PEMBROKE — The candidates for the Pembroke Town Council are taking a hard look at the town’s assets and shortcomings going into the Nov. 7 election.
Four candidates are running for two positions on the council. Two incumbents, Channing Jones and Theresa Locklear, are facing challengers Allen Dial, a four-term member of the council, and Joe White, a newcomer.
In early voting, 67 votes have been cast so far. One issue all the candidates agree upon is the need for a clean election in Pembroke.
Two years ago, the election for mayor between Allen Dial and eventual winner Greg Cummings resulted in a new election after Cummings complained of unqualified voters. Cummings won the second election and Dial’s protest was rejected.
Pembroke is Robeson County’s fastest growing community along with St. Pauls, and there has been considerable progress with new opportunities for the future, including a growing university and growing revenues. Other issues, such as downtown revitalization, are familiar across the county.
One-term incumbent Theresa Locklear has three degrees from The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, including a master’s in social work. She is an investigator for the Robeson County Public Defender’s Office and a licensed social worker who works for the town of River Bend.
Locklear is focused on downtown redevelopment and is working to get grants for sidewalks and beautification projects.
“There are boarded up buildings on Third Street and that is not good,” Locklear said. “The town needs more sidewalks and beautification in general.”
Locklear sees her role as a community builder and wants to construct traditions that bind the entire community together. She said growth in recreation staff and programs during her term is an example of bringing people together.
“We started the Christmas tree lighting that was a success, and I would like to see that grow even larger with more trees,” she said. “We also had a successful tea party for little girls in the community and that was a success. I would like to see more children involved in town programs.”
Locklear said the university is a positive force for the community and would like to see more interaction between the town and UNCP.
“We have an excellent relationship with the university, and I’d like to see UNCP students more involved in the town at new restaurants and volunteering with recreation programs,” Locklear said.
Locklear praised the work and willingness of the town’s employees and said the council also “works well together.” She would like to see that continue.
“We don’t always agree, but we carry out the town’s business with dignity,” she said. “I am hoping for a clean election.”
Allen Dial served 16 years on the council. He has business interests in real estate and construction, and he is an auctioneer.
Dial would like to see the town build its cash reserves. While he was on the council, he said the reserves increased threefold to more than $750,000. He is critical of the state of the town’s finances.
Dial said he helped to usher in a new town manager and attorney, and was instrumental in bringing Walmart to town.
Although Dial says he does not want to appear to be a critic, he is not pleased by the lack of progress recently. Trash pick-up costs have increased and the town has contracted yard waste pick-up, he said.
“They talk about downtown revitalization, but nothing has been done,” Dial said. “We need sidewalks to Walmart and to Food Lion from the university. People are pushing strollers and driving motorized wheelchairs on our busiest street.”
Channing Jones, who is seeking his second term on the council, sees a very different financial picture of the town. Jones is the vice president for workforce development and continuing education at Robeson Community College.
“Financially, in the past four years, the general fund, which is tax based, has increased 130 to 140 percent, and the water and sewer fund, which is fee based, has increased 150 to 160 percent,” Jones said. “There have been no increases in taxes or fees, with the exception of fees for trash containers.
“The growth of sales tax revenue indicates the vigor of the town’s economy. I love the work as a councilman and working to build partnerships, working with business and industry, working to solve infrastructure issues and working with my fellow councilmen and women.”
Jones believes Pembroke is at the starting line for great things to come. He cited winning $3.5 million in grants over the past four years with $1.5 million in pending grant applications.
With growth has come employment growth at the police force and at Public Works, he said.
“We’ve reinvested in personnel and infrastructure,” Jones said.
“The thing I am proudest of is our response to Hurricane Matthew, the greatest natural disaster of our time,” Jones said. “Public Works kept services operating and the police kept the community safe, while the town supported efforts to feed and shelter refugees at Purnell Swett High School.
“The community came together to bring Pembroke out of the disaster.”
“There is so much more to talk about, including our branding campaign and new signage for the town,” he said. “It’s been a great four years.”
The Robesonian was unable to contact Joe White.
The Robesonian does not have a photograph of White, and the only one of Dial is decades old. Dial has been invited to submit a new one, and told the newspaper would no longer publish the dated one. He has not done so.
Reach Scott Bigelow at 910-816-1989.