By Richard Sullins and Gordon Anderson | |

The process of selecting a new mayor and two new members of the Sanford City Council begins Thursday and will end on July 26, which is Election Day for Sanford’s 2022 municipal election.

Democrat Rebecca Wyhof Salmon is running unopposed to succeed outgoing Mayor Chet Mann, who announced earlier this year that he would not seek a third term as the city’s chief executive officer. Salmon defeated fellow Democrat and Ward 1 City Councilman Sam Gaskins in the May primary.

Democrat Linda Rhodes will square off against Republican Richard Porter for an at-large seat on the city council being vacated by Democrat Chas Post. Democrat Mark Akinosho will face Republican Blaine Sutton to represent the Ward 1 seat being vacated by Gaskins.

Democrat J.D. Williams is running unopposed for re-election to represent Ward 3.

If you live inside the city limits of Sanford, grab your calendar and write these important dates down.

The deadline to register for voting in the municipal elections was July 1, and voting by absentee ballot is now open. The last day to request an absentee ballot by mail is July 19.

One-stop early voting begins at 8 a.m. on Thursday, July 7, and will continue through Saturday, July 23, at 3 p.m.. All persons wanting to vote early will need to cast their ballots at the Lee County Board of Elections office at 1503 Elm Street in Sanford.

If you are a registered voter in the city limits of Sanford and typically vote at the Tramway Elementary School precinct, you will vote at Southern Lee High School for this election only.

Likewise, if you are registered to vote in the city limits of Sanford and normally vote at the Deep River School precinct, you will vote at B.T. Bullock School for this election only.

Hours for early voting will be from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. on weekdays. The last day of early voting will be Saturday, July 23, when early voting will take place from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m.

On July 26, Election Day begins just after sunrise at 6:30 a.m. and the polls will remain open until 7:30 p.m. The Board of Elections staff will report the results to the North Carolina State Board of Elections after the votes are tabulated. Results will be available here.

The voter ID law that was passed by the state legislature in 2018 is still being challenged in court and is not being enforced this year as a result.

Below are answers municipal candidates submitted and which were published in the July 2022 edition of The Rant Monthly. Answers are published as they were received and without edits.

Republican Richard Porter, left, and Democrat Linda Rhodes.

The race for one of two at large seats on the Sanford City Council will be a matchup between Republican Richard Porter and Democrat Linda Rhodes. The winner will take the seat currently held by Democrat Chas Post, who is vacating the seat this year.

The City Council faces significant turnover beginning in August and the winner of this race will become one of three new members. What are two or three issues or items you will to bring to the city’s attention, and how will you work with your colleagues to address them?

Richard Porter (R): First of all, I am grateful to the citizens of Sanford for this opportunity to serve on the Sanford City Council. I believe the City Council has done a very good job and should be commended for the good work. Chas Post whose his seat I’m running for, has done an excellent job. Chet Mann has done a wonderful job as Mayor with his “open for business” agenda. Under his leadership the city is growing and is poised for future growth. Our best days are ahead. We must embrace our past as well as continue to shape our future.

I’m lifelong resident of the Sanford and Lee county. I went to city schools here- starting at McIver school furthering my education at Sanford junior high school, Sanford central high school and CCTI. I’ve owned and worked at a number of businesses in Sanford and Durham- managing as many as 175 employees. I’ve been in the roofing business for over 50 years. I feel like I bring a strong business acumen to the city Council which by the way the city is a huge business.

My experience over the years has prepared me to continue to work with all walks of life. As a elected city official we need to continue to strengthen the relationship with county and identify areas of overlap to save both entities money. We need to work as a community setting aside our personal differences and agendas. We are much stronger together than divided. I intend to seek the input of all the citizens of Sanford who I will serve-Everyone’s opinions matter.

Linda Rhodes (D): This will be a time of significant membership and role changes on the City Council. But, let me remind folks that at some point, everyone was the new person on the Council. Even Michael Jordan had to earn his way into the lineup! I am earning my way into the lineup and already have working and community relationships with current board members.

Those relationships will serve me well in being able to work productively and respectfully with my fellow City Council members. I look forward to working with everyone as we continue to address the issue of growth and its impact on our community, the continued revitalization of downtown Sanford and Jonesboro, and we must work together and acknowledge the opioid crisis that we are witnessing in our neighborhoods.

By the same token, what issues facing the current council would you like to see addressed more expansively or differently?

Richard Porter (R):1.) Public safety, infrastructure improvements.

2.) Managing future growth

3.) Lowering the tax rate and being a good steward of tax payer dollars.

Public safety is a very important department as we grow. I want to point out that I feel that our chief of police Ronnie Yarborough and his administration have done a outstanding job for a number of years. Pursing accreditation and completing the task is something in which community should be proud.

Linda Rhodes (D): I will continue my thoughts on the opioid crisis with this question. I believe we need to broadly expand our approach to addressing and lessening the use of narcotics  throughout our communities. We must acknowledge a problem does exist and it will take all of us to develop a solution. And that solution will not be a simple “flow chart” of steps to take and all will be good. The successful and effective solution will involve law enforcement, ministers, the legal community, teachers, social workers, mental health professionals, parents, addicts, medical professionals, and business leaders. In other words, we all have a stake in the solution. Just like other communities, we are losing too many people and the safety of our neighborhoods is being impacted by the distribution and use of these drugs.

And I want to take a moment and commend the City on the recent action taken against The Prince Motel. For those readers that may not be familiar with it, the City has filed a lawsuit against the motel and has asked that it cease to do business due to it being a nuisance in the community. I agree with the actions taken by the City and thank those in the Rosemount-McIver neighborhood that spoke out and worked with our local law enforcement to bring us to this point in making our neighborhoods much safer.

Do you think it’s necessary for City Council elections to be held on a partisan basis? Why or why not?

Richard Porter (R): No answer.

Linda Rhodes (D): The fact is that our City Council worked quite well for decades on a non-partisan basis. And is there really anyone out there that believes we need more partisanship injected into our government?! There are a few that will defend the partisan approach, but those people tend to exist because of the drama and the self-importance that goes with partisan politics.

You know what they say about big fish and little ponds. What they don’t tell you is that the “big fish” always ends up getting fried…sometimes by the little fish. I think we have had our share of partisanship. Now is the time to forget about electing individuals that are held hostage by their party leadership; let’s elect real public servants based on their commitment and qualifications for the position. We need more genuine and common-sense adults in public service and not more big fish looking for a little pond.

It’s been reported that thanks to Sanford’s role in the VinFast deal, the city will receive millions of dollars over the next 50 years, all of it going to the unrestricted general fund. Do you have any proposals for the use of this revenue?

Richard Porter (R): We’ve done a great job of recruiting companies and being a regional player as evident in the latest announcement with VinFast.

The Vinfast revenues will be $22.2 million over 20 years in water alone. This money must be spent to support infrastructure related to the utility fund for expansion and rehabbing of our water and sewer infrastructure.

We will get spillover growth from Vinfast in Lee County in the form of housing as well as support companies for VinFast which will strengthen our tax base.

Linda Rhodes (D): There are so many different scenarios for this. But first, what a great predicament to find ourselves in! Our local governments have done an outstanding job partnering with industries like VinFast and securing a bright future for the citizens of Sanford and Lee County. The revenue collected from VinFast and other incoming industry will provide us the opportunity to carefully plan for and provide affordable housing for the families we are welcoming to our city. And because of partnerships like VinFast, generations will benefit from the foresight and planning on the part of our local and state governments. We have a lot to be proud of.

Regardless of how the expected revenue is used, we need to consider the local taxpayers’ burden over the years and make certain we do not increase that burden. Our citizens have exercised great care for our city and county and our taxpayers, especially those senior citizens living on fixed incomes, deserve consideration when deciding where revenue will be focused. Instead of me having predetermined areas for this anticipated revenue, I think it would serve me better to hear from our citizens and take into consideration their feedback.

Democrat Mark Akinosho, left, and Republican Blaine Sutton.

The race for the Ward 1 seat on the Sanford City Council – which covers much of west Sanford – will be a matchup between Democrat Mark Akinosho, a pastor and former chairman of the Lee County Board of Education, and Republican Blaine Sutton, a retired educator. The winner will take the seat currently held by Democrat Sam Gaskins, who is vacating the seat this year.

The City Council faces significant turnover beginning in August and the winner of this race will become one of three new members. What are two or three issues or items you will bring to the city’s attention, and how will you work with your colleagues to address them?

Mark Akinosho (D): The mayor and the two retiring members have done a good job to market Sanford as “open for business” and a place to invest for the future. I would like to thank them for their service. I have served on boards that had similar experiences of turnover. I feel like I bring a solid track record of positive leadership and decision-making. As chair of the Lee County Board of Education, I proved I can deliver results for our citizens, employees and stakeholders. I will consider all aspects of every issue before I vote. I am not beholden to anyone but the citizens of the City of Sanford.

I will be your voice for slow, smart, sensible growth. This means developments should complement existing homes and neighborhoods and take environmental issues into consideration. Infrastructure upgrades are necessary for moving forward. I’m a strong supporter of our police, fire, and the city employees. Their welfare will be one of my priorities. Land use, water, city facilities, parks, healthcare, fire, police, and first responder facilities are all necessary parts of the infrastructure investments and should not be considered separate issues. It is critical that these areas of our infrastructure grow as our city grows.

Blaine Sutton (R): There are many different challenges facing our Sanford City Council today. These include: 1) Lowering taxes without reducing services, 2) Attracting industry and jobs for a steadily increasing population, 3) Retaining and rewarding governmental personnel and staff (including first responders) at a time when neighboring counties offer better financial packages, and 4) maintaining the wholesome integrity of a small town while strategically adhering to land use policies and preparing the infrastructure for an immediate and ongoing population increase.

As a thirty-year career educator, I had many opportunities to interact with individuals with different points of view, backgrounds, levels of knowledge, and experiences. This ongoing journey instilled in me the value of attentively listening to others and asking questions later. I have learned each individual has something meaningful to share and their point of view must be respected.

Through open communication and meaningful conversations across political party lines, better decisions will be made. Through this ongoing process, the Sanford City Council will achieve more collaboratively and ultimately make our community a better place to work and raise a family. Together, we can achieve more!

By the same token, what issues facing the current council would you like to see addressed more expansively or differently?

Mark Akinosho (D): Homelessness and crime are serious issues that need to be addressed as we move forward. It must be done in conjunction with the county. It seems the current board has studied the issues and have started to implement some solutions via recommendations of the S3 Connect task force. I would like to continue this and expand on the mental health side of homelessness. I’m also concerned with increasing crime and mental health issues due to drug abuse. Furthermore, I would like to study ways to reduce property tax rates for a lot of our citizens who may not be able to stay in their homes as the city grows and their property values increase.

Blaine Sutton (R): Taxes in the city of Sanford rank among the highest in central North Carolina. We pay 62 cents per $100 property tax value whereas the property tax rate is 40 cents per $100 property value in Southern Pines and only 37.5 cents per $100 property tax value in Raleigh. We must do better than this by eliminating waste.

For many citizens of our community, these are tough economic times. They are struggling to make ends meet, including making the decision to buy medicine or putting money aside to pay their annual property tax. I have walked the majority of neighborhoods in Ward One and have heard this on several occasions. I am personally troubled to hear this from our elderly citizens. In short, the high property tax rate is a burden for too many people.

I believe it is important to be a faithful servant of your hard-earned tax dollars. This will be achieved through reducing and eliminating unnecessary taxes and fees (such as the $30 vehicle fee) for Sanford residents. We can and must do a better job of budgeting our fiscal affairs and managing that budget with a reduced tax burden for everyone.

Unfortunately, our quality of life does not match those oppressive tax burdens we presently have. It is my personal goal to improve the professionalism and fiscal responsibility of the current city council by advocating for eliminating unnecessary taxes and fees on your behalf. When this is achieved, Sanford will evolve into a family-friendly, business-friendly town with an abundance of opportunities for everyone.

As Sanford grows, we need to use intelligent long-range planning by integrating proper land-use procedures, infrastructure, and economic growth planning into an ongoing strategic plan for the city. We should provide water and sewer to all developed areas before selling those services to neighboring counties. We need to attract new companies with business-friendly permitting and inspections, lower taxes, and more frequent contact with economic development leaders. Their presence will help us better manage modernization projects like street lighting and curbing initiatives.

I aspire to do whatever it takes to make Sanford a family-friendly and business-friendly environment where people can work and raise a family. It will be an honor to represent you on the Sanford City Council.

Do you think it’s necessary for City Council elections to be held on a partisan basis? Why or why not?

Mark Akinosho (D): In my opinion there is no benefit to partisanship. The needs of our citizens have no partisan label. Partisanship prevents a lot of good people from participating. It is very difficult for those registered as unaffiliated to run for office.

Blaine Sutton (R): Since the Sanford City Council is currently a partisan board, I support the cooperation of all members of the city council to work together, regardless of their political affiliation, for the good of the city and its citizens.

It’s been reported that thanks to Sanford’s role in the VinFast deal, the city will receive millions of dollars over the next 50 years, all of it going to the unrestricted general fund. Do you have any proposals for the use of this revenue?

Mark Akinosho (D): I’m not going to speculate on the millions that are not available at this moment. 50 years is a long time. I think it’s just common sense to address the needs of Sanford as they come up, and try to plan ahead the best we can with the resources we have at that time.

Blaine Sutton (R): By all accounts, the VinFast deal will become a lucrative windfall for the city of Sanford.

On March 29, 2022, VinFast announced a two-billion-dollar electric car factory would be built near Sanford. Approximately 150,000 cars are expected to be built each year and provide thousands of high-paying jobs for citizens within driving distance of Sanford.

With millions of dollars being given to the city of Sanford over the next fifty years, I advocate using some of this revenue for the following:

  1. Lower taxes (by lowering the tax rate).
  2. Provide more substance abuse services.
  3. Create more greenways, which will connect neighborhoods since many people now feel isolated.
  4. Employ more first responders.
  5. Construct an indoor swimming facility. I believe all children need to learn to swim.
  6. Improve recreational opportunities for people of all ages.
  7. Community policing.
  8. Provide more eldercare services.
  9. Provide water and sewer to developed areas.
  10. Promote services that attract industry and jobs.
  11. Create a “rainy day fund” for the future.
  12. Create policing substations throughout the city