Candidates sound off as election nears
by Mary Katherine Murphy Staff Writer
LAURINBURG — With races in only two of Scotland County’s four municipalities to be contended on Tuesday, this year’s election season has been light on campaigning and roadside advertisements.
In Laurinburg, councilmen Drew Williamson and J.D. Willis, both appointed to the city council, are running for the first time unopposed. Former city clerk Dee Hammond is also running unopposed for the council’s open at-large seat.
Gibson and East Laurinburg, on the other hand, could see dramatic changes in their governing officials when votes are counted.
With the departure of East Laurinburg’s Mayor Harry Pittman and Councilwoman Betty Robbins, the East Laurinburg town board will have at least two new members. Finishing his first term as councilman, Wayne Caulder is running unopposed for the office of mayor.
Caulder said that he has no specific plans for his tenure as mayor, but hopes to keep East Laurinburg running on limited funds.
“I just want to do the best I can for the citizens and try to keep the town from falling apart,” Caulder said. “There’s not a whole lot you can do with the budget that we have.”
Also at the end of his first term, Cleon Robinson is the only incumbent running for re-election. Robinson has lived in East Laurinburg for 13 years.
“It’s been a good learning experience for me; I’m looking forward to running again and hope I have the support to be re-elected,” Robinson said. “The most important issue is just getting the community cleaned up and having the streets maintained.”
The three newcomers challenging Robinson for the town’s three board seats also hope to help spruce up East Laurinburg.
“The abandoned houses here make our neighborhood look bad and their owners don’t live here so it’s out of sight out of mind for them,” said May Rachel Hines, a four year resident of East Laurinburg.
Tyresa Haywood, a retiree and resident of Gibson for more than 50 years, said that with two elected officials stepping down, she felt it a duty to put her name in to take their place.
The fourth candidate for East Laurinburg’s town board, David Cooper, could not be reached for comment.
With half of its town commissioners up for re-election as well as its mayor, Ronnie Hudson, election season has given rise to some contention in Gibson.
Hudson is running for his fifth term as mayor against Myra Tyndall, who has been employed as Gibson’s town clerk for three years. Both identified recruitment of businesses to Gibson as a priority.
“The best thing we could do would be to get a dollar store or convenience store,” Hudson said. “There’s only one store in town, so it would be a benefit for surrounding areas also. … We’re not located on a main highway so we have trouble getting anyone to come look at us.”
A beautification effort, Tyndall said, may be one way of attracting newcomers to the town.
“There’s an area in town where I think we could put flowers, and a square next to the depot that we could paint and plant flowers and make Gibson more presentable to people coming in,” she said.
While Gibson’s mayor serves two year terms, there will be six candidates running for election to three four-year terms on the town commission. Two of the challengers, Belton Chavis and Charles Fletcher, said that they are running in support of Hudson.
“I just got tired of the town council putting the mayor down because he’s done the best job he could,” said Chavis, a Gibson native and member of the Gibson Fire Department. “Ronnie Hudson has made the town what it is right now.”
Fletcher echoed Hudson’s ambition to bring business into Gibson’s town limits.
“We’re just trying to get some kind of businesses to come there — a grocery store or a convenience store,” he said. “The problem now is that we don’t have any commercial growth.”
A self-employed contractor, Fletcher has lived in Gibson for six years.
Ken Haney, who once served as Gibson’s town manager, is running for the town commission after mounting a failed mayoral campaign in 2011. Haney said that his priority is finding funds to improve Gibson now that the town’s original function as a farm town is fairly obsolete.
“Gibson is a good little bedroom community,” Haney said. “It was a booming farm town at one time but now all the farming is mechanized and you don’t need all the help to produce the product that they did then.
“The two most important things in most any town are the services they offer to the people and the two main services Gibson has are its water and sewer,” Haney added. “Some of it has aged and is going to need some attention in the next few years. As in any small town, there’s not a whole lot of money out there, except for maybe some grants, to help fund these types of projects.”
Mack Wilkins, running for a second term as Gibson commissioner, placed his priorities with creating a better play place for children as well as exploring business options for the crate plant on Fletcher Street. A retired Department of Corrections supervisor, Wilkins has lived in Gibson for 32 years.
“We have people who are still living in the past in Gibson and they want to keep the town as small as they can, but you’ve got to think about the young people and the generations coming up behind us,” Wilkins said. “I want to see Gibson active and moving like it was when I was a young man — I remember when you actually had to wait to cross the street.”
Incumbents Lula Cottingham and Charles Webb could not be reached for comment.
With no opposition in this year’s elections Wagram Mayor Milton Farmer as well as town board members Jackie Laviner, Hyder Massey, and Robert McLaughlin will continue to serve.
Farmer sees the lack of opposition as a vote of confidence from Wagram residents in the current council’s plans to replace the town nutrition center and build a playground behind the Wagram Recreation Center.
“We have no agendas or anything like that, we just try to do what’s best for the community,” he said. “Wagram is a small community and we don’t have a whole lot of money so we basically apply for a whole lot of grants.”
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