What can elected city officials do to make Elizabeth City more like a university town?
That was a topic of discussion at Tuesday night’s informal forum for candidates in Elizabeth City’s Oct. 8 municipal election. The forum was held in the Ridley Student Center on campus at Elizabeth City State University and was hosted by the Northeast North Carolina League of Women Voters, in partnership with the Campus Vote Project student group.
There are only two contested races on the Oct. 8 election ballot in Elizabeth City. In the Second Ward, first-time candidate Chris Ruffieux is challenging incumbent City Councilors Anita Hummer and Gabriel Adkins.
In the Third Ward, former city councilor Michael Brooks is challenging incumbent Councilors Rickey King and Kem Spence.
Running unopposed are Mayor Bettie Parker, First Ward Councilors Billy Caudle and Jeannie Young and Fourth Ward Councilors Johnnie Walton and Darius Horton.
All candidates except Adkins, Caudle, King and Young attended Tuesday’s forum. Each of those in attendance took about 5 minutes to introduce themselves before the floor was opened to questions.
One unidentified resident told the candidates that when passing through downtown he sees many events and activities happening, but none of them seem geared toward attracting ECSU students.
“I don’t see groups. I don’t see music venues, downtown,” the man said, emphasizing the word, downtown. “I don’t see business venues, downtown, that get this wonderful cadre of students down there, too.”
While ECSU has a “wonderful” campus, the idea is to find ways to merge downtown with student life, the man explained.
“You want to make the two together. You want them together,” he said. “So, my question to all of you running, what are you going to do to make that a reality?”
Parker was the first to respond to the question.
“I think that’s a good question that you asked and I do want you to know that is a concern of ours,” Parker said. “We want to make sure that the college students get to participate and to mingle with our businesses downtown.”
Parker said the city has addressed the concern by recently creating a Student Council that includes student representatives from ECSU, College of The Albemarle and Mid-Atlantic Christian University. The panel meets in Council Chambers to discuss ideas, which are then relayed to city officials, she explained.
Parker said finding ways to get students more involved in the downtown was part of her campaign when she first ran for mayor two years ago.
“They should be everywhere,” Parker said. “They should be involved with the city.”
Brooks was next to address the question. He referred back to an idea of his while serving his second term on city council. He suggested having students at ECSU, COA and MACU pick a student who would serve as an active member of City Council. The student also would receive a monthly stipend, Brooks said.
“Pay those kids $100,” Brooks said. “And let them bring what’s going on with the youth to the table.”
Brooks said it has taken too long to begin significant efforts to improve student interaction with the city. He also said that in other towns with a college presence there are visible indicators, such as water towers and fire hydrants painted in school colors, that inform visitors they have arrived in a university town.
“When you come across Camden bridge, they should know that they’re in a university town,” he said. “They should know.”
The city does have a sign posted just before the bridge noting it’s the home of ECSU, COA and MACU as well as the fact it’s a Coast Guard City.
Brooks said while Elizabeth City has a strong U.S. Coast Guard presence, the three campuses also represent a sizable portion of the city.
“It’s not just a Coast Guard town, it’s a university town, also,” he said.