City council races are typically sleepy affairs. This November’s races in Southern Pines and Pinehurst have the potential to be real slug-fests.
Both towns are losing their mayors. Southern Pines incumbent Mike Haney is stepping down. Pinehurst incumbent Virginia Fallon is stepping down as mayor, but is planning to run for a council seat.
For the longest time, local politics in Pinehurst have been dominated by grumpy old people. When I say grumpy, I mean the “you kids get off my lawn!” grumpy types. Retirees were the great majority in Pinehurst for decades. They dominated the city council, and called ALL the political shots. Since the 1990s, however, the demographics have been changing. Young, working families with children have been moving in. People who work in Fayetteville and Raleigh, but want to escape the bustle and traffic of the big city, have escaped to this sleepy Moore County village. Since that time, a culture clash has been brewing.
A few years back, the city council approved a 7PM curfew for children in Pinehurst. The reason? One old lady came to a meeting and complained about the kids next door playing basketball in their driveway. The public uproar caused the council to back off that position shortly afterward.
Pinehurst is very Republican. Given that fact, you would think hands-off conservatism would rule the day. Not the case. With all of these non-working geriatrics, you have a lot of bored seniors looking for stuff to stick their noses into.
Hence, you get boondoggles like the village’s planning department and planning board. If you want to build in Pinehurst, you must submit THIRTEEN full copies of the project drawings to the planning board two months in advance of the meeting where it will be voted on. When the board meets on your project, if it finds even ONE thing it doesn’t like, the plans are returned to you. You are ordered to correct the issue, make thirteen new copies, resubmit, and wait two more months for reconsideration. Government bureaucracy at its worst.
If you want to erect a swing set for your kids, or fence in your backyard, you have to submit an application to the planning department and wait a few months so your neighbors can be notified. The village gives your neighbors a veto on what you do in your own yard.
The rigidity and unreasonableness of the planning department has forced a lot of businesses out of the village’s historic downtown.
The Pinehurst police department is another matter. If they hear about someone having a party, they will lurk down the street to stalk partygoers headed home. They run radar speed traps at 10:00 AM on Sunday as people are headed to church. They write tickets for 27 MPH in a 25 MPH zone.
So, you can see what might be ruffling some feathers among Pinehurst residents.
The culprit behind a lot of this is longtime village manager Andy Wilkison. He has brown-nosed and coddled a lot of these codgers for years. He’s made life easy for the geriatric politicos who like to pontificate, but don’t want to do any work.
A political coalition of younger families and business people has formed to make a change in local government. Two of the group’s targets are mayor pro tem Joan Thurman — well-known as a political lieutenant to former state Rep. Richard Morgan — and mayor Fallon herself — a close friend of Thurman and the Morgans, as well.
The coalition is seeking personnel changes in the village manager’s office, the planning department, and the police department. This grassroots group already has a beachhead on the council, in the form of Mark Parson, who was appointed to a vacant seat last year. John Strickland (a retired banker) and Scott Lincicome (a former golf pro and current well-known realtor and civic leader) are running with the support of the grassroots insurgency. John Cashion, a resident of the newly annexed Pinewild community, is also running for council.
So — on one side you have geriatric members of the establishment who have been unabashed Richard Morgan supporters. On the other, you have younger families and business-minded people alarmed with the current state of affairs. Folks who worked hard to end Richard Morgan’s political career are not likely to shed a tear over the defeat of Thurman or Fallon.
In Southern Pines, the mayor’s race should be just as entertaining. Incumbent councilman Chris Smithson, a local businessman and son of a former councilman, is likely to seek the newly-vacant mayor’s chair. Incumbent councilman David McNeill, a conservative former county manager with a lot of support from the business community, is likely to challenge Smithson for the mayor’s chair.
Smithson is a tech-savvy liberal who spends a lot of time opining on his blog and the message boards on the local newspaper’s web site. He has attacked McNeill and other members of the council as “bought and paid for” by out-of-town interests. Smithson helped block Home Depot’s move to Southern Pines by trying to prevent them from painting their building with their trademark orange. Smithson also was a leader in the fight to block construction of a new steak restaurant in downtown Southern Pines, because the project involved cutting down a large tree.
Southern Pines is much more diverse and politically competitive than Pinehurst. You have wealthy retirees, horse farm owners, artists, environmentalists, business people and young working families. This race will pit the youth, arts, and environment demographic against the business community, families, and other conservative voters.