Log in Newsletter


Hope Mills mayoral, commissioner candidates address infrastructure, zoning, growth

Election forum gives hopefuls chance to answer voters' questions


Hope Mills residents on Saturday posed questions to candidates seeking the mayor's office and town board seats at a community-organized forum, addressing communication, infrastructure, zoning and preserving heritage.

Eight commissioner candidates were present, including incumbents Jerry Legge, Grilley Mitchell and Bryan Marley and commission hopefuls Deanna Rosario, Mark Hess, Ronald Starling and Elyse Craver. Mayor Jackie Warner also attended.

The forum was planned by four Hope Mills residents — Harriet Horner, Phyllis Hailes, Sally Bailey and Cindy Hamilton — and held at the Hope Mills Parks and Recreation Center. 

“We just wanted to do this out of the goodness of our hearts, not because anybody told us to do this,” said Hamilton, a member of the Zoning Board of Adjustment. “Nobody funded or financed us. We funded this out of our own pockets.” 

Jessie Bellflowers, who is running againstr Warner in the mayor’s race, did not attend. Commissioner candidates Patrick Mitchell, Ronnie Strong, Karen Smith Saracen and Pat Edwards were also absent, as were incumbents Joanne Scarola and Kenjuana McCray.

The candidates spoke in front of a sparse crowd of fewer than 30 people. Each candidate was asked five questions in a random order and two minutes to answer each question. The organizers chose the questions.


Each of the candidates agreed the town needs to work on its communication with Hope Mills residents. Several candidates cited a lack of communication as one of the biggest issues facing the town, decrying a lack of awareness about goings-on among those who live there.

Warner says the town has created a weekly newsletter and town manager report. Rosario wants to increase social media usage from the commissioners and said she uses Scarola’s Facebook townside chats as a great way to distribute and share information.

“Helping people understand what is really going on, I think will really alleviate a lot of the discord that is happening in the town,” Rosario said. 

Mitchell suggested the town restart its senior citizen academy, a program that taught participants how to use and access technology. Mitchell said it could offer those residents information about the town while teaching them how to get that information independently.

Other candidates said there should be increased foot traffic in the neighborhoods by town leaders.

Incumbent Bryan Marley noted many vacancies on town boards and committees. To engage with the community, Marley said, people have to  attend town meetings.

“We need to get more citizens to the board meetings so they can hear what’s going on, hear what we’re saying, hear the business of the town because that’s the only way they hear the truth,” Marley said. “We just need involvement. We need more citizens to get involved.”

Craver used rezoning as a reason to go out and talk to people door-to-door.

“If we do rezoning in the neighborhoods, that’s when we need to go out and do a town hall meeting so people can come in from that neighborhood concerning their rezoning and let’s hear their opinion about what’s going on,” she said. “Let’s find out first what they want firsthand.”


Another central talking point was infrastructure, which can be tricky for Hope Mills since the sewage and water system is operated by the Fayetteville Public Works Commission and the major roads running through the town are under the control of the N.C. Department of Transportation. But that doesn’t mean town leaders don’t have input.

Starling said the upkeep of town roads is a significant concern.

“I agree the roadways are DOT’s, but it’s in our town,” Starling said. “We can at least clean it up and make it look like something. I hated the fact they came in and put the medians in there because it’w starting to look like other big cities. You’ve got dirt, weeds growing around it, but at least we can clean it.”

Craver agreed with Starling about the roads, and she pointed out that Hope Mills does have a flooding problem — saying her home has been flooded three times since 2000.

Warner said the town has created several plans to help improve infrastructure, stormwater drainage, transportation, parks and recreation. The projects that have already started in Cumberland County and Hope Mills are almost fully funded, she said.

“Some people don’t realize that some of these plans have been in the works for 10 years,” Warner said.

Mitchell agreed with Warner, saying there are plans on the books, so the focus right now should not be getting more infrastructure in town but increasing funding to pay for infrastructure in the future.

“We have to be sustaining what we have,” Mitchell said. “Once we sustain, then we can grow. How do we get that income? What income sources do we have inside of this town? Let’s look at that. What can we bring inside Hope Mills to become income generators so we can do some things on our own? If you can take care of your own, you can survive. Right now, we are not doing that.” 

Priorities for several of the candidates included safety. Some suggested the importance of pedestrian safety, as Rosario emphasized, while others focused on the police department, including Legge and Hess.

Legge would like to increase wages for police officers since he says many officers are leaving Hope Mills’ department to get better salaries in Fayetteville and at the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office.

“I would like to come up with a better plan so they can get a pay increase that is tied with longevity, so they can have that pay increase to look forward to each year,” he said. “If it's not there, they are going somewhere else. It’s up to us to have the funding and the equipment to honor these officers.”

Zoning and rezoning

Another primary concern for candidates was the idea of zoning and rezoning. Hess and Craver stated they are opposed to zoning commercial residential properties. They also wanted to be more selective of the types of businesses being put into the town.

“We need to be particular when we do the zoning to put the right thing in the right place,” Craver said, citing the large number of gas stations and vape shops in the town.

Marley, however, said town officials cannot choose which businesses can be allowed. There are laws the town must follow, and they should trust in the town staff and the people who understand the zoning laws. He said the board is there to vote on policies and procedures and raise any budget concerns. 

“I think most people don’t understand the legalities for that part of the zoning,” Marley said. “We have excellent staff for the zoning cases coming to us, they can advise and answer any question. We just have to trust the process.”

Hess said that while he agrees to trust the process, he’s not a fan of big-box retailers like Walmart locating right next to houses.

“It’s a balancing act,” Hess said.

Like many other candidates, Starling wanted the town to use what it already had instead of building new things. He stated he was against a new hotel potentially being built on Golfview Road and building ballfields for a new baseball team. He would instead make a list of things that the city needs instead of what the city wants.

Preserving heritage

Another question asked during the forum was about preserving Hope Mills' heritage.

Hess says the town needs to focus on restoring and preserving the buildings it still has. Many buildings and historical sites have been destroyed or demolished, and town leaders should focus on preservation and figuring out what historical sites should be preserved, Hess said.

Rosario suggested that the town invest in a town guide for people who move here with a history of the town. 

“We need to emphasize it and teach it and make sure your future generations know why we are here,” she said.

Mitchell suggested modernizing historical sites and photos by installing QR codes so people can scan them with phones and learn more about the city's history.

Early voting starts on Oct. 19. Election day is Nov. 7.

Contact Hannah Lee at hannahleenews@gmail.com.

The CityView News Fund is a nonprofit organization that supports CityView’s newsgathering operation. Will you help us with a tax-deductible donation? 

hope mills, mayor, commissioners, elections