Volume 16, Number 8
This week the five people – Ned Jones, Thad Juszczak, Liz Simpers, John Van Ness and Bridget Wall-Lennon – vying for two seats on the Wake Forest Town Board began answering questions posed by the Wake Forest Gazette. This week there are several questions about the decision to run for office: How did you decide to run for the Wake Forest Town Board? What were the factors in your decision, when did you make the decision, and how did you then prepare yourself to be a candidate?
The Wake Forest Gazette is also republishing the candidate profiles from July after the filing period ended. You can find them farther down in this issue.
Thad Juszczak: How did you decide to run for the Wake Forest Town Board? I have spent my professional life working in government, and I enjoy it. So, it was natural that, when I moved to Wake Forest, I would attend Planning Board and Board of Commissioners meetings to find out what was going on in Wake Forest.
What were the factors in your decision? When I considered running for Town Commissioner, I asked myself “why do you want to run?” My answer was that I wanted to help the Town continue to be a desirable plae for people to come to raise their families and have their careers. I believe that my experience and skill in government makes me an excellent candidate to help the Town continue to improve the quality of life for its citizens.
I also considered my chances to actually win the election and what would be the impact on my family and other activities. While I currently do some pro bono consulting for nonprofits and teach an online graduate course in government budgeting, these allow me plenty of time for other pursuits.
When did you make the decision? When I considered whether I could actually win, I knew that my chances depended heavily on whether the two incumbent Town Commissioners were going to run again. It is difficult to run against incumbents. When Jim Thompson announced in April that he was going to run for Mayor, I realized that there would be an open seat, and so I immediately announced that I planned to be a candidate.
How did you then prepare yourself to be a candidate? I began my preparation to be a Town Commissioner in December 2014, although I didn’t know at the time where those preparations would lead me. I began to attend every Board of Commissioners Working Session and Monthly Meeting. I knew I could watch them on Channel 10, but my experience with other governmental groups told me that being there in person allowed me to learn much more. I also attended the Planning Board meetings and realized that I could be an appointed member at some point. I attended the Town’s Planning Board Academy, and in July 2015 the Board of Commissioners appointed me to complete the term of a member who had resigned. In December 2016, the Board appointed me to my own three-year term.
I made it a point to meet the Town’s Finance Director and Town Manager and begin to align my knowledge of federal and state finance with what goes on at the municipal level. The Town’s Finance Director is a fountain of knowledge about municipal finance, and the Town Manager has already shown that he brings considerable experience and skill to the position.
When preparations began for the November 2015 Town elections, I volunteered to serve as a campaign treasurer for one of the candidates so I could learn more about the State election processes.
I also volunteered for Town activities like Lighting the Christmas Tree and Friday Night on White. I served on the steering committee for the Town’s revamp of the Renaissance Plan for the future of downtown. These experiences game me a chance to interact with both the Town staff and the Town’s citizens.
When I was trying to figure out who did what in the Town, I realized that the Chamber of Commerce was a key player. So, I joined the Chamber and volunteered for positions on the Government Affairs committee and the Membership committee. I also volunteered for events like the Business Expo, the Senior Expo, and Meet in the Street. These all gave me a good understanding of businesses in the community and opportunities for interactions with business owners and other citizens.
I researched the Town’s population growth and calculated that 75 percent of the Town’s current residents have been here ten years or less. They are like me (lived here for about three and a half years) and not like the people who have lived here much longer and made this Town the unique community it is today. But times are changing, and the Town needs to better understand its current citizens. I also researched prior municipal election data to see what level of voter turnout we had by precinct. This helped me figure out where to focus my campaigning, though I try to visit all sections of the Town. With about 15,000+ residences in the Town, I will be lucky to visit even a couple thousand.
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Liz Simpers: Through my work with the YMCA, I joined the [Wake Forest Area Chamber of Commerce] Government Affairs Committee to find ways to partner with the town and learn town needs. At a July meeting, the Chamber president, Ann Welton, brought up the Town Commissioners race and encouraged me to run. After a lot of questions, I decided to file. I immediately called my dad for advice. He is 75 years old and running for town commissioner in our hometown of Kennett Square, PA. He has always been involved in local government and has always instilled the value of service and volunteerism in me.
He told me that politics should be about service, not power. He told me to ask a lot of questions, and listen more than I speak. So, that’s what I have been doing to prepare! I have been reviewing our town plans, attending board meetings, and meeting with current town and county commissioners, town officials, and concerned citizens. I can honestly say that I learn something new every day simply by listening to people that love our town!
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John Van Ness: My wife, Christy and I, have always been active in our community. We have spent a lot of time volunteering at school events and youth sports/ activities. As our sons have gotten older, I wanted to continue to serve and feel that the Board of Commissioners is the best way to make a positive impact on Wake Forest.
I have spent my professional career in customer focused roles. The most important skill that I developed was learning to listen. I will bring a collaborative, problem-solving skill set to the Board of Commissioners. When key stakeholders are brought together and listen to what’s important to each other we can develop a plan and approach that creates win/ win situations for everyone involved.
Since I began this process, I have spent a lot of time meeting fellow Wake Foresters and listening to my friends and neighbors about what they want Wake Forest to be. To a person, everyone is concerned about growth and maintaining our charming/ welcoming atmosphere. I will always listen to the citizens of Wake Forest and make decisions that keep our arrow pointing up. I pride myself on honesty and service to others and will always make decisions that are based on the best interests of the town.
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Bridget Wall-Lennon: I was participating in a community event earlier this year and as I tend to do – was giving my input and views on the subject matter discussed. I had a few individuals at the event, independent of one another, suggest consider running for Town Commissioner. Initially, it was a fleeting thought. But, the thought resonated with me.
When I got home I decided to go the town’s website to get information on the position to see what was required to run for office. I thought about my breadth of experience and over 20 years in public sector and how I could parlay that experience to the position of town commissioner. I worked for 14 years in an appointed position in state government and running for town commissioner afforded me the opportunity to possibly serve in an elected position.
I realized that I had a foundation in understanding of local and state government. In my position with the NC Department of Administration, I gained a working knowledge of both the executive and legislative branches of government. I realized I knew how to develop and cultivate relationships and work collaboratively with people regardless of ideological differences. I was the president of a local non-profit organization whose main focus was to provide public service in Wake County, and do so in the Wake Forest community. My education and training as industrial engineer taught me how to hone in on issues, research the pros and cons, and then articulate then findings and recommendations in a manner that a layperson should be able understand. I recognized I had served in various leadership roles on a local, state and national level.
My philosophy on leadership is that a good leader, should also know how to great follower. I know how to lead, but I also know to support others. It is the compilation of these things that I believe has prepared me to not only be a candidate, but to be a viable candidate for Wake Forest Town Commissioner.
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Ned Jones: How did you decide to run for the Wake Forest Town Board? I enjoy living in Wake Forest. I wanted to become more involved with the community. I looked into what was involved in being a Commissioner and I talked to a present Commissioner. My family has a long line of community service and leadership and I want to continue that in Wake Forest.
What were the factors in your decision, when did you make the decision, and how did you then prepare yourself to be a candidate? I am retired so I felt that I had the time to dedicate to being a Commissioner. I am a statistician, so I think I have a unique set of skills to offer. I like to see decisions made based on sound data. I understand processes and how factors influence outcomes. Sometimes a single limiting factor greatly limits the result.
I decided to run for Commissioner early July. I had attended some of the Board meetings and had listened to others on line. I reviewed the Town of Wake Forest website. And I talked to citizens about Wake Forest. Our citizens are the most valuable asset we have.