The Candidates Forum will be held on October 22 at 6:30 on the LRU campus at Belk Centrum. Please plan on attending.
Our Police Force
Although our crime rates are high, our police are mighty and just and are on the ground working to solve our problems. I recently met with the Deputy Chief of Police in Hickory, Deputy Reed Baer, and we talked about the drug problem here and the larceny that causes, and I left the meeting feeling incredibly safe and protected, and knowing that we have the right people at the right time to fix these problems.
One thing he said really stuck out to me and signals a change in policing that I am 100% here for.
“Not every nail needs a hammer.” Deputy Reed Baer
A simple statement for sure, but it’s profound because it shows that the police force absolutely knows that they do not need to approach every situation with guns drawn and tensions high. The department is working to HELP people who are drug-addicted instead of automatically aiming for prison time.
Although our opioid problem gets a lot of press (5th in the nation according to some sources) it’s our METH problem that is hurting our city the most. Meth is a vicious drug and as its popularity rises, so do our crime rates, mostly because of larceny related to the drug. The police force is very aware of the problem and is putting a lot of focus on ending the problem.
Our crime rates look very high on paper, and they really truly ARE high. But you don’t really need to be worried about being murdered or attacked here, any more than you’d worry most places…just be sure to lock your doors, because drug-addicted people often turn to theft to support their habit. I’m of the opinion you can’t use force to get people off drugs, which is why the quote from Deputy Reed Baer hit me so hard. I think they’re really on the right track.
Meanwhile, we’ve also had a very positive change at the county level. Sheriff Don Brown is fixing a lot of damage caused by the scandals of the previous leadership and his family. I was lucky enough to hear him speak last week at our Rotary meeting, and his comments brought me a lot of peace as well. The most exciting thing I learned from him is that his department is focusing on teamwork, and working with other groups, like the SBI, ATF, and FBI, as well as the other police forces in the area. Notably, each of those groups has a key to the Sheriff’s office and is welcome at all times. This is such a positive change since the presence of the SBI in recent years has been because people in the department were being investigated, NOT because they were working together.
To me, this cooperation is a very big deal, and it takes some of the pressure off of the department to solve every problem themselves. Sheriff Brown has spent his first year working smart, and that is making the whole county safer.
When I look around the world in 2019, I see that there are a lot of corrupt police officers working in our country, and every few weeks, you hear about another misdeed by one of those people. It’s led to a nationwide environment where people are scared of the police. Just this week a police officer shot a woman through her own window without warning. These national stories DO NOT reflect our local force. Deputy Baer and I talked briefly about these “bad cops” and his thoughts lined up with mine: there are bad police officers just like there are bad people in every job, but they aren’t the majority. He says, “Bad cops should be fired,” and I’m confident that’s what happens here these days.
Our police forces are being run by good, proactive people, and they are equipped to handle our crime problems. In fact, our crime rate for last year and this year are lower than they have been in many years, and the new strategies are working. I suspect that our crime rate will begin to fall even quicker and in more noticeable ways in the near future.
Endorsement from Dewey Biggs
I feel this is the most pivotal election in my lifetime for Hickory. We really need some youthful ideas for our future and our children’s future. I believe we have the candidate to potentially be a catalyst for some positive change. Carmen Eckard is our chance. Vote Carmen for HIckory City Council.
Letter from Calvin Reyes
I don’t believe I’m alone in thinking that the prospects of our town are vanilla. Maybe that’s what we’re going for as a community, and you know, vanilla isn’t always a bad thing. Vanilla is consistent. Vanilla is easy. However, vanilla never really knocks your socks off. You rarely hear someone describe vanilla as something you have to go out of your way to experience. In an ever-shrinking world that’s always looking for the next big thing, this type of consistency is a death sentence. We cannot allow Hickory to continue down this path.
If we don’t work as a community to step outside our comfort zone, then we should get accustomed to future generations finding more dynamic communities to call home. We have so much potential in our little slice of North Carolina that nowhere else in the world can offer. I often find myself wondering: Why do I have to describe where I live to people as a town about an hour outside of Charlotte and on the way to Asheville? Why are we not coming up with a story that people from all over the world long to seek out? Why are we still hoping that vanilla will miraculously make us stand out in the crowd?
We need to cut a new path on a road less traveled. No, it’s not easy. No, it’s not going to always fall in line with tradition. No, we’re never going to all agree on everything. However, if we run out of people interested in hearing our story, what happens to all our traditions anyway? We need a change, and we need a breath of life into our community. Otherwise, we will become a smaller and smaller dot on the map. That’s why I support a candidate like Carmen Eckard for Hickory Council.
Carmen has proven that she can tell a story better than most of us, and that’s exactly what she has done with Foothills Digest. She has found a way to turn our little slice of North Carolina into something exciting and interesting that the rest of the world can enjoy. I can’t say that I always agree with everything Carmen says or does, but I can say that if there is one person I want fighting on the front lines to tell our story, it’s Carmen Eckard and her extreme passion for the community she calls home.
Letter from Carol Turner
I’m asking Ward 1 voters to choose Carmen Eckard for Hickory City Council in the primary election. Early voting ends Oct. 4.
I support Carmen Eckard for her persistence and courage. I’m certain she will listen to you, speak up, asking the hard questions, offer new ideas, find common ground, building coalitions to solve some of Hickory’s most difficult problems.
Hickory offers so much to so many — myself included — that it’s hard to realize there’s still more work to do. Our city needs to do a better job of hearing people who feel their neighborhoods go unnoticed and their concerns unaddressed. Carmen hears their concerns. She hears the concerns of our entire community and her platform (carmenforcouncil.com) clearly states her goals to address them.For me it comes down to this:
If you want a council member who will listen — even seek out differing views, VOTE FOR CARMEN.
If you want a council member who will speak up for you, VOTE FOR CARMEN.If you want a council member who can find common ground among wide-ranging, divergent views, VOTE FOR CARMEN
If you want a council member who has the capacity to build coalitions to do the work that still needs doing, VOTE FOR CARMEN
If you want a council member who will work to extend Hickory’s successes to all people in all our neighborhoods, then please consider casting your primary VOTE FOR CARMEN, so the rest of Hickory can join you and VOTE FOR CARMEN in the general municipal election.
Our Drug Problem and Cognitive Connection
Hickory has a mighty drug problem. We’ve been cited as the 3rd (or 5th, depending on the year) worst community for opioid addiction in the nation, and that doesn’t even take into account the problems with crystal meth. HDR says that our drug arrest rate is 3 times the national average.
The high drug rates lead directly to high crime rates and astronomical property theft figures. So we, as a community, need to get it together. There’s no excuse for us to fall so far behind national averages. But we can’t get it together just by wagging our fingers at people using drugs. Because here’s the thing: they are ADDICTED to drugs, and addiction is a disease. If we want people to not be using drugs, we have to help support that process.
My personal hero Mister Rogers says that in any crisis, you should look for the Helpers. Cognitive Connection is already doing a wonderful job of helping addicted people get off of the substances they are addicted to. They help them get back on their feet and even help people convicted of drug crimes take classes instead of going to prison. They catch people as they exit the prison system or the hospitals, and they help them succeed. They are very successful at this. But they are doing this with nowhere near enough resources to tackle the problems we are facing.
As a City Councilwoman, I will look for ways to help this group financially, including grants and other things they may need. If we help people with their addiction, they stop buying drugs, which will eventually lead to a community that has fewer drugs. This is an important step.
Endorsement from Ken Answers
Letter: Carmen Eckard best choice for council’s Ward 1 seat
Hickory’s Ward 1 has not been “open” for many voting cycles. Brad Lail (and the Lail name of Hickory hotel stardom) have successfully kept all competition at bay. Now that Brad has his sights on county politics it is time for a new type of leader. If you think our city has been making great strides then please stick with the same pale, male, and stale approach. However, for me, I need a refreshing person who understands the issues and doesn’t shy away from finding solutions that benefit as many people as possible. I need a self-made business person who is not hand-picked by City Hall to lead us through the impending recession and the completion of the bond projects that are promised to bring $40 million+ of prosperity to our community when it was labeled “an investment in our community.”
With the promises of unbridled economic prosperity with heavily increased property taxes, Hickory City Council and the Mayor’s office have once again come up short. The hard-working, blue-collar citizens of this community, that are paying more than their fair share of taxes, deserve to see what real economic investment looks like and not just anecdotal stories that insult our intelligence. Carmen understands that investment needs to benefit everyone and not just certain private parties and helping the Hickory rich to get richer.
When I hear members of the city council say “we need to be more positive” what I am really hearing is “Let’s keep the status quo.” In order to make changes that benefit our community as a whole, we need to openly and freely discuss what is and especially what is not working. Avoiding tough topics is cowardly and goes to show why we have the crime, homelessness, and drug abuse that puts Hickory among the worse places to live in the country for cities with populations of our size. Carmen has never and will never shy away from a tough issue. When other people in our community are running away from the fire Carmen is running toward it.
You’re a special kind of dumb if you are voting for candidates exclusively because they are female, or because of their age or your perception of their political leaning. You are only hurting yourself by not voting for the best person. Carmen is the best person given the players, timing, and opportunity. Carmen is the kind of person I want representing me and that is why I think you should vote Carmen Eckard for Ward 1 Councilperson.
Hickory Daily Record: Hickory Candidates Make Their Case
Read whole article here.
Why should you vote for me? It’s one of the basic questions all candidates for office must answer.
The Hickory Daily Record gave candidates running for office this year the opportunity to submit articles making the case for their candidacies.
Five of the nine candidates running for Hickory City Council made submissions.
That field of nine will be narrowed by the Oct. 8 primary. The seats for wards 1, 2 and 3 are up for election.
Carmen Eckard, Ward 1
I am Carmen Eckard: wife, mother, publisher of Foothills Digest and happy resident of Hickory.
I am thrilled to raise my kids and run our businesses here, but I see problems that need to be addressed.
While our economy is recovering nicely on paper, many of our working-class people are struggling to survive and watching as their –- OUR — communities erode. The improvements we make to Hickory need to be improvements that help everyone.
Many people I’ve spoken with say that they don’t feel represented, and I’m here to change that. I think the most important thing in a council-style government is that the leaders actually represent the needs of their constituents.
That means listening, thoughtfully considering, then speaking boldly for them. I promise to do that and to always vote with the needs of my ward in mind.
I also promise to host annual ward meetings, so that we can share information and concerns and be better neighbors.
Hickory has a growing homeless problem that needs to be addressed.
Hickory is very giving, and if we could organize, put an end to duplication of services and give in a more cohesive way, as a community, we could be on the cutting edge of solutions.
I invite you to meet me where humanity meets reality and work to create a solution that helps our homeless population and the citizens of Hickory.
The first step is organization, and as a councilwoman, I will be at the forefront of that effort.
A Platform…Solutions that Will Work for Hickory
We have a lot of problems here, and if we don’t begin to address them, most of them have potential to really balloon out of control, so I think we should be working to fix them. The problems are varied.
1: Homelessness: 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.
2: Insanely high crime rates and rampant drug use: 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.
3: Inappropriate Representation: 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.
4: Lack of communication: 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.
5: Lack of affordable housing options: 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.
6: Our infrastructure is crumbling. 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.
These 6 things could make powerful changes in our town. Please understand that one person can’t get elected then enter the job and make all of these changes immediately. One person on a Council can’t make much change, as everything takes a vote. But these changes are reasonable and important, and I know that there are sensible people on the Council who will want to make improvements. We can make change. We can fix our city and make it as glorious as it once was. We can bring the beauty that exists in lovely pockets to the whole community. I know we can. I need your help Please vote for me in the primary on October 8th and in the general election on November 5.
Let’s get ALL of Hickory on the Right Track
I love Hickory. I wake up each morning and have my coffee as I watch the cars drive by on 127. I find as much peace in this activity as some do watching waves crash on the sand. I’m happily raising my kids here, and they are thriving in this environment. My husband and I see so much beauty here that we create a regional magazine dedicated to showing the beauty that is here. I can walk to the SALT Block, Downtown, the Y, and stores in Viewmont. My road is tree-lined and we are happy here.
But I only have to walk a couple of blocks before I feel markedly unsafe. There are parts of my own Ward where I can’t canvas alone. In these parts of town, even the sidewalks are crumbling. Kudzu covers whole lots, including ones owned by the city. Our crime rates (violent and property crimes combined) are worse than 97% of cities. If that feels unbelievable to you, it’s likely because you live in a safer part of Hickory, but please remember that the law of averages means the bad neighborhoods are practically war-zones. Our wages are stagnant. We’ve been labeled as having the 5th worst opioid problem in the nation, and that doesn’t even take into account the “meth”. Affordable housing in safe neighborhoods is hard to come by, and our homeless problem is clearly something we need to take action about.
Maybe you live somewhere that feels like the first place I described, and maybe you live somewhere that forces you to feel the realities of the problem in the second paragraph. I’m not coming in riding a magic bullet. I don’t know how to fix all the problems we have.
But I do know that ignoring the problems won’t solve them. I do know that you have to look problems square in the face to solve them. I can’t fix these massive problems by snapping my fingers, and I don’t have all the answers, but I can make some promises:
1: I see you. I see your struggles.
2: I’m dedicated to making Hickory better for everyone.
3: I will try to improve the problems of wage stagnation, homelessness, drug use, lack of affordable housing and even the kudzu and sidewalks.
4: I will point out the flaws in the system that have allowed for such rampant inequality and uneven growth.
5: I will highlight solutions.
6: I will fight for them.
I have a feeling that if you’ve only been in the nice neighborhoods here, you’ll think I’m on about nothing. If that’s the case, I invite you to take a slow drive through the neighborhood you normally avoid. Keep this in mind: crime doesn’t stick to one place. It’s already left the confines of the neighborhoods where it lived for many years. It’s already in nice neighborhoods that are near the others. It’s creeping in. And we can’t fix the crime unless we improve the quality of life for those committing the crime. The new City Walk and Book Walk, while celebrated, will connect these many neighborhoods, and many people suspect it will spread the pockets of crime to much larger areas, and to avoid this, we’ll need to lower the crime rates generally speaking.
I want Hickory to be wonderful when my kids are adults. I know you do. It’s going to take some concerted work, NOW. Join me, please, in improving this place we love.