Volume 16, Number 2
The filing period for the Nov. 5 Wake Forest municipal election ended at noon last Friday, and by then five men and women, all relative newcomers to town, had paid the $15 fee to become candidates for two seats on the five-person town board.
Mayor Vivian Jones and Commissioner Jim Thompson are the only candidates for the mayor’s seat, and the Gazette reported about them in the April 5 and July 12 issues.
The two commissioner seats up for election this year are now held by Thompson and Margaret Stinnett, who said this month that three terms were enough and she was retiring to make way for other, younger people.
The commissioner candidates are Ned Moffett, Thad Juszczak, Liz Simpers, John Van Ness and Bridget Wall-Lennon. The Gazette editor called and spoke to them Monday morning and then sent a series of questions asking each of them why they are running for the town board, about their education, family and work as well as what they see as the best and the worst of Wake Forest. Ned Moffett and Bridget Wall-Lennon had not responded by 1 p.m. Wednesday, although Moffett sent a reply after that, saying he would send his answers as soon as he could.
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Thad Juszczak said about his candidacy, “I have spent my entire professional career in government, and I understand the power of government to forge communities where people can raise their families and grow their careers. I want to help make that happen in Wake Forest by being an open-minded commissioner who ensures that government does its job by helping every person and family achieve their potential.
“I think the biggest issues are managing growth and maintaining a unified community. Growth is going to happen in Wake Forest, but we must control how it happens to lessen its undesirable impacts. Wake Forest is a diverse community, diverse in how long people have lived here, their socio-economic backgrounds, their education, their churches, and their generations. Diversity makes us strong and vibrant, but it can also weaken us if we do not recognize it and respect it.
“I have attended just about every Planning Board meeting and Board of Commissioners work session and regular meeting for the past two and a half years. I attended the Planning Board Academy in 2015, and for the past two years I have been a member of the Planning Board.”
Juszczak has lived all over the country. “I am the oldest of nine children of a military father, so we lived all over, including Akron, Ohio (birthplace), Houston, Texas, Denver, Colorado, and Orange County, California. After college, my wife and I lived in Los Angeles (three years), Atlanta (eight years), and Northern VA (33 years) before moving to Wake Forest.”
He and his wife, Yvonne, who is retired, have been married 46 years and have three adult children and five grandchildren who are all between 1 and 10. They have lived in Wake Forest three years and chose it because they could retire and/or continue to work part-time and because they have one daughter in Richmond and one in Greensboro.
Since moving here, he has been volunteering with his church, with the Wake Forest Area Chamber of Commerce for events such as Meet in the Street and the Senior Expo and with the town for the Lighting of Wake Forest and Friday Night on White.
“I worked for the federal government (Departments of Defense, Treasury, and Health and Human Services, and the Environmental Protection Agency) for 34 years as a budget officer. I then went to work for a consulting firm for ten years dealing with federal, state, and nonprofit agencies. After that, I set up my own consulting company (Budget and Performance). I now consider myself semi-retired. In addition to my own company, I do pro bono consulting for nonprofits through the Executive Service Corporation of the Triangle, and I teach an online graduate course in governmental budgeting for American University in Washington, DC.
Juszczak said the best of Wake Forest are “local events like Lighting of Wake Forest at Christmas, Six Sundays in the Spring, Music at Midday, Memorial Flag-Raising Ceremony, Dirt Day, Arbor Day, Easter Egg Hunt, Friday Night on White, Meet in the Street, free events at the Renaissance Center for seniors, families, and children, and too many others to list.”
And the worst? “The inevitable discord that accompanies change as the community tries to establish new norms and standards.”
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Liz Simpers said, “I absolutely love this town! I have lived all over North Carolina, and Wake Forest has been my favorite community by far. I am hoping to serve the town in this capacity [as a town commissioner], because I think the biggest issue we have is communicating to town residents how to have their voice heard in town decisions. I have never attended a town board meeting, mostly because I never sought out information about them! I think local leadership affects our daily lives more than national leadership does, so I hope to get more people involved in local issues.”
Simpers is single and has two dogs, one of which is a therapy dog at Brookdale Senior Living every Saturday. She is the associate branch director at the Kerr Family YMCA, overseeing all youth, teen and outreach programs. She grew in Chester County, Pennsylvania, and came to North Carolina in 1994 to attend N.C. State School of Design. Since graduation she lived in Cary, north Raleigh and downtown Raleigh before moving to Wake Forest in 2013 to take the YMCA position. She lives in the Bennett Park subdivision.
The best thing about Wake Forest and the worst? “The best thing is the small town feel and the community. People are proud of our history and it shows. The worst thing for me is that I didn’t know about Wake Forest before I moved here! I wish I had moved here sooner! I also wish we had more opportunities to connect families to volunteer events, activities, and each other.”
Simpers has a website for her campaign, www.lizforcommish.com, where you can find more information about her.
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John Van Ness told the Gazette, “I’m running for town board because I want to serve the community of Wake Forest. I have been blessed in many ways and this is an opportunity to serve others and play a role in Wake Forest’s continued success.
“I have attended board meetings and kept up to date on happenings on the town website. The biggest issue I hear about from fellow citizens is the growth. Change can be scary. It seems like every time you turn around there’s another plot of land being developed. People are moving here because of the great things we have going on and as a commissioner, I’ll work with other board members, the mayor, local business and developers to make sure that we have sustainable growth. Growth is good, but we need to make sure that we are maintaining our sense of community. I will work to make sure that Wake Forest remains an active, inclusive, prosperous and connected place to live.”
Van Ness said his family “moved to town in 2010 from a small town in Northern Illinois because of a job change. I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA (Go Steelers) and have lived all over the US.”
A graduate of the University of Maryland, Van Ness said, “I have been in the environmental industry for almost 25 years. In May, I started with a small company, Green Ocean, selling oil spill clean-up supplies. Prior to that, I was a sales manager with Clean Harbors Environmental.”
Van Ness and his wife, Christy, have been married 23 years. She works as a personal chef/caregiver. They have two sons: Trey, 18, will be a freshman at UNC-Chapel Hill this fall, and Cooper, 16, will be a junior at Wake Forest High School.
As for the best and worst things about Wake Forest, Van Ness said, “The best thing about Wake Forest is the number of activities and programs that are offered. There is always something going on. This is what drives our sense of community and brings us closer together. I will work to enhance that and as a commissioner I will be as active in the community as possible.
“With the influx of new residents, a priority of the local government should be to ensure that our newest citizens are connected to each other and the town. If they are aware of what is happening in local government and how decisions are made, they are much more likely to participate in the process and integrate into (and improve) the town culture.”
About a campaign website, Van Ness said he probably will not have one “but may create a Facebook account to keep update on happenings. I think my strategy is going to be knocking on doors.”
Commissioner candidates must be a resident of the town and a registered voter. Because there are no districts in Wake Forest, the top two candidates will be elected. Town commissioners are paid a salary of $8,000. Our elections follow a staggered schedule with three commissioner seats up for election in 2019, those now held by Brian Pate, Greg Harrington and Anne Reeve.