'THESE PEOPLE ARE DOING YOU GUYS DIRTY'

Newcomers challenge incumbents in Siler City candidate forum

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SILER CITY — A bloc of newcomers to Siler City, seeking seats on the town’s board of commissioners, pledged to “make history” if elected during a candidate forum on Sunday.

But long-time board member Cindy Bray — who was the target of heckling during the event from the bloc’s patron, a Durham philanthropist named Courtney Jordan — warned of the dangers of the new candidates’ rhetoric.

“People are hearing different things that change,” Bray said during the event. “Quit giving out misinformation, and let’s talk about what is true.”

Candidates made their case to voters at First Missionary Baptist Church in Siler City on Sunday afternoon. The four newcomers — Nick Gallardo, Sam Williams, Jared Picot and Dean Picot II — are running on what they describe as a “unity ticket,” Gallardo for mayor and the other three for commission seats.

“We all want to unify Siler City,” Gallardo said. “Everybody’s vote matters, everybody’s opinion matters because everybody’s dollars go into the city.”

Gallardo shared the stage with mayoral candidate Donald Matthews, a life-long Siler City resident. The two shared a similar message — Siler City is in desperate need of a change in leadership.

The candidates, however, come from very different backgrounds. Matthews has served the community as an associate pastor at First Missionary Baptist Church and worked to recognize Birch Avenue’s historical Black-owned businesses. Matthews said in order to create the change Siler City needs, the board and mayor need to be patient and solve one issue at a time.

“We have spent approximately the last, as Nick said, 30 to 35 years doing pretty much the same thing looking for a different outcome, and nothing has happened,” Matthews said. “What has happened in that 30 to 35 years, there are things that are so messed up, that it is going to take a one step at a time approach.”

Gallardo is new to Siler City. His voter history shows he previously was registered to vote in Wake County, and he registered at his Siler City address on Feb. 23, one day before candidate filing resumed after a delay related to redistricting lawsuits.

The 23-year-old candidate made a series of ambitious promises to his constituents on Sunday evening — he, along with the three other candidates on the “unity ticket,” signed a pledge to create 1,000 jobs in Siler City paying salaries of at least $40,000 a year in his first fiscal year in office.

“I have a very good relationship with both my parents, and they told me that the only thing you have in this world is your word,” Gallardo said. “My word to you is we will offer these 1,000 high paying jobs or I will resign.”

Siler City Dist. 1 Commissioner candidate Sam Williams said he has already talked to Duke University Hospital — where he works as a manager — about bringing clinics to Siler City as a part of the four newcomers’ platform of access to quality health care.

Williams, also new to Siler City, voted in Wake County’s elections in 2020. He registered to vote at his Siler City address on Jan. 16, 2022.

“When I first moved here to Siler City, the first thing, I was having conversations with people, and the people (were) saying that they have to drive to Chapel Hill to Durham to Mebane to get adequate health care,” Williams said. “I’m already in conversations with Duke University to get two urgent cares here — one’s going to be in our low-income area, and one’s going to be in our city’s center.”

Williams also promised Duke would also provide several specialty clinics, including endocrine specialists, a lab, an allergy specialist, a rheumatologist and more.

Other candidates emphasized the need for affordable housing, including newcomer Jared Picot. Jared is a graduate of the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business school and is running for the Dist. 5 commissioner seat against incumbent Lewis Fadely and Rayetta Fox.

Fadely was not present at Sunday’s forum.

“I love people that care about the community, want to change things and want to get involved — it’s exactly why I’m running,” Jared said.

Jared focused his reamarks on affordable housing, which he said has become an issue in Siler City and across Chatham County. He said local government should do everything in its power to ensure Siler City residents are able to find less expensive rental options, as well as work to prevent residents from leaving town because of a lack of affordable housing.

“What are we going to do when people who are already struggling to pay $1,000 for rent (when) their rent is going to be increased by 30% within the year, they’ll be paying $1,300 on average, and for that, people won’t be able to live here anymore, they’ll be pushed out,” Jared said. “I’m running with Dean Jr., Nick and Sam because we all have a special ability to get things solved in this town, to not let anyone fall behind.”

Each of candidates spoke about the issue of drug overdoses and deaths in Siler City. In a News + Record series about the overdose epidemic in Chatham County, Siler City Police Chief Mike Wagner said the overdose calls in Siler City in 2021 nearly doubled, with four of those calls resulting in death.

Dean Picot II said he understood what it is like to be in the throes of addiction. He revealed his journey recovering from substance abuse, sharing his story with the forum audience.

“I know what it’s like to be out in the depths of addiction,” he said. “I can see how much this city is hurting, and I promised God that if I ever got out of that, I would help others.”

Dean Picot — a substance abuse counselor and peer support specialist — got emotional during his time on the podium. He claimed while people in Siler City continue to suffer due to drugs and high crime rates, he said those in leadership have not done enough to help their citizens.

“These people are doing you guys dirty,” he said. “And it’s just going to keep getting worse and worse until you vote them out and vote for the unity ticket.”

He’s looking to unseat is Commissioner Bray, who has served in the commissioner at-large seat since 2009. She said she felt the new candidates were sharing misconstrued information, which could ultimately misinform residents of Siler City.

“I’m very passionate about Siler City,” Bray said. “I know the truth about what goes on because I’m in every meeting and I’d like to see who has been at every meeting to see what goes on.”

Bray was the target of heckling during the forum on Sunday from Jordan, who made comments from the audience about Bray and her fellow board members, saying they not done enough to protect Siler City residents.

The News + Record contacted Bray after the event to address the allegations made by Jordan and some of the four candidates on the unity ticket, as well as comments from each of the candidates indicating they wanted a change in the leadership in Siler City — some going as far as to say town officials were harming residents through inaction.

“That’s a baseless claim based on opinion rather than facts,” Bray said in a message to the News + Record. “The last 12 years, I have served my constituents to the best of my ability based on the needs of the people and not my own.”

Bray said before the forum that she did not know much about the four candidates on the “unity ticket” because she said they are new to the area.

However, she warned those who continue to make allegations with “baseless” information are leading the public in the wrong direction. From saying different population numbers than from the 2020 Census to claiming the board is corrupted, Bray said the misinformation could lead the public astray from what she calls the truth.

“A prime example (of misinformation) — the Census showed that 7,702 people live in Siler City, which 7,887 were reported in 2010 Census,” she said. “If those making reckless claims attended meetings on a regular basis, they would have a better understanding of the needs of Siler City.”

Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at theeden@chathamnr.com.

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