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Local council candidates focus on growth and development

Oct 16, 2019 04:23AM

By Alan Hodge 

[email protected]

The subjects of growth and development headed up the list of things on local municipal election city council candidate’s minds. 

Using contact information provided by the Gaston County Board of Elections, the BannerNews reached out to city council candidates in Belmont, Mt. Holly, and Cramerton with the question “what do you think are the two greatest challenges facing your town, and how would you address them?” Candidates were also asked to provide a brief biographical sketch.

City of Belmont council candidates that responded included- Ron Foulk, Claudina Ghianni-Toole, James Hefferan, Marc Seelinger, Martha Stowe. Mt. Holly candidates that responded included Carolyn Breyare, Phyllis Harris, Jeffrey Meadows, Christina Pawlish, Kenneth Reeves, Perry Toomey. Cramerton candidates that responded included Richard Atkinson, Susan Neeley, Donald Rice.

In their own words. The following comments were provided by each candidate.


Carolyn Breyare

As a lifelong resident of Mount Holly, serving on the council has allowed me the opportunity to serve the city

that is intertwined in every part of my life. I was a young girl growing up on Tuckaseege Mill Village, shopping downtown at Derr’s, drinking orangeades at Charlie’s Drug Store, attending Mount Holly High School. My husband, Pete and I raised our two children, Carrie and Brandon here, my two granddaughters, Chelsea, and Cassidy grew up here, and we will soon welcome my first great-grandchild. After retiring from USAir, 12 years ago, I began serving as a councilwoman for the city of Mount Holly. I still reside in my home of 48 years and attend Second Baptist Church in Mount Holly.

Mount Holly is a growing and vibrant city with much to offer new and current business. I believe in order to maintain this growth, we need to establish a firm foundation in our city’s infrastructure. In order to continue on our current pattern of development, we will need to evaluate and strengthen the core of the city’s facility.

The key to solving important issues such as this is to maintain a relationship with the citizens and know what ultimately will be best for the city as a whole. In preparation and anticipation for the future, I will always look for ways to attempt to stay a few steps ahead, by planning our infrastructure to allow for the increased use that comes with growth.

I view the role of an elected official similar to that of a trustee-to use his/her expertise simply to represent the people-to understand their desires, yet educate them on roadblocks and competing priorities so that everyone is able to understand alternative points of view. An elected official must be fiscally responsible and think very critically about how and why tax revenues are invested. Anyone that has watched me over the last 12 years on council knows that I am not afraid to invest where it makes sense and betters the community. Elected officials cannot be afraid to make hard decisions.

Christina Pawlish

I am Christina Pawlish. I have lived in Mount Holly 3 years now and very passionate about our community. I served in the United States Navy from 2001-2008 where I was a distinguished leader. During this time, I was also deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. I am a Registered Nurse, Certified Personal Trainer, and have my Master’s Degree. I own a local business Accentuate Med Spa where I offer a variety of aesthetic procedures. My husband, Keith Pawlish (optometrist) and I sponsor sporting events for our community and would like to become more involved. Our children attend schools in Mount Holly and are involved in various sporting activities throughout the community. I currently serve as a school nurse for Gaston County Schools. 

My view on challenges facing Mount Holly are: 

Housing: Review of planned housing, existing structures, and structures in need of demolition. Create a distinctive, attractable community. Not a huge supporter of apartment structures. Smaller, affordable housing should be a priority.

Infrastructure: Review of cities infrastructure (water, sewer, electric, Wi-Fi access, streets). Mount Holly has doubled in size since 2000 and is expected to grow more rapidly over the coming years. The city and its utilities will be expected to grow with and to accommodate such growth. We can speak with neighboring communities on ideas maintaining sustained growth. I, as well as other residents, are concerned with the recent increase in our water bill. Some households that may have difficulty paying their water and sewer bills include those on fixed incomes or lower incomes, as well as households that face a temporary crisis such as a job loss, illness, or other domestic situation. By developing a household affordability program, we would be able to focus on an individual’s ability to pay for drinking water and wastewater services.

Schools: Review districts to alleviate long bus rides for the children. Review status/condition of schools structures (ages). Increase the amount of physical education in schools to improve health outcomes.

Parks/Recreation: Tuckaseege Park is a great city park with great walkways/trails. The city needs more walking trails, bicycle paths, to encourage/accommodate residents exercising. Adding sidewalks to the city streets as an alternative to create safe, walkable neighborhoods.

Addressing challenges are never easy nor cheap. As a growing community, we must come together through meetings, discussions, town halls, etc. and talk about the best ways to move as a growing community while doing our best to maintain the quality of life a small community such as ours is now. To sustain such growth, one must invest in its infrastructure (as I have outlined in my vision of Mount Holly). We must evaluate the city’s budget and make sound judgement calls on what we need to invest in first. In stating such, a priority list should be established. Examples include a 5 year, 10 year, and 15 year plan on expenditures along the way taking into account our growing population. We must encourage smart growth by working together with surrounding areas to create environmental sustainability and land preservation. By increasing community engagement, we will achieve long-term and sustainable outcomes, processes, relationships, discourse, decision-making, and implementation.  Unity for Our Community.

Jeff Meadows

My name is Jeff Meadows. I am 51 years old. I am a retired real estate executive with a master’s degree in Public Administration from UCF.  I specialized in developing apartments for Seniors and Mixed Income. My wife is Hope Meadows (An incedible wife and mother) and we have two dynamic children, Sophia 10 years old and Bo 8 years old. Both are soccer players that I have enjoyed coaching for 5 or so years.

I am excited to be running for office again. Serving Mt. Holly’s constituents with a positive outlook is my top priority. Managing  growth and maintaining our infrastructure will be our greatest opportunity in the near future. Our leadership (Council, City staff, appointed positions and business owners) has achieved a great baseline. My experience for 7 plus years on the Planning Commission and the last 3 plus years serving on Council has equipped me to better serve. My approach will continue to be to first listen and learn then act accordingly. Transparency will also be top of mind for me if elected again to serve another term.

I support a thriving community functioning within our means through balanced growth (More Commercial); economic development (Job Creation and Retention); preserving our quality of life (Community Events and Programs); encouraging civic engagement; and top quality services to our citizens. Implementing  our updated Strategic Vision Plan created with specific input from our citizens will be a key element to continue Mount Holly’s success as a community of choice. Thanks for reading my response.

Ken Reeves

I have been a residence of Mount Holly for 33 years.  I grew up as a military child living in many different places in the United States.  I am committed to serving Mount Holly residences.  I am a Christian with Christian values.  I attend Catawba Heights Church and currently involved with the motorcycle ministry.  Also currently involved with the Gaston Co. Toy run for the Kids, as an active committee for 10 years.  I work at Gastonia Dodge, Gastonia.I also served on the Spencer Mountain Road volunteer fire department as assistant chief and training officer.  Presently, I am an instructor for the NC State Inspection program at Gaston College. 

 Number one challenge I believe is the growth of Mount Holly, because of our location of our proximity to Charlotte, NC and Mountain Island Lake.  Growth is going to happen, and as a member of the council I will work with other city council members to make sure we do not overwhelm our area with growth to the point we cannot enjoy our small town.

 My other concern, is how we handle the city finances.  Everyone in the area has experienced a large increase in their property value.  This has put in some cases a hardship on some of our lifelong elderly citizens and retirees.  The increase in property taxes could cause people to lose their homes.  For some people the extra $50 or $60 could have it so that people either have to choose between paying taxes or life essentials.

 As a member of the council, I would like to work with other council members to make sure we do not overwhelm our infrastructure and make sure all builders use top quality materials when adding to our infrastructure.  As a council member we need to work with builders to make sure their projects contribute to Mount Holly’s long range plans.  The city of Mount Holly need to have a balancing growth for industry and homes so that the tax burden is not just on the home owners.

 The city budget needs to take into account people on a fixed income and identify these individuals and come up with a budget that does not adversely affect people on a fixed income.  Example: As long as they own their home, and live in it their taxes are set up in a way that does not go up and force them out of their home.

 In closing, I look forward, if elected to working with citizens of Mount Holly and bring their ideas to city government to better Mount Holly for citizens of Mount Holly.

Perry Toomey

The biggest challenge facing Mount Holly is how we address the future growth of our city. With careful planning, we can maintain our community character, enhance and preserve our city for future generations. Currently, the Economic Development Committee and City staff is contracting with the Retail Advisory Services Group. They will offer experience and guidance as we move forward. This group also includes community civic  organizations and local businesses, ensuring everyone is represented and has a vested interest in the process. I currently serve on this committee, and if re-elected, will continue to serve. 

The wastewater treatment plan is a major expense the City will face in the near future. I support consolidating our plant with Charlotte Mecklenburg Utilities. 

Traffic issues are also a concern for all citizens. The City staff has, and will continue to, address this issue with our corporate businesses and the North Carolina Department of Transportation. Our future growth depends on our ability to travel freely within our city limits. 

Born and raised in Mount Holly, I am committed to the development of a responsible budget, based on established priorities. If re-elected, I will remain accessible, and seek to find the most effective solutions for our city’s inclusive, cultural, and financially stable future.

Phyllis  Harris

On November 5th you will have an opportunity to choose three council members to help guide Mount Holly for the next four years.  It is important that you take the time to vote as well as to know who it is you are voting for.  

I grew up in Mount Holly and graduated from Mount Holly High School in 1972.  I married another Mount Holly native, Ronnie Harris.  Our son, Garren grew up in Mount Holly and graduated from East Gaston High School. Ronnie and I are glad that we were raised in such a warm and caring environment and feel grateful that Garren could experience growing up here as well.

My love and appreciation for Mount Holly helped me decide to run again for City Council.  I served on the council from 1991 to 2007.  Twice I received the greatest number of votes, allowing me to serve as Mayor Pro Tem.  I was very active in many county, state, and national associations including the Transportation Advisory Committee from 1996 to 2007 and the North Carolina League of Municipalities Board of Directors in Raleigh from 1996 to 1998. I also attended the Urban Open Leadership Institute in Charlotte.

I currently serve on the Parks and Recreation Commission and have for many years. I was asked by the Mayor and City Council a couple of years ago to spearhead the Summer Concert Series.  This has continued to be a successful endeavor drawing many residents and visitors to our downtown area. My involvement in these activities and organizations gives me contacts that could aid our city in pursuing additional funding and programs to help make Mount Holly a better place to live.

I feel that I am a good candidate for City Council because of my love for Mount Holly and that is supported by my years of experience as a city official.  I am retired and can devote the significant amount of time that will be required to make Mount Holly as good as it can be.

Some of the important issues facing Mount Holly are:

 Growth is a challenge and an opportunity.  We need to manage growth that is beneficial to Mount Holly.  Just because a developer comes to the city with a request doesn’t mean it will be in the best interest of the city. Our standards-not those of the developer should guide us.

 Another challenge is infrastructure.  It is a foundational tool for our economy.  We must be very deliberate and weigh all the issues related to transportation such as roads, bike highways and even light rail. Our power supply, our water (a clean supply of it and management of our water resources) and sewage treatment are also all big infrastructure issues right now. 

Transportation will always be an issue.  We need to improve roads.  We must work closely with state entities to ensure the long-term needs of Mount Holly are met.


Claudina Ghianni-Toole

Living and working in Belmont for 25 years—both in the city and unincorporated areas—has given me a unique perspective on the scope of challenges that face Belmont today and will in the future.  In addition to a long history of attending city council meetings, I serve on the Parks and Recreational Advisory Board, Keep Belmont Beautiful, Belmont Historical Society, Holy Angels Board of Trustees, coach for Girls of the Run and a volunteer at Catherine’s House. 

 I am an adjunct professor at Belmont Abbey College and health care provider. I have enjoyed what Belmont offers and am so grateful for the community that I call home. My desire to serve on your city council is born out of this gratitude.

The role of council is service to our citizens and community. It is accomplished by maintaining the quality of life that we have come to enjoy and expect. You need a council who will reach out to citizens and listen. The role of government, especially municipal government, is to make your everyday life better. This work will only become more challenging as our community grows.

Council members must meet this challenge by being transparent, taking responsibility for our decisions, and respecting our citizens and each other. We must also give careful consideration to each approval granted for building new developments, annexing new neighborhoods, and expanding municipal services beyond their current boundaries.

I am proud to call Belmont home. With your support, I will work every day to preserve our home while meeting the challenges ahead. 

James Hefferan

I have been a Belmont resident since 2012.  I have a BA from Michigan and a JD from Wake Forest.  I worked as an attorney with Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton from 2003-2012.  From there, I spent five years as a professor of law in Charlotte before returning to the firm in 2017.  I have served the community as a member of both the Planning Board and the Board of Adjustment since 2016.  As a member of the Planning Board I served alongside members of City Council and other community leaders on a steering committee to update the Comprehensive Land Use Plan, which was finalized in 2018.  In addition, I serve on the Gaston County Animal Care and Enforcement Advisory Board and am a reader at Queen of the Apostles Church.

I believe Belmont is a great place to live.  That said, Belmont, like any city, faces its share of challenges.  Certainly the biggest challenge at present is managing the growth the city has been experiencing.  I have observed many discussions regarding growth at City Council meetings over the past several years.  From numerous public comments made before the Planning Board during my tenure, I also know that many residents remain concerned about the impact of growth on the City and on their own lives.  In many ways, growth is inevitable.  The key task in the next 5-10 years is to formulate strategies to minimize the impact of growth and preserve all that makes our community a great place to live.

Another concern is what I see as a “disconnect” between City government and City residents regarding certain decisions.  Having attended the majority of City Council meetings over the past several years, it is apparent that City staff and Council work hard on behalf of the City.  Communication has changed over the years and I want to work with residents to find the best way to get facts out to everyone.  Having listened to public comments at meetings and in speaking to neighbors, I think we can do a better job of getting accurate information out to the public.

As a member of the Planning Board, I have already been addressing these challenges.  During my tenure on the Board, I have voted in favor of the South Point Peninsula Overlay District to reduce density on the peninsula and voted to amend the Land Development Code to require large developers to hire traffic engineers to review their projects and mandate improvements in order to mitigate the traffic impacts as a condition of approval.  I also assisted in the updating of the Comprehensive Land Use Plan to establish a framework for future development and land use, while protecting what is unique and important about Belmont.  I believe City Council can continue to lay the necessary foundation for a bright future by holding periodic workshops with the Planning Board to develop a shared vision for managing growth and updating the Land Development Code to implement the vision of the new Comprehensive Land Use Plan.  I will also use my skills as a lawyer and educator to ensure that Council makes and communicates decisions in a sound and transparent manner.

Mark Seelinger

Marc Seelinger graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with a degree in Economics, going on to work for some of the nation’s leading insurance carriers and developing extensive data analytics and business intelligence expertise. He also operates a small real estate business with his wife Cherry, and he enjoys spending time with his son, Winston, and his dog Reagan. He currently sits on the Belmont Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, where he assisted in the 10-year master plan update. He is also an active member of Queen of the Apostles parish and is a member of the parish Finance Committee.


The biggest challenge confronting Belmont is how to handle all the growth that is pouring into the city. Belmont is a special place, which is why we need to resist the siren song of those who would litter our home with cookie-cutter apartment buildings. Many people live in Belmont precisely because they want a safe, clean, and quiet place to raise a family or live out their retirement. With bulldozers clearing every square inch of land and apartments popping up on every street corner, that life will no longer be possible and Belmont will lose something that, once lost, will be very difficult to get back: its soul.

The second challenge confronting Belmont is closely related to the first: traffic. It seems as if every day the backups that clog our morning commutes get just a little bit worse. While there is a lot of traffic cutting through Belmont from other areas, a large part of our current traffic woes stem from a failure to upgrade our infrastructure in a way that keeps pace with new development. It is irresponsible to allow growth to occur without making key upgrades in roads and other infrastructure when many of these problems (traffic, school crowding, etc.) are entirely predictable.


The first step in addressing these challenges is to stop rubber-stamping zoning variances that don’t align with the Land Use Plan. The continued proliferation of large apartment complexes will only continue to worsen existing problems, and there are lots of tools in the existing code to restrict this kind of development. We need to ensure that whatever new development is approved is consistent with the Land Use Plan. A lot of community input generated a lot of good ideas in that plan and, City Council needs to stand behind it. The plan shouldn’t change to accommodate development. Development should change to accommodate the plan.

Martha Stowe 

I am a native of Lincolnton and have spent most of my adult life in Belmont.  For the last fifteen years of my teaching career I was a math teacher at South Point High School. My husband Sam and I enjoy spending time with our three grandchildren. Although I retired from public schools in 2017 I have continued to teach high school math in several schools in Gaston County. My community involvement includes Keep Belmont Beautiful, our metropolitan planning organization, and the botanical garden board of visitors.

During my terms on the council I have participated in reviewing and updating Belmont’s  Comprehensive Land Use Plan as it is the fluid document which leads growth. In addition I have encouraged resident participation to help shape Belmont’s future footprint as we balance property owners’ rights (with direction from the City’s legal team) and smart growth. We continually work with DOT to improve our network of roads and streets. Often we forget that many of our streets are state roads. The most exciting accomplishment of our council and town is the completion of the Kevin Loftin Riverfront Park. Our council has collaborated with the local rowing club to set up a permanent site for them on the lake which provides another recreation opportunity not previously possible for our residents. 

As a council member and mayor pro tem it has been exciting to see Belmont thrive with the development of our Main Street with businesses and restaurants.  Belmont is a vibrant community that is the envy of other cities throughout the State of North Carolina.  Because of the quality of life and the interest of many people who want to enjoy what we have to offer we have a major challenge in managing our growth.  The state has taken away many of the options that municipalities have used in the past to regulate growth including declaring a moratorium to stop growth.  We have to be very creative in order to abide by state statutes and still have quality developments with a variety of housing types.  The other challenge is transportation.  A substantial amount of our rush hour traffic comes through Belmont from South Carolina since our roads provide a short cut for many Charlotte employees. We have been working diligently with DOT with regard to the Build a Better Boulevard project (Wilkinson Boulevard), improving the interstate and exits, and the new bridge across the river. The most important part of our task has been working with the regional planning group in Charlotte to convince them that we want to be a part of light rail when it is brought to the airport and convincing DOT to have the new bridge infrastructure ready for rail.  I spoke on behalf of the city to a very unreceptive audience in order to convince them to vote to support our request. We still have a major amount of work ahead of us to build a network of greenways. My hope is that people will be able to bike or walk to the Kevin Loftin Riverfront Park from all areas of the city. Not only are we repaving and improving our streets and sidewalks we are planning for the next generation. 

Ron Foulk

Currently I serve as a member of the Belmont City Council. During my tenure on council I have served on various committees and have held the office of Mayor Pro Tem.  I enjoy volunteering my time assisting with community projects and special events. I am married have two sons and five grandchildren. My family has resided in the Belmont and South Point area since 1975. I hold a B.S Degree in Elementary Education from Appalachian State University, a Master of Education Degree from UNCC, and an Educational Specialist Degree from Appalachian State University. I am a retired Gaston County Elementary School Principal.

Belmont is a growing community and we must meet the challenge of planning and managing growth. We must plan for growth as it affects infrastructure, parks and recreation, zoning and other operational areas.  I will support growth that conforms to Belmont regulations, enhances the community, quality of life and is possible from an economic and net tax base. Council must continue the five-year rolling budget process to support the growth by projecting revenue and identifying prioritized departmental needs and capital projects by year.

Regional growth is a major issue for our traffic infrastructure.  During the morning and afternoon commute motorists can expect delays and extended wait times.  Many cars travel thru our community from the south up South Point Road and from the west across Upper Armstrong Road to gain access to the 85 and Wilkinson Blvd Corridors. As a council we must continue to collaborate with our regional transportation organization (MPO) and the State Department of Transportation to identify projects that will improve traffic flow and safety. Plans are to upgrade the Wilkinson Blvd. corridor including replacement of the bridge across the Catawba River with provision for lanes to accommodate vehicle, light rail and pedestrian traffic. Plans are also in place for additional improvements to the roads and intersections in our area. My goal will be to continue to work collaboratively with local, regional and state agencies to identify and fund needed road improvements.

I want to be re-elected to another term and continue to work together, as neighbors, so Belmont will be the wonderful community we know and love. I will approach my term with integrity and professionalism. I will study the facts, listen to the people and make sound decisions based on facts.


Susan Neeley

Susan Neeley currently serves as Town of Cramerton Commissioner, 2015-2019.  Neeley is running unopposed for reelection to the same seat for the 2019-2023 four-year term.  She has a Master of Science, UNC Greensboro, Bachelor of Science, Gardner Webb University,  Associate Degree, Gaston Community College,  Legal Nurse Consultant/Nurse Paralegal, former Town of Cramerton, Planning and Zoning Board/Board of Adjustment member, former Chief Judge of Elections, Town of Cramerton, Recipient, 2015 North Carolina Governor’s Order of the Long Leaf Pine, Recipient, WBTV Jefferson Awards in recognition of Outstanding Public Service, Recipient, Great 100 Nursing Excellence Lifetime Achievement honor, Board Member, North Carolina Institute of Medicine, 2018 Present, Retired, Emergency Services Nurse Manager, and Nursing Shift Manager, Gaston Memorial Hospital/CaroMont Retired, Health Services Director, Gaston County Schools. 

Future Challenges Facing Cramerton 

While many may see the following as challenges, I would rather use the phrase opportunities for controlling the growth of Carmerton. 

Commercial Growth.  The Town of Cramerton Commission plans to focus on “nonresidential growth opportunities” meaning the addition of commercial Business/Biz Park.  We are excited that CaroMont Healthcare will become a new neighbor on South New Hope Road, as well as other new businesses that we have previously welcomed.  Additionally, we welcomed Libby Lou’s, Teacher Box on Market Street as that area will continue to expand to include other commercial properties.  Lastly, we are working with other municipalities to unify economic development for the good of all Gaston County citizens. 

Continued Success of Eco Tourism.  For the past two years, Goat Island Park hosted National Trail Day with the Carolina Thread Trail bringing more than 1,000 folks both years to Cramerton. The Board understands and respects the needs of our citizens, and we realize they enjoy spending time outdoors in our natural areas. The Commission will continue to look for ways to conserve the environment and at the same time improve the well-being of our citizens by making wise use of our natural resources as we provide additional opportunities for the community. 

“I remain aware of our communities needs/concerns and will do my best to continue to work toward improving services for all our citizens.  I care deeply about Cramerton’s future and wish to serve my community as we continue “smart growth” planning” in order to encourage a mix of building types and uses, and development to encourage community involvement”.

Richard Atkinson

I grew up in the small town of Hamlet, NC, a railroad town in the eastern part of the state. I worked for the railroad in between college years. I graduated from NC State University, School of Design with a Professional Degree in Architecture. I am  co-founder of ADW Architects, PA, and retired in 2010, however, I am a NC Registered Architect. I am also co-founder of Edifice  Inc., a General Contractor also located in Charlotte, NC. I divested my ownership in 1997, and currently hold a NC General Contractor’s license.

The two biggest issues, in my opinion, in Cramerton has to do with growth. First as it relates to Planning and Zoning . We have a small amount of land undeveloped in Cramerton . We must have “ Smart Growth “. We must position ourselves as a town to choose our destiny. We must plan for the future that reinforces who we are as a town and what we want to become. We must be prepared for future growth, traffic and infrastructure.

The second biggest issue is, how does the Town of Cramerton provide quality services and amenities for our existing residences and our future growth.