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I will listen to you.

I will listen to you, the citizens of Hickory. I've been listening for a while, and I'm hearing you talk about Inspiring Spaces, Homelessness, infrastructure problems and more. I hear you. I will keep listening.

I will speak for you.

I believe that government by council means that elected representatives are meant to speak for YOU, the voter.  I promise to do this, even when it means asking difficult questions, and even if I don't necessarily agree with you. I will be a voice for you.

I will seek common ground.

In an increasingly bipartisan world, progress is still made the old-fashioned way:  by finding common ground and building on it. I will actively seek compromises that work for all citizens.

ROUNDTABLE

A BOLD VOICE

I am known for fearlessly speaking my mind, and as a councilwoman, I will speak fearlessly for you. I do not believe a councilwoman's job is to push forth her own political agenda, but rather to listen to her neighbors, and address their concerns.  A similar philosophy can be seen at work in the magazine I publish, Foothills Digest. My job is to listen to the residents of the Foothills and tell their stories, including their history and cultures, in a way that makes them proud. I will work to instill that same pride when I serve as a councilwoman.

I love Hickory. We are a strong community that is full of arts and craftsmanship. I am happy to raise my boys here, and I want to ensure that when they are making the choice of where to begin their own careers, Hickory is a vibrant city with many opportunities.

A SOUND CHOICE

While I intend to represent the needs and issues of my constituents, while not pushing my own political agenda, I understand that my own opinions and ideas are still needed, and I will offer those on a blog on this site. The most pressing problem I see is that our city uses an antiquated system of government that is keeping us locked in a pattern that blocks progress and blocks the voices of many residents. We need to change that, so that our council can better represent the electorate. The at-large system of voting is problematic, as is the amount of power given to the City Manager, an unelected position. I believe that the people we vote for should be the people who run things, and that isn't what happens here.

You can count on me to listen, to speak our collective minds, and to seek common ground. I happily work with people of all political leanings, and I'm excited to work with you! Together, we can strengthen Hickory, and I'm excited about the opportunity. I need you to vote for Carmen Eckard for Hickory City Councilwoman, Ward 1,  on November 5, 2019.

The major problems I see, along with solutions I propose:

We have almost 300 people living in a state of homelessness that receive regular services from our city’s helpful organizations. The city is working with the police department to add the new position of “Navigator” who I understand to be a person dedicated to helping people experiencing homelessness on a more one-on-one level. The good news is that we have plenty of helpful people and organizations. The bad news is, they are very fragmented. The duplication of services is very problematic…organization is KEY and it isn’t happening. I would require that all organizations who receive money from the city to help this group meet monthly to work on lining up the goals and ending the duplication of offered services. We must have them all using the same computer program that will help keep track of how much help different people are receiving, and we must be working towards the same goals…so we must talk about the goals. I think the goals should include moving the most used services closer together, to end some of the traffic patterns of this group of people that are proving problematic. We CAN find a way to help that helps people experiencing homelessness while also helping the other citizens of Hickory, but it will take a lot of conversation followed by action. To summarize: we need to organize helpful organizations then work to align our goals, ending duplication of services in the process and using the excess money that creates to forward our larger goals.

At the bottom of the high crime rates, we find a lot of theft related to drug-use. Our drug-use numbers are also very high. Scientific studies have shown that when people feel connected, they are much less likely to turn to drugs. We must restore the sense of community here. And that’s a tall order, as it used to be a truly mighty sense of community. A lot of this community-building can’t come from leadership…it has to happen on the ground. But we can do some things, and I think the most important to begin immediately would be to bring back the position of Neighborhood Liaison, as a standalone full-time position. We had this in the past, and it was an important job, and the community has suffered since it was rolled into another full-time job that already existed. Basically this person would be the contact person between the city and between different neighborhood organizations, and they would pour energy into these neighborhood organizations. I also would recommend that each neighborhood organization organizes as a nonprofit, which would give them more authority and ability to raise funds…it would make sense for businesses inside of these neighborhoods to make donations to the neighborhoods that are tax-deductible. To summarize: we need to bring back a full-time neighborhood liaison and offer legal assistance for neighborhoods associations to form and to establish themselves as nonprofits.

We are still using a voting system that has pieces from the Jim Crow era, designed to keep minority voices silenced. Since that is not a goal of the current city leadership, we need to overhaul the system to reflect current needs. There are several parts to this. A: We need new ward maps, but we will get those by 2021, after the Census. We need to be diligent to make sure these are not gerrymandered. B: We need to eliminate the At-Large voting we have now for each ward. We need to be allowed to vote only for our Ward representative because allowing the whole city to vote for each Ward takes the voice away from minority communities. C: We need to add two at-large members to our Council, totaling 8 members. Everyone in the city would vote for those two positions as well as the mayor. D: We need to look at the power balance in our system. Right now, the City Manager has almost all of the authority to run the city. I think most people would prefer for the people they elect to have a louder voice in the processes, so we need to examine what that would look like.

Many people don’t feel they are being heard. I would insist on quarterly Ward meetings, as well as a Facebook Group dedicated to our Ward and communication between our neighbors. I’m also available by phone at 828.475.1323 or email at Carmeneckard@gmail.com.

I’m not sure what the solution is for this, but I do know that if the city is going to give money to outside organizations like they are for the One North project, we should be insisting that there are some lower-income housing options offered as well. Many cities have this stipulation and in those cities, luxury apartments always include some subsidized lower-income housing.

We need a more open conversation about the sinkholes opening up all over town. We need to be proactive in fixing the water drainage issues causing the problem, at least in the areas that the problems are obvious and looming. We probably cannot afford to fix all of the infrastructures at once, but need to be working on a plan, and the process needs to be much more transparent.

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About Carmen Eckard:

I chose to live in Hickory, and it's one of the best decisions I ever made.

I attended Appalachian State University as a Teaching Fellow with a theatre education major.  After graduating, I moved to Hickory to teach drama in elementary schools. I spent four years in that career before transitioning to work with my husband, Jon Eckard, in his commercial photography business. We've spent over a decade working together with many of the wonderful companies in Hickory, which has given us a bird's-eye view of the industry here. We also spent several years working directly with the city to develop and curate the marketing website Hickory. Well Crafted, and we built a large catalog of photography to represent the city that has been used in countless print pieces as well as websites for the city and their partners, like the Catawba Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Corporation.  I also worked in the arts industry during this time, including teaching at Hickory Community Theatre and the Hickory Museum of Art. As producer of the play Almost, Maine, I worked with the United Arts Council of Catawba County and Bill Morgan to create a fund called the Theatre Arts Grant which defrays the costs of theatrical productions for high schools in Catawba County. We also made a donation to OUT Right Youth with the excess funds the play raised.

Two years ago Jon and I started the regional magazine Foothills Digest, which covers most of Western North Carolina with a focus on history, art and culture, as well as food and events. Publishing this magazine continues to introduce us to the people and ideas that are keeping our history alive and those that are right on the cutting edge of technology and thought. It also continues to foster a deep love of the area.

We are happy to raise our two boys, Max and River, in Hickory, and we find there are many enriching events and communities here. My personal goal for joining City Council is to foster growth and enrichment in Hickory, so that when my boys are choosing their careers, there are robust career opportunities for them here.

I spent two years on the Henry River Preservation Fund Board, which seeks to preserve the history of the Henry River Mill Village, but I resigned in order to have time to run for this office. I also recently completed my term as an ex-officio board member of the Catawba County Chamber of Commerce and was honored to be the 2017 winner of the Edison Project.

I am registered as Unaffiliated, and I do not ever plan on joining a party. I feel that the current climate in politics asks us to choose a side then vehemently fight the other side, and I'm just not interested in that. There are many things that I agree with either side about, but I find myself generally in the middle. Also, most of the driving things that divide us are National issues, and not things that the City Council votes on. I suspect you'll find me to be rational, thinking about each issue individually instead of along party lines.

I've lived here 15 years and every day, I am reminded that I am home.

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HELP THE CAMPAIGN

The most important thing you can do is get to the polls on November 5.

But! You can also request a yard sign or donate money to our campaign. We also love volunteers, and I'd really appreciate you telling your friends about me.

IMPORTANT DATES:

September 18: One Stop Voting begins

October 8: Primaries (You'll be voting only on your Ward representative)

November 5: Vote