The only contested race in Lee County’s 2023 municipal election is the Ward 4 Democratic primary for Sanford City Council, and early voting began today.

Two term incumbent Byron Buckels faces a challenge from Tamekia Dowdy. The Rant presented each candidate with six questions about the race and is publishing the responses as they were received.

Early voting is available at the Lee County Board of Elections, 1503 Elm St., from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, and from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, August 27 and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 9. Early voting is not available on Labor Day, Sept. 4. Election Day is Sept. 12. Voter ID is required for this election. Registered Democrats and unaffiliated voters in Ward 4 are eligible to vote.

Click here for a map of Ward 4, which is contained in the southern portion of the city and bounded to the west by U.S. 1, the north by Chisholm and Weatherspoon streets, and the east by North Horner Boulevard, Chatham Street, and Courtland Drive.

Byron Buckels, left, and Tamekia Dowdy

Introduce yourself, explain why you’re seeking office, and share what skills and qualifications you believe make you the best candidate to be Sanford’s Ward 4 council member.

BUCKELS: My name is Byron Moses Buckels, I am running for Sanford City Council Ward 4. I’ve been happily married to my wife for thirty-two years, and we have three children and eight grandchildren. I currently serve as a City Councilman representing Ward 4. I’ve served our country as a U.S. Army Desert Storm War Veteran and served many years in full-time ministry. I work as a Commercial Real Estate Broker at Adcock Real Estate Service and hold a certification in Information Technology. I bring a diverse set of skills and experiences to the table.

What makes me the best candidate for city council is based on several factors:

Experience: Throughout my nine-year tenure as a city councilman, including three years as the Mayor Pro-Tem, I have gained a deep understanding of local governance and the responsibilities that come with the role. My experience has enabled me to effectively navigate the complexities of city council operations.

Community Involvement: I actively participate and have served on boards and committees including but not limited to S3 Housing Connect, Sanford Area Growth Alliance, Sanford Housing Authority, Equity Task Force, Building Integrated Communities, and Inter-Local Boards. I have partnered with local pastors and Central Carolina Community College to create job opportunities while also collaborating with various organizations to combat violence in our community. This demonstrates my strong commitment to serving our community and has given me firsthand knowledge of our needs and aspirations.

Understanding of Issues: Through my experience and community engagement, I have developed a profound understanding of the challenges and opportunities that our city faces. This knowledge equips me to make well-informed decisions and effectively address the issues that matter to our community.

DOWDY My name is Dr. Tamekia Dowdy, I am the first African American Female who is seeking office of City Council member in Sanford, NC and for Ward 4 in hopes of building up “Human Infrastructure” for those deserving citizens who are often left out of the political, social and non addressed socio-economic equation who need a voice to not only speak, but someone who is able to stand up for unresolved issues that are traumatizing the city of Sanford, NC. As a compassionate candidate/servant I am well equipped with knowledge, education, leadership roles and experiences that have brought me to this stage of my life. As recognized by Americorps, National Voting Caucus for Human Rights, Concerned Citizens for Community Action, Inc. and Points of Light because of my experiences and volunteering of my time in helping others, I received the  prestigious “Presidential LifeTime Achievement Award” from the President of the United States of America Joseph R. Biden. I am prepared to fight for every Lee Countian as I always have regardless of party affiliation, gender, social status or any other persuasion. For this reason, and having talked with our neighboring municipalities and Sanford citizens, participated and/or organized various community events to combat issues such as violence/drug abuse /and mental health, attended various workshops and training, conducted citizen surveys and one on one campaign efforts for the past few years and months. I understand the heartache, and daily struggles that everyday ordinary people go through in our communities especially those who have been traumatized through violence, drug abuse, and mental health issues.

How do you propose to address challenges brought by continued growth and annexation, both in terms of areas the mayor and the city council can control (police, fire, infrastructure) and those which are handled by other policymakers (schools, etc.)?

BUCKELS: To address growth and annexation demands, we must prioritize our police and fire departments by maintaining staffing levels, providing necessary equipment, and offering comprehensive training. Ongoing assessments will determine the need for additional police and fire stations in expanded areas, ensuring community safety and well-being.

Furthermore, it is important to make investments in our infrastructure. This includes expanding our water and wastewater systems as we are in the process of merging with Pittsboro, and in partnership with Holly Springs and Fuquay-Varina. Additionally, we must improve roads, parks, and public spaces, as they are essential for our daily lives, and we must invest in their maintenance and improvement.

We have to continually engage in discussions with other policymakers responsible for schools and healthcare through our inter-local meetings to influence policies that align with the needs of the community. I am committed to advocating for policies that prioritize education, healthcare accessibility, and overall quality of life.

DOWDY: I believe having spoken with various citizens and stakeholders that it’s important to have open and transparent communication channels to include public forums, meetings, and workshops to address any and all challenges faced in our city. It is important to hear all perspectives in decision making processes for any thriving municipality. I believe it is important to develop a comprehensive growth and annexation plan that takes into account the social, economic, and environmental impacts of such development. This plan should consider factors such as growth rates, infrastructure requirements, public services, transportation, zoning regulations, and environmental sustainability aligned with long term goals and vision for the community. It is imperative to collaborate with neighboring thriving municipalities, regional planning authorities, and other relevant entities to address similar challenges that can also benefit our municipality. Growth and annexation should be continuously monitored and evaluated to adjust strategies and plans as needed to address any concerns that may arise to continue understanding while promoting sustainable development as a whole.

If the challenges you discussed are appropriately met, where do you see Sanford in 10 years? Where do you see Sanford in ten years if the challenges are not appropriately met?

BUCKELS: If the challenges are met, in ten years the city’s infrastructure would be expanded and upgraded, accommodating the growing population. Improved roads, public transportation, and utilities would be in place. New residential and commercial developments would attract businesses and residents. Ample green spaces, parks, and recreational facilities would be available for residents. The city would have a vibrant cultural scene with museums, theaters, and community events. Access to healthcare and education would be enhanced. Police and fire departments would have adequate resources and personnel, ensuring community safety. Prompt response times, low crime rates, and secure neighborhoods would be the norm. Sanford’s economy would thrive with new businesses and industries, creating significant job opportunities for both existing and new residents. The city would be recognized as a favorable destination for entrepreneurs and investors, encouraging further economic growth and diversification.

>The council will have create an environment for those things to happen, however, if challenges are not appropriately met, insufficient infrastructure investments could lead to congestion and inadequate utilities. The city might struggle to progress with the demands of a growing population, resulting in deteriorating roads, limited access to essential services, and a decline in overall livability.

DOWDY: If the challenges of continued growth and annexation are met in Sanford, NC I see Sanford in ten years in a much healthier state expanding in attracting businesses, industries, and investments in our municipality that ultimately leads to job creation, increased economic activity, and a broader tax base which decreases the overall poverty rate for Sanford. When growth and annexation are properly addressed the overall prosperity of the community is improved and contributes to an improved quality of life for all residents. However, if the annexation and growth challenges are not met negative consequences can arise such as strained infrastructure systems, fiscal challenges, social inequality, poor public services, and erosion of community values. Neglecting to address growth and annexation can cause Sanford to become overwhelmed and unable to meet the demands of a growing population leading to a decline in the overall quality of life leading to higher poverty and crime rates in Sanford.

What challenges are unique to Ward 4, and what will you do specifically to see that the council enacts solutions to those challenges?

BUCKELS: (1) Public Safety(criminal activity) (2) Removing blight from neighborhoods (3) Improving infrastructure

As a Ward 4 representative, I have specific plans to address community challenges. Here are my intended actions:

1. To address concerns about criminal activity, I will prioritize additional community policing initiatives. This means allocating resources to increase police presence in high-crime neighborhoods. By doing so, we can enhance the safety and security of law-abiding residents, allowing them to enjoy their homes without fear of criminal behavior from nearby individuals.

2. Advocate for a Community Violence Intervention Program

3. Propose ordinances and policies to address vacant or abandoned properties

4. Advocate for increased funding for infrastructure projects, including road repairs, sidewalk improvements, and utility upgrades.

Collaborate with council members to secure support and successfully implement solutions.

DOWDY: Some of the challenges that are unique to Ward 4 are repeated cycles of community trauma, poverty, mental health issues, homelessness, drugs, and crime. As a councilwoman I will enact permanent solutions such as early prevention and intervention by investing in working programs to address the underlying factors that contribute to these issues. This may include initiatives such as rehabilitative and permanent affordable housing programs, low income housing self sufficiency assistance partnerships, community based substance abuse prevention and recovery programs/housing, mental health awareness services, and youth development and intervention programs to help individuals and families avoid the cycles of homelessness, poverty, drug abuse, and violent crimes. It is imperative to collaborate with neighboring municipalities and possibly duplicate similar working programs to meet the needs of our citizenry.

Your race is the only contested race in all of Lee County for the 2023 municipal election cycle. Why do you think interest in public service is low at this time, especially given the explosive growth Sanford and Lee County are experiencing? Do you have any thoughts about how to increase civic engagement among city residents?

BUCKELS: In recent years, the previous council under the leadership of former Mayor Mann and the current council led by Mayor Salmon partnering with the Sanford Area Growth Alliance, Downtown Sanford, TDA, and others have done an outstanding job helping to position Sanford as a regional hub for the life science industry, utility service and tourism. We have positioned our city for success therefore I think the interest in public service is low at this time because most of the citizens are satisfied with how things are governed.

I highly recommend enrolling in the Sanford 101 program for civic engagement. It offers a comprehensive understanding of the municipal decision-making process to residents and workers in Sanford/Lee County. Graduates are empowered to actively participate in local government and often serve on boards and commissions or contribute to public service in various ways.

DOWDY: For example, I made history as the very first American woman to even file for candidacy in Sanford North Carolina City Council. I know that it takes confidence, experience, and knowledge for such positions. I believe that citizens may not be aware of the available public services or the benefits that they offer. Poor communication and outreach by municipal authorities may be the contributing factor to the lack of awareness. I believe that we must find ways to encourage citizen engagement and interest in municipal public service. If citizens have experienced poor quality services or have heard negative feedback they lose interest. Individuals must feel that their voices are heard and that their participation will be able to lead to meaningful changes for the city of Sanford

Is there any other issue you would like to discuss or other information you want to share with voters before Election:

BUCKELS: As I reflect upon the accomplishments and milestones we have achieved, I am reminded of the power of unity and collective action. Together, we have faced challenges, embraced opportunities, and worked tirelessly to build a community that we are all proud to call home. I take great pride in the significant progress we have achieved. However, there is still much more work to be done. We are a strong and resilient community that is exploding with exceptional growth and great potential to be one of the best cities in the state and I am filled with passion and purpose to continue the work we have started together. LET’S KEEP SANFORD MOVING FORWARD! I ask for your support and vote to continue advancing our communities and being your servant-leader as Sanford City Council Ward4.

DOWDY: I would like to share with the City of Sanford, NC that I have “PROVEN PASSION FOR PEOPLE AND CHANGE” and am looking forward to helping the city of Sanford become healthier and stronger for future generations to live, thrive, and grow.