners meeting last Monday night Mayor Shaw asked her who the moderator of the forum will be. Upon hearing the man’s name, Mayor Shaw told Sandra that he is acquainted with the gentleman.
On Wednesday, September 10, the moderator responded to a message Sandra had sent to him, seeking guidance about how he preferred to have the candidate questions handled. According to Sandra, during their conversation the moderator said, “Oh yeah, Danny called me yesterday.”
Our moderator wasn’t home when the mayor called, but for a man who claims to be concerned about ethics Mr. Shaw certainly didn’t hesitate to push a few boundaries in his attempt to contact the moderator. If I were as paranoid as Mayor Shaw seems to be I might be inclined to suspect him of trying to exert undue influence upon the moderator, but I’m not that paranoid.
I do think I’m beginning to see the problem Mr. Shaw has with all of this. Mayor Shaw likes to be in charge. He prefers to be in control of any conversation or environment in which he appears. In this situation he doesn’t have that luxury, so he suspects a trap, or some other equally laughable conspiracy, not realizing that his behavior tells us more about him than it says about anyone else. He suspects of others is what he would like to do to them.
A candidate forum is not a debate. It’s an opportunity for citizens to meet candidates in one place, on equal footing. Every candidate should welcome the opportunity to answer the questions that will be asked, and the ground rules I’ve seen indicate that there will be a zero tolerance policy on personal attacks.
Mr. Cheek stated that he would rather make himself available to citizens one on one, or let them call him, rather than participating in the forum. Mr. Cheek better not get caught doing any campaigning at the municipal office while he’s supposed to be water bill clerking. In fact, let’s take that a step further.
Today I am asking ALL candidates not to place ANY campaign materials in the municipal building: no signs, no cards, no buttons. The Board of Elections may have said it was okay to do that in the past, but just because you can get away with something doesn’t make it the right thing to do.
I believe everyone running this year knows how to contact me, either by email, text message, or through Facebook Messenger, so how about it?
Please put in writing a promise to your constituents that you agree to campaign anywhere but inside the municipal building. I’ll give you all a week. After that I’ll publish the statements I receive from any candidates that respond, and the names of those who do not.