Westover forum shows deep divide

A crowd of more than 60 packed the Highway 280 ServPro, quickly leaving standing room only to see the Westover candidate forum.

The forum revolved around one topic, town growth, with opinions ranging the gamut from deep devotion to growth to staunch opposition to it.

Incumbent Mayor Mark McLaughlin is completely supportive of the town’s growth.

“We started seven years ago with a visionary council. We’ve grown the city from two-and-a-half square miles to 20 square miles,” McLaughlin said.

He said the growth would allow Westover to be a community the citizens can be proud of.

“We need a community our children will live in and our grandchildren will live in,” he said. “We’ve got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity here.”

Mayoral candidate Darin K. Thornburgh was unable to attend the forum because of business travel plans.

Place 1 candidate Sam Mann said he believed the biggest issue Westover faces is public safety.

The other Place 1 candidate, Susan Strickland, proposed a monthly town meeting to improve communication, and said she would support an ordinance stating that the mayor or the council could not take citizens’ personal property for development.

Larry Riggins, the Place 2 incumbent, said Westover’s growth needs to be planned to be beneficial.

“We’d like to see Westover retain its old town area. I think it’s essential we plan ahead,” he said. “I think we’ve got a great unity with the community.”

Place 2 challenger Denice Howard said she believed the important issues are zoning and shoring up the fire department. She also said the current mayor has too much control over the town.

“The present council signed a resolution giving the present mayor the control making business decisions for the town,” Howard said. “Why even bother having a council?”

Place 3 incumbent Annette Tyler said Westover’s growth is beneficial, citing the library expansion and plans for future schools in Westover as examples.

The other Place 3 candidate, Donavon Gibbens, did not attend the forum.

Andrea Hunter, one of the two candidates for Place 4, faced the town schism head-on by saying she wanted to build relationships with citizens.

“We have some big dividing lines in our community,” she said. “I want to bring unity to our community.”

The other Place 4 challenger, Bill Shultz, said he considers growth a step backwards.

“I’d like to see Westover stay pretty much the same. The guy who used to have a view of nature now has a view of a factory,” he said. “Our mayor says he wants old town Westover, and that’s not true. If you want to keep Westover Westover, vote for us. This has gone too far.”

Kevin Van Dam, candidate for Place 5, said there are too many monthly council meetings. He also took issue with having a policeman and a town attorney present at town council meetings.

The incumbent, Jeanne Champion Fisch, said she wanted to continue what the council started in the past four years with projects such as the new fire station.