Candidates share their thoughts on critical issues
By Loretta Cozart
On September 21, candidates running for office in Kings Mountain were asked to respond to questions on issues facing Kings Mountain.
Running for Mayor in this election are Scott Neisler and Rob Wagman. Keith Miller and Shearra Miller are vying for the Council Member At-Large seat. Ward 5 has the largest number of candidates: Jay Rhodes, Mark Wampler, and Woody Edwards.
Two of the Wards have already determined their representation. In Ward 1, Annie Thombs continues as its council member. Jimmy West returns as the council member from Ward 4. Nonetheless, their opinions are important and have been included in all the responses received.
In less than two weeks, voters will go to the polls to cast their votes for the leadership of Kings Mountain. The candidates were tasked with answering seven questions. Here are their thoughts on the challenges facing the city.
Question 1. What inspired you to run for political office in Kings Mountain? Please share your relevant experience and qualifications that make you a strong candidate for this position.
Scott Neisler: I came back from college in 1978 wanting to run for office and was told by a commissioner that I was too young. I held on to that desire until 1989, when I was elected to City Council in Ward 6. Two years later, I ran for Mayor and was elected as the youngest to serve at 35! If elected this year at 67, I will have served for 20 years. I still have the fire in the belly to serve and am more invigorated since growth is taking off, making sure we maintain our quality of life. Experience, along with networking with other communities, as well as my lifelong residence, I hope, makes our citizens feel comfortable that I can continue to work for them! It is an honor to serve because we live in the best place, Kings Mountain!
Rob Wagman: I was inspired to run for Mayor of Kings Mountain because I see incredible potential here regarding an enhanced way of life for our residents, growth to our amazing little city, but growth that brings with it a benefit for us as a community. Growth for growth’s sake doesn’t typically bear fruit for all.
In media, I am known as a fix-it man. I am typically handed impossible situations, and within a few months, the people internally are feeling a real difference, and three to six months following -- the external people affected by what we do on a daily basis begin to take notice.
Keith Miller: In 2005 I saw the council doing things I thought were wrong. I kept telling the Lord, “Somebody has to do something about this.” I kept hearing, “How about you?” That started it.
My education and experience are very well matched for the job of a councilmember. My bachelor’s degree is in political science. My master’s degree is in public administration, the same degree city managers get. My master’s focus was on housing and economic development. I am a series 50 registered municipal advisor. I am a chartered financial analyst candidate. I have spent over 25 years working with cities and city utilities on investments related to their bond financing. I have chaired, co-chaired, or vice-chaired the city finance, redistricting, and housing committees, planning board, and board of adjustments, and am a member of the Gaston Cleveland Lincoln Municipal Planning Organization. I have been the executive director of Judgment House and Crosswalk for over 10 years. Refereed church basketball and managed church softball for over 20 years. This education and background are exceptionally well suited for overseeing and guiding a small city.
Shearra Miller: My inspiration to run is because I care about Kings Mountain right now and in the future. We have a great city and I want to be a part of making it even better. I’m running to bring my experience as an advocate, public servant, and forward thinker to the City Council at a time when our community is facing exciting opportunities as well as important challenges. It’s no secret, our city is going through changes, and I can help us navigate through these changes. I’m willing to spend the time it takes to make informed decisions that will affect our city for years to come. I will actively listen and consider all sides on every topic.
I have lived in Kings Mountain for over 30 years; we have a family-owned business, I am the Executive Director of a non-profit organization, and I have served on the Board of Education. While on the School Board, I worked to bring diverse voices and beliefs together to work towards a common good. I will bring that same experience to the City Council at a time when we need some new and different perspectives to make important decisions about the future of Kings Mountain and not be influenced by personal agendas. I share the concerns of others about the direction that our City is going and some of the decisions that have been made. Utility prices, zoning decisions, and the lack of a clear vision worry me and a lot of others. I am honest, I have integrity and I will keep the best interests of the citizens at the forefront of my decisions.
Annie Thombs: Carefully making a personal evaluation of progress verses no progress, very little population growth, no median income growth but a decline in growth, and lack of quality of life for all citizens regardless of income status, an appreciation for all citizens regardless of race, creed, color, or religion. I knew I had to be a voice for change, to be the difference, because I do have something to offer to make those things become a reality. Having spent forty years of public service in local government, and I am a retired Community Development Administrator; I know how government basically functions on the Local, State, and Federal levels. I am familiar with the intricacies and statutory rules and regulations we are governed by as a City. Recognizing that Cities and Towns do not have carte blanche to do as they please, even if the citizens feel we can. Public perception IS NOT the reality of governing.
Jimmy West: I first got involved with the city council to hopefully make a change in how the city was being run. During my first term I ran in an effort to try and implement a positive change for the city. I do feel that during my tenure on the city council, we are on the brink of seeing some exciting things as it correlates to economic growth and prosperity.
Jay Rhodes: Eight years ago, the late Tommy Hall and former Mayor Kyle Smith came to me and asked me to run for City Council. I had never really given much thought to serving our community in that way, but then others encouraged me, and I filed. I have a background in Banking and Administration, as well as being a head basketball coach for 11 years, 8 at the college level, and served as an athletic director for 6 of the 11 years. Plus, now I have 8 years of City Council experience representing Ward 5.
Mark Wampler: I am running because Kings Mountain is growing too fast. We have too many Mega-Neighborhoods popping up. With all this growth, our infrastructure needs help – roads need paving, utilities too high, and water system. I believe in growth; it needs to be slow and controlled. Need to focus on our Downtown and Local Businesses to make Kings Mountain an exciting and fun place to visit, shop, and eat. I have been a Shelby Police Officer since 2006, a public servant, where I have used common sense and unique solutions to fix many problems while following the law. I have to research, investigate these problems, and handle them correctly. I will do the same for Kings Mountain, by putting Kings Mountain Residents First.
Woody Edwards: The city needs new faces and fresh ideas to help with our growth that’s coming. if we like it or not. The best thing to do is make smart decisions about our future now. I am a local business owner and always willing to give a helping hand to my community when and where it’s needed.
Question 2. How have you been involved in community activities or organizations in Kings Mountain before running for office?
Scott Neisler: Having a young family, I basically attended church and raised a family. I was very involved with the High School Baseball program that won 2 State Championships since my degree was in Physical Education.
Rob Wagman: I am grateful to Jim Champion, Bridget Allen, Greg Dixon, Joanna Brown and Mary Grace Keller; pillars of our theater community, who helped me overcome a 50-year old diagnosis of stage fright. I was cast in a play alongside them, and they can tell you, they watched my struggles in real-time, and in the end, we presented a wildly comical and successful production.
The Joy Theater holds a warm place in my heart as it was back in 2005 when I began attending Sunday church service there. That’s where Apostle Theron and Kathy Feemster and the congregation of Miracle Tabernacle called home before moving up on Gold Street. To this day, my family is blessed by the Feemster family and this entire church body.
Keith Miller: I taught Sunday School (still do, over 30 years), Rotary, PTO, and youth sports.
Shearra Miller: I am a member of Central Methodist Church and the Executive Director/President of the Cleveland County Arts Council. Community service is important to me and over the years, I have served on many boards and committees. I served on the Kings Mountain and Cleveland County Boards of Education, serving as chair of both boards. Currently, I am on the Board of Directors of the Education Foundation, Friends of the Library, Neal Senior Center, and a member of the Rotary Club. Serving on a variety of boards and working with different groups of people has given me experience in building bridges and communicating with many different people. I am a recipient of the Commission for Women’s Distinguished Woman Award. I have built relationships with leaders across our city and county that will help Kings Mountain be a part of discussions regarding our city. My work across a broad range of groups within the city and county makes my perspective and experience an important addition to the city council.
Annie Thombs: I have always served others, especially in the community. I am a community activist and advocate. Nothing gives me greater joy than empowering others to fulfill their purpose in life. Capacity-building neighborhood groups and organizations and one-on-one mentoring of families and individuals. Helping others to find and recognize their voice, but being that voice while they discover their own. Looking ahead to unlimited possibilities.
Jimmy West: Until I ran for office, I wasn’t really involved in things per se, but I have always been very supportive of our city and always felt like we could do better, to quote David Stone “sometimes good is not good enough.”
Jay Rhodes: I served on the capital campaign for the Patrick Senior Center, chaired the campaign for the Testa Hospice House, served and now serving on our local hospital board, served on two capital campaigns for the Kings Mountain Neisler Life Enrichment Center, assisted the Touchdown Club with their fundraising projects, currently serving on the Life Enrichment Advisory Board, serving on the Cleveland County Schools Foundation Board, serving as Treasurer of the Kings Mountain Sports Hall of Fame and I initiated the discussion for the YMCA and City recreational partnership. There are multiple “I”s there, but I have been privileged and it has been a joy to have had those opportunities to serve our community.
Mark Wampler: I have volunteered as a coach for Upwards Basketball and Soccer at two Kings Mountain churches for nearly ten years. My neighborhood had a lot of crime at one point in 2018, and everyone was talking about it. I went door to door, dropping off flyers to start a Neighborhood Watch, and I had the first meeting at my house. We have used phone calls, e-mails, and social media to contact each other. Now, we have 102 members watching our areas. It is about seeing a need, getting involved, and finding a solution. That is what I did. Our Neighborhood Watch is very active. Communication!
Woody Edwards: I have attended every city council meeting, minus a handful, for about a year now. Also, I have been
a member of the Moss Lake Commission Board since June of 2023.
Question 3. What are your plans to promote economic growth and job creation in Kings Mountain? And how would you work with local businesses to support their growth and sustainability?
Scott Neisler: Scott Neisler: Economic growth will not be a problem as we have location, location, location! And we are lucky because of Lithium and that good-paying jobs are coming our way. Housing is the next thing that we need badly. Economic growth is a 2-way street. In my first tenure as Mayor, we were successful in economic development, but it was slow. Now, we are very attractive to the point that we can be choosy about what we want as a community. Planned Development agreements are a must to hold developers to what their agreement of what will be built so that it satisfies the market but at the same time maintains a quality of construction for our community. So, we are all winners!
Rob Wagman: Economic growth in Kings Mountain has been a trouble spot for longer than a decade, with many scratching their heads as to the ‘Why.’ The key to economic growth is to ensure our neighborhoods are being kept up, and that residents with needs have a way to get those needs answered and dealt with. To believe we can grow economically but allow deterioration in our homes and on our streets is a plan that is dead on arrival.
Our local businesses were promised an influx of customers with the building of the casino, and the traffic it would bring to our outskirts. The reason that hasn’t happened is because we simply expected the visitors to be curious enough to drive our streets to see what we offer. We have never created a specific plan to bring a percentage of that traffic to our downtown. It isn’t too late to put a real plan in place to draw more visitors from the casino; however, if the residents of our own city aren’t taken care of in the areas in which they live, we lose the most important customers for any of our businesses, our own folks.
Keith Miller: I have more than plans, I have a 15-year track record. To attract employers, industrial taxpayers, shops, and restaurants, we work to keep utilities, taxes, services, and quality of life competitive and efficient. We maintain strong working relationships with the government, chamber, and political entities around and above us to maintain local synergistic advantages versus other communities. We continue to hire consultants to continually improve our efforts.
Small businesses live or die based on the amount of disposable household income the households in the area can spend in local shops and restaurants. We use housing policies to try to expand the stock of quality housing targeted to the starter–mid-market, as well as our professionals, downtown, second home, and active retiree housing stock. This upwardly drives the local household income and retail spending demographics.
We ask the marketing manager to work with KM Forward and the business community to plan events and parade routes that will help business, not interfere with business. I have recently asked that our forthcoming Purchase Power Adjustment Policy defer surcharges during the peak months. We have put in place several policies to push deadbeat landlords to fix their dilapidated buildings or sell them to someone who will.
Shearra Miller: The City needs to listen to local business owners and citizens who are working to grow our economy and create local jobs. Small, locally owned businesses are the lifeblood of our community, and the city council must ensure that our regulations and our expectations for new and existing businesses are streamlined, easy to access, understand, and utilize so that businesses are not being held back. Streetscape was a disappointment on the part of the City to involve and engage business owners, and that hurt many of those businesses. Although that part of Mountain Street looks good, we don’t need to make that mistake again. Communication is so important.
We have to ensure that our City Council does not drop the ball when it comes to big projects that will impact our town. I believe that the council needs to work with the casino to make sure that their plans for expansion help Kings Mountain and allow other businesses to benefit from the visitors and dollars to our city. The City secured very little from the Casino in the way of economic impact guarantees and we could be in the same position with the lithium mine if we’re not careful.
Finally, we must do a better job of defining what we, as a community, want the future of our city to look like. I feel like we’re at a crossroads, and as your Councilmember, I will ensure that we not only have that vision but that it is also communicated to the public. Another important component of economic growth is our position and regulation of housing and planning. New and creative ideas for zoning and other housing regulations need to be explored so that KM has the right mix of housing for current and future residents.
Annie Thombs: In our current and future digital and e-commerce climate, we must be forward thinkers and seek out those opportunities that promote growth and job creation. Our Local Businesses are key to our city’s growth and job creation. We must find creative ways to empower and advocate for our local business city-wide and not be afraid to do what has never been done before, and carefully consider how opportunities will impact our citizens. Public/Private Partnerships are a win/win for our economic future. The City Manager presented a “But For” Economic Development Policy adopted by the Council that is a great tool for economic development outreach. We are on the precipice of change in a very exciting time for growth with the capacity and resources to meet the challenges ahead.
Jimmy West: Right now, we find ourselves at the forefront of growth regardless due to the development of the casino and Albemarle coming into the area. Neither of which were solicited by us; however, this will force growth within our community. We are working closely with the downtown business owners and together, we have been able to collaborate on a system that allows the business owners more autonomy to decide what they do with their businesses, and hopefully this will result in a ripple effect that will spread throughout the rest of the community.
Jay Rhodes: For the downtown, I would like to see the Streetscape project move forward to completion, the vacant buildings rehabbed, shops filled, and upstairs apartments developed. I am thankful that we have put the downtown back in the hands of the stakeholders. We have approved several industrial and commercial projects that are operational (Ferguson, Utz). The others I would like to see move forward to completion (Pinnacle Park, Mauney Distillery). As far as helping local businesses, raising our economic demographics is the best thing that I know we can do for business. That means we need some of these market-rate housing projects that have been approved to come into being.
Mark Wampler: Short-term Goal – highlight and promote our downtown so that it is enticing to lure new businesses. We must focus on and support our current local businesses because one building was recently condemned, and two businesses were forced to move out. We, as a town, need to support our local businesses.
Long-term Goal – Focus on the four exits along Route 74 in Kings Mountain. The Bypass around Shelby will be completed in the future. We can market and cater these areas to encourage shops, housing, and gas stations for businesses and residents. It is easy access around Shelby and to I-85.
Woody Edwards: My plan is to get as many local businesses thriving to keep our residents employed in Kings Mountain instead of having to go out of town to work. Plan on talking to the local businesses seeing what their needs are, and see what the City can do to help out.
SEE PART 2 NEXT WEEK
IN NOVEMBER 1 ISSUE OF KM HERALD