Note: This is the third of five TownTalk segments to provide election coverage for the upcoming Oct. 10 municipal elections in Henderson. Today, we’ll hear from the four mayoral candidates
WIZS posed the same questions to all 17 candidates running for the five races – mayor, Ward 1 and Ward 2 seats, as well as the at-large seats in Wards 3 and 4.
Some of the candidates responded to the questions in written form and others were recorded in phone interviews and their responses were transcribed for inclusion in this story. Online readers will notice direct quotes in the answers; information not in direct quotes is paraphrased to provide concise text and readability.
The candidates’ responses appear in alphabetical order, beginning with Sara Coffey, and continuing with Melissa Elliott, Greg Etheridge and Jason Spriggs.
Early voting begins Thursday, Sept. 21 and ends Oct. 7.
Why are you running for elected office?
Sara Coffey: “I am running because I feel I have the experience and the ambition to go forward in helping rebuild our city.” Coffey said her two terms as Mayor pro tem, as well as her 18 years on City Council, serve her well to become mayor.
Melissa Elliott: “I am running for the office of mayor because I believe in the work God has blessed my hands to do over the past 18 years in this community. I am a visionary and I know how to manifest what I see against all odds. I have served eight years on the City Council, and I understand municipal government. I also understand that there are resources that our community needs and I know how to get them. I would love to create initiatives and see them seen through to make sure that everything that I’ve started will be finished, I also would like to be a part of the strategic plan of laying the foundation for a better Henderson in the next 30 years. I want the city of Henderson to thrive and grow in a most healthy way…while being a vibrant, welcoming successful community. My work on the City Council has proven that I am committed to the community.”
Greg Etheridge: “A good citizen is civic-minded, operates with a heightened sensitivity to the needs of others, and moves with a sense of urgency to find and provide assistance. I was born and raised in Vance County where these values and beliefs were taught and modeled by many adults who have faithfully served this community that I love. I believe that I honor them and their legacy in part by actively serving in various capacities including municipal office.”
Jason Spriggs: “I’m running for office because the citizens and residents of Henderson deserve a mayor that is most interested in what they feel should be changed in our city. As well, I was asked by several local politicians and business leaders to continue the work that our previous mayor has begun.”
What’s your platform?
Coffey: Coffey said she wants to build affordable homes on the vacant lots of the city. She has consulted with contractors about the possibility of “tiny homes,” which could result in getting people in housing and off the streets. “I feel we can put some homes on these vacant lots. We are already grouping these lots to make them more attractive to a builder or contractor.” Trash along the city roadsides and in extra-territorial jurisdictions like Brodie Road remains an issue as well. “I’m talking with DOT now to see what we can do together to clean up some of our trash. I just want everyone to have a clean city where we all can enjoy. When visitors come, they look at our downtown, our theater and our streets that definitely need some help. I want more funding for our police and fire departments. These men and women are very crucial to our city. I would also like to see more businesses downtown.”
Elliott: Elliott listed a 5-point platform that aligns with the recent community assessment health card.
Mental health – health equity for all, as well as addressing mental health needs, from dismantling stigma to substance abuse. “I would love to see a harm reduction team, working hand in hand with Granville -Vance Health Department, the police department and the fire department to create an initiative that would address opioids as well as opioid prevention.”
Downtown development – “The downtown of every city in America is the heartbeat. I want to work alongside our city manager and our downtown development director to create a streamlined process that is user-friendly for businesses to come into our community. I want to be able to go to downtown Henderson, sit outside and have a lunch of different cuisines from different countries and diverse cultures.” She said she would like to create a downtown hub for businesses to have office space and share resources, as well as monthly events to bring people into the downtown area.
Youth Engagement – “Youth are truly our future, and it is our responsibility as adults to make sure that they have what they need to be successful.”
Food insecurity – Support existing programs like food banks and other meal programs that currently operate in the area and possibly create other avenues to make sure residents have enough food.
Affordable housing – “We must have a plan for individuals that cannot afford affordable housing.” Elliott said Vance County Housing Authority has been approved for the first round of funding through the SHARP program, funded by ARPA. “I would love to bring the USDA, which is centrally located in our city, the Kerr-Tar Regional Council of Governments and county leaders together for a listening session” to create collaboration to build more affordable housing for low-income and unhoused people.
Etheridge: “I believe that Henderson’s best days do in fact lie ahead of us, but when you look at our neighborhoods and our downtown, it becomes clear that there’s a real need for positive change right now in Henderson. I will represent everyone fairly, no matter your address… and I will bring drive, passion and policy that makes living in Henderson better for everyone. Safer neighborhoods, affordable housing, jobs with livings wages, a vibrant downtown, and lower property taxes…, together we can all bring the change that we know our city needs. Together we can make a better way of life for everyone and together we will succeed.”
Spriggs: “My platform consists of all of those things that are most important to the average citizen. Examples include new parks, better roads, safer neighborhoods, more and better housing, opportunities to grow as a citizen and new businesses that will directly benefit us in a positive manner.”
What are the top three issues that, in your opinion, this city faces in the next two years? Five years?
Coffey: Coffey identified affordable housing, people who need housing and trash as top priorities. She said she will continue to address these needs as mayor, just as she has done in her terms on the city council.
Elliott: “We must have mental health services that are user-friendly to all, that are easy to access and that are fair and equitable to all. We also must have substance use providers that will be accessible to our community. Our housing challenges are definitely on the top of the list. We need affordable housing – which we are building – as well as low-income housing, and we need shelter.” Elliott said there is a need for a landlord/tenant committee to fully inform both sides when issues arise. “Our downtown needs to thrive. We need our heartbeat to beat at an all-time high. We are centrally located off of the corridor of I-85 and US #1. We have a great opportunity to not only serve the citizens of this community, but people that are coming through. We need to maximize on that.”
Etheridge: “Goodwill and order in a community are partially achieved through the fair and consistent administration of laws and ordinances by elected leaders and appointed officials. When undesirable or unlawful activities, behaviors, and violations are tolerated without penalty for an extended period of time. I believe that Henderson has earned an undesirable and unhealthy reputation for tolerance of criminal and unwanted behavior that is detrimental to our future. Our city can no longer afford to rely solely on the hope that things will ‘get better.’ Now is the time for concerned citizens, elected leaders, and appointed officials to align,” Etheridge said, around the following topics:
Drugs and Crime
Promoting Healthy Churches and Non-Profits
Supporting our City Workers
Neighborhood and Business Code Enforcement
Spriggs: “The top three issues from my view are ensuring that we continue the development we have already approved, keep our taxes low as we use the increased tax base from new industries and new housing to provide the best quality of life for everyone who is in the city, and also in the county, and to market in Henderson as the city, we desire it to be: a beautiful city of water that offers everyone the opportunity to have a great quality of life. We cannot tell the future, but in five years we should have completed our new fire station, the new development that is beginning to break ground, and we should be known as the premier small town of 85 that individuals from around the country want to move to retire to and work in.”
4. As an elected official, how will you address these issues?
Coffey: Coffey said her 18 years on the Henderson City Council puts her in a position to address the issues that face Henderson. “Whatever I can do to help the city,” she said, adding that she hopes to be able to do it as mayor. Being in conversation with contractors about the construction of “tiny homes” on city-owned parcels in residential neighborhoods is one way she is addressing the issues of affordable housing and homelessness. She said she will present her plan to the council once contractors can provide costs for construction. The smaller homes would be affordable for individuals, couples or small families, she added. “I’ve already done some stuff with the trash,” Coffey said. “I never thought what I did behind the scenes needed to be put on social media,” she said. “Maybe that’s why people don’t know all the stuff I’ve done.” In her 25 years as a small business owner and local official, Coffey said she had experience working with lobbyists, too. “I’ve never been one that’s stood back and waited for other people to do (something),” she said. “What I can do is show what we need here in Henderson,” offer some advice or suggestions and talk with leaders in Raleigh or wherever about how to accomplish the goals.
Elliott: “I would change the image of the city. I would be a spokesperson and I would fight for the city whether that is local, state, or federal.” By promoting initiatives that galvanize stakeholders and strengthen partnerships, Elliott said she encourages city and county collaboration to achieve health equity for all. She said she would work alongside developers to increase affordable housing options and help the city invest in a shelter to house families, in partnership with the county. Elliott said she would create programs for elected officials to talk regularly with school students to educate them about how government works and would also like to create more opportunities for professional development for elected officials from the UNC School of Government.
Neighborhood and Business Code Enforcement – “The lack of enforcement has led to the significant decline in the appeal and safety of neighborhoods and businesses. Nuisances are now the main focal points, and the safety and quality of structures have been extremely compromised. The vegetation overgrowth, substandard living conditions, and junk that is being allowed have created an environment of oppressed poverty and crime. Over the years, hundreds of homes have been abandoned while many that remain offer deplorable living conditions.”
Drugs and Crime – “Many neighborhoods are downgrading to a level of poverty and blight, and the local justice system has proven itself to offer slow to no enforcement of penalties creating a perfect illegal drug business culture. Since rules and laws are not considered by this type of citizen, the byproduct will always be crime, shootings, death, oppression, overused city resources and safety concerns. Businesses and jobs will flee or just stay away.”
City Messaging – “It is so important for city officials to take immediate action by identifying the “violent neighborhoods” with drug houses and gang activity – and then adding a police presence to protect those law-abiding citizens living there. Placing an immediate priority on holding the current owner/investor accountable for substandard conditions or condemning those vacant houses where drug deals are being made is the only fair and law-abiding action. We cannot afford another year, two, or five to go through the long red-tape process…it compromises accountability and promotes negligence.”
Business Friendly – “The process of starting a business, renovating an existing building, or finding an appealing location to purchase has proven to be very difficult. Those who want to invest need to know the people, process and needed permitting upfront. Having the city as a guide, rather than a guard, is the only way to make sure we have a community open for solid, quality-of-life contributing businesses.”
Promoting Healthy Churches and Non-Profits – “There are so many good organizations that truly want to provide help and hope to Henderson, above and beyond what a government can. These are the selfless servants and no paychecks or paybacks are asked for. Identifying and promoting these organizations are crucial to a healthy and growing community.”
Supporting our City Workers – “We are grateful to all city staff members for the quality work and service they provide daily. For a vibrant and thriving community to exist, we must rely on the city manager and the city department heads to oversee the diligent enforcement of the established laws, codes and ordinances.”
Spriggs: “Addressing these issues will take diplomacy, experience in public policy and an empathetic ear to (listen to) the concerns of our citizens and business owners.”
5. What is your experience in the public sector?
Coffey: Coffey has been a member of the Henderson City Council for 18 years and has served two terms as Mayor pro tem.
Elliott: “I’ve been in the public sector all my life. I love people. I love all people and I want all people to thrive and be successful.” Elliott has been a member of the City Council for eight years and also has work experience with the Department of Social Services, the Department of Public Safety, Vance County Jail, Alexandria City Police Department and Amtrak.
Spriggs: “Before being elected to the city Council in 2019 I worked as a full-time city of Henderson employee for nearly four years. Aside from that, I have been active in North Carolina politics for 15 years, having worked for judges, other state officials, and their campaigns.” He also ran for Congress in 2022.
6. If you are a newcomer to politics, what role do you see yourself playing as a member of an elected body?
Etheridge: “The City Council is made up of nine elected individuals striving to fairly represent the best interests of and most beneficial outcomes for all of Henderson’s 15,000-plus citizens. When making policy, approving requests for funding, and governing the city, the mayor does not have a vote except when needed to break a tie…the mayor’s primary role on the council is to ensure a healthy, high-performing team atmosphere where all eight ward representatives are equally encouraged, equally supported, equally heard, and equally empowered to serve the citizens in their respective wards. The most important role of the mayor in our city for the next four years is to embrace this diversity and to guide Henderson toward the better future of safer neighborhoods, affordable housing, jobs with livings wages, a vibrant downtown, and lower property taxes that all our citizens deserve.”
7. Please share any additional information you want voters to know about you.
Coffey: Coffey has been a small business owner operating in the area since 1998. She is a native of Vance County and has said in earlier interviews with WIZS that she has an open-door policy when it comes to hearing from constituents. As an at-large council member, she represents all city residents, not just those in Ward 1.
Elliott: Elliott serves on numerous boards in the community, from Working on Wellness to the Dr. Andrea Harris Foundation Board, among others, including the Gun Violence Roundtable and Community Health Worker Ambassador for Region 4. “I will not leave anyone behind in my journey as the mayor of the city of Henderson.” She has written proclamations for the LGBTQ community, Hispanic Heritage Month and Community Health workers National Week and said she is a servant leader, ready to accept the challenge to serve the people of Henderson.
Etheridge: A Henderson native, Etheridge is a 1990 graduate of Vance Senior High School. He graduated from Pensacola Christian College in 1995. He is a registered Professional Engineer in North Carolina and a licensed HVAC contractor. In 2019 he purchased Gupton Services. He has held leadership roles with the Rotary Club of Henderson, the Kerr Lake Chapter of Ducks Unlimited, the City of Henderson Downtown Development Commission, and the VGCC Foundation, among others. Additional noted contributions include ACTS, Boys & Girls Club, Boy Scouts, Crime Stoppers, Edmonds Tennis and Golf Foundation, and the Salvation Army. Etheridge and wife Susan have one son, Samuel, 22. Susan is a native of Louisville, Kentucky and has been a life-long educator currently employed at North Raleigh Christian Academy as their director of academic advising. Samuel attended VGCC and is employed at Gupton Services as an HVAC service technician. Etheridge’s parents, Rick and Sybil Etheridge, and siblings, all reside in the Watkins community.
Spriggs: “Voters need to know that I am an independent politician whose main focus each day is to improve the lives of our residents, our citizens, our businesses and our families. Most importantly, as mayor of this beautiful city, my job is to serve the citizens fairly and completely.”