Three seeking mayor’s seat in Selma

pseligson@newsobserver.comOctober 18, 2013 

Two men are running against Selma’s first-term Mayor Cheryl Oliver. Her opponents say nothing has changed in Selma during her two-year term, but Oliver says her record speaks for itself.

Dennis Davis

Challenger Dennis Davis said Selma needs to start on the road to progress by putting some teeth in its ordinances.

“Selma is a dirty town,” he said. “We need some ordinances to enforce cleanup, especially absentee landlords, to make them responsible for their property and their tenants.”

Davis wants to see a town commons or community building to bring people together. He also wants to put a group together to look at problems with Selma’s water and sewer lines, and he hopes to fill empty buildings downtown.

Davis said Selma hasn’t progressed in the last two years.

“The council and mayor haven’t done anything,” he said. “They’re putting out little fires, you know, spending their time worrying about how many yard sales people can have, where the political signs go or how long they stay up.”

As a candidate, Davis said his strength comes from his experience in public service. In the 1990s, he spent 10 years on the town council. He was president of the chamber of commerce in 1986 and has served on Selma’s planning board for the past 10 years. He was chairman of the Selma Downtown Development Partnership for four years.

Davis managed the Johnstonian Sun and later the Selma News for many years, finally retiring in 2008. He is 73.

“I haven’t seen too much progress made in Selma the last two years, and that bothers me,” Davis said. He said he hopes people will look at his experience, knowledge and leadership when they vote.

Cheryl Oliver

Oliver said her No. 1 goal is to lower Selma’s electricity rates. Doing that would help her accomplish her second goal, which is to grow Selma’s economy.

To bring down the cost of electricity, Oliver plans to continue meeting with state lawmakers and Electricities, the nonprofit trade group that provides services to North Carolina’s public-power towns.

“There’s been a lot of talking over a lot of years, but I think we’re getting close to some changes,” Oliver said.

The mayor said the Duke-Progress merger could pave the way for public-power towns to sell their systems to the combined utility. And while a bill on electric rates failed in the N.C. General Assembly, it at least got lawmakers talking, she said.

Oliver said her record speaks for itself. Since she became mayor, Selma has expanded its number of certified industrial sites, where are shovel-ready for new industry, she said. Also, the town has finished mapping its water and sewer lines, which will aid in the maintenance of Selma’s infrastructure, she said.

“We’ve been pretty much correcting problems as they arrive, and you do the big problems first,” Oliver said.

Oliver has also launched quarterly meetings with other Johnston County mayors and work sessions in between town council meetings. Those initiatives help the council make informed decisions, she said.

At meetings, Oliver asked town staff to present financial information in annual sums, which helped the council spot $400,000 in unexpected water-treatment costs and $150,000 in unpaid electricity bills. Through new policies, the town is recouping the utility bills, and it’s working on the water problem, she said.

She wants to continue marketing the town’s industrial sites and bring businesses back to vacant storefronts by working with downtown property owners and real estate agents. She also wants to organize more community events, such as the end-of-school bash and the 30-mile yard sale, and create more opportunities for youth, such as a community center for teens.

Oliver, 64, holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and a master’s degree in secondary administration from Pensacola Christian College. She was an administrator at Friendship Christian School in Raleigh, where she oversaw the school as it grew from K-6 to K-12. Later, as a division manager for AT&T, she oversaw AT&T.com and intranets for sales teams worldwide. Oliver was on the Selma Town Council from 2007 to 2011 before becoming mayor.

“I truly have led of the people and by the people and for the people as mayor,” Oliver said. “We’ve got to hold hands and build the future together. You don’t take an isolationist view. I think the future looks brighter thanks to the degree of partnerships we have.”

Jeff Watson

Jeff Watson said the biggest issue Selma faces is revitalizing downtown. To that end, he wants to bring District Court sessions back to town, and he hopes to lure businesses downtown by providing economic incentives and building renovations.

Watson hopes a renovated downtown will entice a grocery store, 24-hour drugstore and a dry cleaner to downtown. Such businesses, he said, could draw people to Selma.

“Selma is like a ghost town,” he said. “It looks like zombies in Selma.”

Watson said that when he runs into Selma residents at Walmart in Smithfield, he asks them if they ever visit downtown Selma. Their response: “I just go to work; come straight home. If I want to do anything, I go to Clayton or Raleigh.”

All of that money leaves Selma, Watson said. The way to capture it is to have places where people can go out, like a comedy club, a jazz spot or a place to drink wine, he said.

Watson wants to lower electricity bills by introducing competition. “Maybe if we let other companies come in, that will drive down the prices, because they’ll be competing for customers,” he said.

Watson said Oliver has done nothing while in office. “Basically Selma has made no progress,” he said.

At 42, Watson said his youth would serve Selma well. “I’m younger, more energetic and more of a team player than the rest of them are,” he said. “I have a master’s degree in educational leadership, so basically I can lead the town of Selma to where it needs to go.”

A graduate of Smithfield-Selma High School, Watson earned a bachelor’s degree in history and certification to teach high school social studies from East Carolina University. He earned a master’s degree in educational leadership from George Mason University before going to work for the federal government. He was also a teacher and school administrator in D.C. area. When he returned to Selma, Watson ran a restaurant. He is now the administrator of Christian Home Health Care.

“One time downtown was thriving,” Watson said. “But the people that made that money, they’re gone, and those buildings are vacant now. It’s time for a revitalization.”

Seligson: 919-836-5768

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