SILER CITY — Supporters gathered at the Chatham Rabbit on June 24 to celebrate Rev. Donald Matthews and his run for the mayor’s seat in Siler City.
Matthews, who ran for the seat last municipal election, held a lunch party for his campaign last Saturday. He will face incumbent Chip Price, who was elected in 2022 in a special election.
"We're really at a time when leadership matters,” Matthews told the News & Record in an interview after his campaign event. “We need to be able to make all of this work together for the greater good of the community.
Matthews has spent most of his life in Siler City. He serves as a pastor at First Missionary Baptist Church and has spent a lot of time dedicated to recognizing Black history in Siler City. He served as the chairperson of the Citizens in Action organization, which was responsible for the installment of a mural on Birch Avenue recognizing Black entrepreneurs throughout Siler City’s history.
He said he wants to continue his public service through elected office, where he said he can advocate for residents who’ve historically had their voices stifled and oppressed.
“The past leadership neglected a lot of the community, especially some of the minority communities,” he said. “They did not invest and what they did invest was subpar. We just have some issues that we that we need to prioritize and just start addressing them one by one.”
Matthews said the town needs a complete “revitalization” in order to prepare for new residents coming to Siler City and to improve services facilities and services for current residents. From investing in updated infrastructure in historically to building more recreational programs for Siler City’s youth and senior citizens, Matthews said these and more need to be accomplished over the upcoming years.
“Our infrastructure needs to be completely redone,” he said. “We should be looking and working with state legislature to get them to understand we need an investment in this community.”
A majority of Siler City is located on a flood plain, which has resulted in continual flooding after rain showers or thunderstorms. Most of the areas in town with reoccurring flooding are home to a lot of Siler City’s Black and Hispanic residents, including Matthews’s own neighborhood on 12th Street.
Because of this, one of the main legs of Matthews’s campaign is addressing Siler City’s stormwater infrastructure. During the budget process, commissioners were considering allocating funds to create a stormwater utility fee program, which would’ve help generate revenue to fund repairs to areas of town prone to flooding.
However, Price said he had heard concerns from residents about the program, claiming there wasn’t enough transparency in the process. The board ultimately decided to scrap the stormwater utility fee program until they could “get more information and input from the community.”
Matthews — who was present at the budget discussions and at the meeting where the fee was taken out of the budget — said a program like the one the town manager proposed is necessary for Siler City.
“It makes no sense when the community is flooding and you're fighting a program that might be good or regulate water runoff,” he said. “Everybody now seems to be ‘choosing sides’ ... That’s not how this is going to work. I want to figure out with another group of people how we make this work ... We need to be asking why are people against it, and then we need to get them to understand the need, because the need is great.”
For Siler City to grow to its full potential, Matthews said its leadership needs to set goals and milestones to address the needs of residents of the present and future. At the end of the day, Matthews said the elected officials of Siler City need to prioritize the needs of all its in-town residents and make an effort to talk to all the communities in town.
“As a leader, you have to be open to new ideas — You have to be reasonable ... and you’re accountable to the people,” he said. “You need to have a time where you actually talk to people in their neighborhoods ... I’ve never seen a commissioner walking my street ... You may not know what’s going on at my house, but you should know what’s happening at 12th Street, 13th Street, Dogwood Avenue and the rest of the community.”
Matthews said he intends to officially file to run for office once the filing period opens on July 7.