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I love Hickory with my whole heart, but I see some rather large problems...some are looming on the horizon and some are already making life hard for our residents. These are the biggest problems I see, along with some notes about the direction I think we should be moving to solve the problems.

Note: one council person cannot make these changes alone, so we can't expect that I can get elected and solve these issues immediately. Everything on council takes a vote of 6 people, but the other people are sensible, and I think we can certainly work together for progress.

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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