Fred LaChance says it’s time “for the average Joe to get out and go walking.”
That’s his homespun way of saying it was time for him to make his first run for public office and try to get something done for the community. That’s why he’s running for a seat on the Fayetteville City Council.
LaChance, 70, is challenging incumbent Councilman Johnny Dawkins to represent District 5.
LaChance, who owns and operates an antiques store on Bragg Boulevard, says he works with the Stay Safe Community Watch in his Haymount neighborhood and often pays homeless people to work at his business.
"I try to make them feel good about themselves," he says.
Dawkins, 63, is no stranger to politics. He is the son of the late former Mayor J.L. Dawkins and is pursuing his fourth term on the City Council.
Dawkins says there’s still work to be done on public safety and the city’s stormwater system, as well as improving other infrastructure such as streets and sidewalks.
“We’ve got to keep working to improve public safety,” Dawkins says. “We have lots of stormwater problems.”
He also wants to create job opportunities by working with Fort Bragg.
“We must take advantage of our relationship with Fort Bragg,” Dawkins says. “Great opportunities await us with our relationship with Fort Bragg. They are our economic engine. Real estate, cars, apartments, everything with our restaurant businesses — everything evolves around Fort Bragg and taking care of those who protect us.”
Dawkins says for three decades, he has served on the boards of nonprofit and charitable entities, including Duke Cancer Institute, Snyder Memorial Baptist Church, the CARE Clinic, Fayetteville Urban Ministry, Fayetteville State University and Fayetteville Technical Community College.
LaChance, who retired in 1993 after 23 years in the Navy, says he can't stop working. But he says his antiques shop is more like a hobby than a job for him.
“I put people to work, and I enjoy it,” says LaChance, whose father was an Army recruiter on Fort Bragg. “I like meeting people. I was always the guy on the couch who complained about stuff. But we never do nothing; we just talked. I told my wife I want to get involved so that the next time I sit on the couch and complain, I’ve earned that right.
“I like Fayetteville; this is my town,” LaChance says. The city needs “simple fixes, and a lot of people make big deals out of nothing, like they don't know what their mission is. If you have a mission, you can really work things out.”
City voters will go to the polls on July 26 to choose a mayor and City Council members. Early voting is underway at the Cumberland County Board of Elections Office.
District 5 is anchored by the Haymount district and includes the neighborhoods of VanStory Hills, Kingsford, Briarwood Hills, Clairway, Bordeaux, Lafayette Village, Murray Hills and Tallywood.
CityView TODAY asked LaChance and Dawkins about a number of issues facing the city. They were also asked what issues they think are most important. Here is what they said.
Crime in the city continues to rise, according to a recent report. Are city officials — specifically the Police Department and Chief Gina Hawkins — doing enough to address crime? If not, what should they do differently?
Dawkins: “Well, we have to grow our Police Department. We have to always be about recruiting, training police officers. We’re not ever going to do enough to stop crime. Therefore, we have to always be about our focus on public safety. We cannot take our focus off public safety.”
LaChance: “They're definitely not (doing enough). I’m not saying the policemen. I never talk about the lady or gentleman walking their beat. I’m talking about leadership. There is no leadership in that department whatsoever. I have never wavered from my position that the police chief needs to be replaced. We need new leadership. I have some of the officers come by the store, and they tell me there’s no morale. She doesn’t communicate with her subordinates. The biggest problem is that she does not communicate with her own people.”
A record number of officers have left and are leaving our police force. Many say they are underpaid and feel they don’t have the support of their leaders. What is your plan to correct this serious issue?
LaChance: “Again, the leadership will be a big play in it. (Officers) need a pay raise. You can’t expect someone to come out here all day and take crap all day. It’s like four-letter words all the time. They need their backs to be covered. They need a pay raise.” Citing plans to open a tennis pavilion at Mazarick Park, he says: “That place is getting that pay raise. The morale for (police officers) — they have got to be pumped up; they’ve got to be acknowledged. If they go out and have to check out a house, they have to know their back is covered. And that’s where leadership comes in. If you have a bad captain on a Navy ship, they’ll relieve that captain in a minute.”
Dawkins: "Well, we as a council hire and fire the city manager and city attorney. We have to continually discuss the importance of leadership to our city manager because the chief of police works directly for the city manager. The way I influence public safety is through the city manager. I have to always be telling our city manager the city needs to focus on public safety and make sure the chief of police understands our concerns."
Affordable housing continues to be an issue for many in our community. The City Council decided to earmark part of its American Rescue Plan funding to address housing issues. What else can the city do to help residents find safe, affordable housing?
Dawkins: “Create zoning downtown that incentivizes vertical housing. We’ve started that. We’re taking off some of the height restrictions downtown. You go to other cities’ downtowns and you see tall buildings. You don’t see those in Fayetteville. With tall housing, we need to create more urban density through vertical integration of affordable housing in the downtown area. When you create taller buildings with more apartments, you can afford to have a grocery store and other vital services that serve the needs of those in affordable housing. We have a lot of horizontal housing.”
LaChance: “Well, first we have to get the costs under control in the city. We need to find contractors who don’t overcharge. Those contracts need to be read. We need to find out why it costs so much to build houses in areas where (people) can afford it. They can’t afford it. We need to get a handle on the contractors. We’ve got to let them know, 'You need to pitch in, too.'"
Fayetteville has received some good economic news in recent months with the new Amazon distribution center and other business announcements. What does city leadership need to do to increase jobs in our community? What city resources need to be devoted to this cause?
LaChance: “Ninety percent of the taxpaying people in this country own small businesses. The companies bring in their own people for the higher-paying jobs and then the lower-paying jobs go to the people in Fayetteville. I went through hell getting my store opened through (the city's building) regulations. We need for the department to say that, ‘You’re going (into) business; the city could send somebody over, and here’s what you’ve got to do. And then you’ll be code-right.’ The person rents the place and, all of a sudden, they get a $15,000 or $20,000 bill to do some other things before it’s up to code. That’s overhead, and that kills you. That’s why businesses go out of business the first three years. They’re using money they had to save that business.”
Dawkins: “We, through our economic development and with our working with Robert Van Geons (president and CEO of the Fayetteville Cumberland County Economic Development Corp.), we’re continuing to look at new opportunities. Fort Bragg is creating opportunities because of all the military contractors who want to come here. We have to create infrastructure to be ready for them. That is our job opportunities.”
The city has made strides on the homeless with new facilities in the works. Still, we’re seeing homeless people living in tents in the city and county, many of them pitched on state property along roadways. What else needs to be done to address the homeless? What would you push for if voted onto the City Council?
LaChance: “I’ll tell you what, if I’m voted on the council, I would get them all together and we’d take a trip to Raleigh. You need to bus them back to Raleigh so it doesn’t make our city look bad. There’s going to be a big problem with the homeless, but there’s a way to handle it. You can’t do anything about it; the state government is allowing them to stay on the sides of the roads. Don’t make the rules for us. If that homeless person is in our boundaries, we’ll take care of them. It won’t take a lot of work; we’ve already got the facilities. There are homeless people you’re not going to change. That’s their freedom; that’s what they like. But there are families out there who need to be on the right track. Supplement these people until they get on their feet.”
Dawkins: “They’re making progress. The day center is going to be ready in three to five months. I’m thrilled to see the county moving forward with their shelter. Ours will be a day center; the county’s will be a shelter. We’re working closer, the county and city. We don’t get any money for the homeless; the county does. … We need the county to continue to move forward with our shelter.”