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Candidates seeking Mount Airy Town Council seat discuss issues at forum

Three candidates in the upcoming Mount Airy election participated in a virtual candidates forum broadcast by the Community Media Center on Tuesday night.

Stephen Domotor, Lynne Galletti, and Heather A. Hobbs fielded questions from Mount Airy residents well ahead of the May 3 election in a forum co-sponsored by the Times. All three said they either grew up in Mount Airy or have lived there for more than 20 years, raising families. Incumbent council member Patricia Washabaugh and mayoral candidates Mayor Patrick Rockinberg and Councilmember Larry Hushour did not participate.

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Domotor said he is a retired scientist and senior executive with the federal government who has served on the town’s growth and development task force the past two years. Galletti said she has been a longtime volunteer in schools, sports leagues, and for the town, serving as chair of the road commission and on the board of the Mount Airy Main Street Association. Hobbs said she has been an educator for 21 years and has been involved in such town commissions since 2003, serving on the likes of recycling and sanitation, parks and recreation, and ethics.

Here are some of the questions and responses, edited only for length, from Tuesday night’s forum. The entire forum will be rebroadcast on both Wednesday and Thursday nights at 8 and Saturday, April 3 at noon, and then continue to air on cable channels HD-1086 and channel 19 until May 3. It is also available for streaming on the Community Media Center website.

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What do you believe to be Mount Airy’s greatest opportunities and needs over the next 10 years?

Domotor: Based on the results of the 2020 community survey ... in terms of positive attributes, this is certainly a very safe place to live, a good sense of safety, security, quality of life. ... But many things can be true at the same time. I think there is a lot of frustration about some of the long-standing town issues that have not been addressed. So things we’re going to need to be working on would be thinking about what’s going to happening controlling growth, we’re going to have to think about our critical infrastructure and how that supports the town moving forward, we’re going to have to take some decisive action on things like the Flat Iron building and the bank building, we need to really focus in on our downtown visiting plan, because I think our vision for the town is we want a vibrant, thriving downtown district.

Galletti: We have a vision plan. We have the town master plan. ... There’s going to be growth but we have to be smart about it. We want to keep the small town, and people hate this word but I love it, small-town charm. That’s why we live here. ... We need to be transparent, we need to be open with the public and here’s what’s on these plans and here’s what could come up and we want your input into these things. How do you feel about Center Street coming through? What’s the history of the Flat Iron? We can’t just jump in and say we want to change this or do that, we need to look at what is the history, what’s the logistics, what is the short and long-term plan we can set up so that when our children are here 20, 30 years from now and it’s affecting them we’ve made some good choices.

Hobbs: One thing that I am very firm about that I do think is an area of need in our community is that we need to embrace more diversity and inclusion in our community. ... Watching over the last few years some decisions made at council that have to do specifically with housing opportunities that could allow more diversity and inclusion in our community, I’ve been disappointed. ... My big, big job in life is to prepare little people to become really good men and women and I’m going to extend that into town. ... Our biggest need, It’s not a roof over the caboose, it’s not rails to trails, it’s not smart growth or dumb growth, it is our children and how they embrace our neighbors. ... I think there’s an opportunity to welcome some people onto council that have ideas that are not pet projects and are willing to listen.

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A candidates forum for the Mount Airy Town Council was held March 30 and broadcast by the Community Media Center. Candidates particiapating were Heather A. Hobbs, top right, Stephen Domotor, bottom right, and Lynne Galletti, bottom left. The moderator was Times Editor Bob Blubaugh, top left, and the host was Theresa Bethune, vice chair of the Community Media Center Board of Directors, top center. Candidates had two minutes to answer each question.
A candidates forum for the Mount Airy Town Council was held March 30 and broadcast by the Community Media Center. Candidates particiapating were Heather A. Hobbs, top right, Stephen Domotor, bottom right, and Lynne Galletti, bottom left. The moderator was Times Editor Bob Blubaugh, top left, and the host was Theresa Bethune, vice chair of the Community Media Center Board of Directors, top center. Candidates had two minutes to answer each question. (Screengrab)

What are your views on Downtown Mount Airy?

Hobbs: My family has owned businesses on Main Street since before the turn of the century. ... Pushing Center Street through has been on the books, on the Master Plan, since as long as I can remember, so I absolutely support that. ... We need to find a way to support our small-business owners. ... My historical knowledge of what it takes to run a business on Main Street is deep. You need more walkability and you need more draw to downtown. The bank building, we must do something with that building. Whether it gets torn down or we repurpose it, that has to happen. the citizens have been asking for that for a long time. We need to take a stronger stance on blight at the council table. We need to stand behind code and not give more time to businesses or landowners that allow blight to happen.

Domotor: Big picture, I support the Downtown Vision Plan. ... If all you talk about is cars and traffic, you’re going to get cars and traffic. If you focus on people and places, you’re going to get people and places. ... The vision for downtown is to have a walkable downtown, good access sidewalks, we want a vibrant downtown, a place where people can gather. ... I support moving ahead with that vision plan. ... Maybe we open up Center Street to Route 27 and it comes down, but we do not connect it to Main Street. We still get the people down, we still can open new businesses, we still have foot traffic that can go to downtown, but we’re keeping traffic and cars away. ... The town’s getting about $16 million in COVID relief money and this is a great opportunity to make some improvements to our downtown area.

Galletti: We have made major advancements on the town level getting Center Street through. ... We have a staff that’s phenomenal and we got a state grant to help pay for that. ‚.. the vision plan’s a great idea because I’ve seen Master Plans the last 30 years and I read them and I see what they say and I see a lot of things not getting done or implemented. This time, I’m finally seeing things getting done and it’s getting done in a fiscally responsible way, being though out short term and long term. . But we also have the MAMA. A lot of work has been done in partnership with the town to work with the businesses to get our business involved, to attract new businesses and to get input from businesses to get that traffic downtown. ... We need to continue progressing and moving forward with supporting businesses, supporting downtown and getting people out.

Do you think council liaisons should have a vote on their commissions?

Hobbs: No. Do I think that what happened on the planning commission was right? No. I think that was an attack on a council member that was unjust and I don’t have a problem saying that. I do not think a council member should have a vote on an commission. ... To see how we as citizens treated each other through that process, that was disheartening because that’s not who we are as a community. ... That was an example of what I want to fix in this town and what we can do better.

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Domotor: I don’t think there’s a need for council liaisons to have a vote on commissions. Because the way the system seems to work is anything that’s recommended through commissions comes up through town council and then we get to deliberate on that and we get to vote on that. ... The planning commission is a pretty weighty commission in terms of their mission and purpose for the town. I would just want to make sure ... the planning commission is operating not as a political body, not as setting policy, but providing recommendations for the council to consider.

Galletti: If we actually look at what a liaison is and what a liaison is supposed to do, the actual definition is, Communicator. Cooperate. Facilitate a close working relationship between people. So my feeling is very strong that the council liaison is the liaison between the commissions and the town council, You’ve got the mayor, the town council and the commission. .... You’ve got these commissions here for a reason. You need the liaison to be the person who passes that information back to the town council. So should they have a vote? No.

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Do you support a community center in Mount Airy?

Domotor: Serving on the growth and development task force ... that potential question came up but I think the consensus was that had already been thoroughly vetted, it had already been a question that had been asked, many studies had been done on it. ... Maybe that’s something we should think about as part of the vision plan for downtown. Maybe we should also consider, what was the stated vision for the community center? How as it to be used? Do we already have those types of facilities within the town of Mount Airy that are perhaps already serving the need?

Galletti: I was part of a research, information fact-gathering [parent group] to find out if there was a place our children could go. Was the need there? We found out overwhelmingly, yes the need was there and the need is still there to have some type of community center in our town. ... We need to be forward-thinking on this. The youth are the future of our town. ... If we really want to make this the small town that we want it to be and everybody to come here and our children to come back here to live, we’ve got to provide facilities for them.

Hobbs: There’s actually a Facebook page that I created that says support a community center in downtown Mount Airy. That has been a driving force me since I noticed a lack of things for my own children to do and safe places for them to go. ... We have missed so many opportunities for a community center here. There are so many municipalities that have a lesser tax base than we do that have such grand community centers and I think it is a disservice to not just the youth ... but also different types of people.

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