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Council To Hear From District 3 Applicants


Editor's note: While we are preparing to launch our digital news division, we want to keep you informed with this breaking news.

Editor's note: The section on Guillermo "Bill" Ayerbe was incomplete in a story that published Sunday, December 5. This story has been updated to include his complete information.

By Bill Kirby Jr.

Members of the Fayetteville City Council on Monday will hear from District 3 applicants as they decide who will replace former Councilwoman Tisha Waddell, who resigned in November.

The meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall.

Waddell abruptly resigned in the midst of her second term on Nov. 9, alleging unethical conduct by the mayor and other council members.

Eleven people have applied to fill the seat.

“The council will hear from the applicants Monday,” City Manager Doug Hewett said Friday afternoon. “They will decide on December 13. Because we have no further meetings scheduled, depending on what is happening, we may ask the city clerk or the mayor to swear them in the following day."

Waddell’s replacement will serve until April 2022.

The district includes subdivisions on Fort Bragg as well as those in Fayetteville. Those neighborhoods include Broadell, Cottonade, Country Club North, Eccles Park, Hillendale, Tiffany Pines, University Estates and Warrenwood.
All of the applicants answered questions related to their experience, education, public service and their interest in serving on the City Council.

Antonio Jones

Antonio Jones, 48, said he has a “sincere” interest in serving District 3.

“I believe that the city is growing and is in need of continual progressive leadership, of which I can help provide,” he said on his application. “I have no issues with standing my ground should the need arise, even if the position taken is not a popular one. I desire for Fayetteville to continue to take methodical steps forward as we morph into the great city that I know it can be. Even if for a short period of time, it would be an honor to serve the citizens here in such a capacity in not only representing District 3 on the City Council, but putting all city residents first.”

Jones is a Realtor and a former regional supervisor for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services epidemiology section. He also serves on the Cumberland County Juvenile Crime Prevention Council.

“I still see one of the most urgent issues the city must address is affordable housing, reducing youth delinquency rates and ensuring that the city grows and develops in not only a consistent manner, but in a way that does not exclude any particular sectors of the population,” Jones said. “It definitely starts with our leadership.”

Cynthia Swinson Leeks

Cynthia Swinson Leeks, 60, is a retired human resources manager with the state. Leeks said she has enrolled in the Fayetteville Institute for Community Leadership for 2022. Leeks is a 1983 graduate of Shaw University with a bachelor of science degree in speech and hearing science. As a military wife of 33 years, Leeks said she organized and nurtured younger counterparts in areas of childcare and neighborhood unity.

“We moved back to Fayetteville in 2017, into the neighborhood we grew up in as children,” Leeks said. “As a retired citizen, I immediately began to get heavily involved in the well-being of my neighbors in my neighborhood. I live in Broadell Homes and I absolutely love my neighbors in my neighborhood. I joined my neighborhood community watch. I now serve as interim secretary.”

Leeks said she is a Fayetteville City Ambassador for the Murchison Choice Initiative.

“I am interested in representing and assisting in ways I can bring my grassroots ability to communicate to the people of District 3 from the perspective of being a native of this district,” she said.”

Leeks said she has listened to residents in the district and they simply want to be heard.

“Many of the citizens feel forgotten and many just feel abandoned,” Leeks said, “and I would love to have this opportunity to bridge the gap and assist this council in assisting District 3.”

Guillermo “Bill” Ayerbe

Bill Ayerbe, 54, is a teacher and musician. He earned a bachelor’s of art degree in  political science from Creighton University in 1989. He also served as concert master for the  Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra for 15 years.   

The military veteran said he decided to remain in Fayetteville to raise his family when he  left the military.  

“I have always been interested in local politics, however, time constraints were always an issue,” he said. “I feel like I finally have the time to serve my community in a political role. I'm sure I have a lot to learn, but I'm committed to reintroducing myself to my constituents within my district and around the Fayetteville area.”

Ayerbe believes he would be an asset to the council.  

“I feel that in these times of chaos and turmoil, I can bring a calming voice to the  council,” Ayerbe said. “I have unmatched interpersonal skills and am willing to work hard with  my fellow council members to ensure Fayetteville’s success. Whether I am appointed or not, I  will be running in the next election for District 3 council member.”  

Ayerbe said small business investment and revitalization in neighborhoods along the  Murchison Road corridor are among his priorities.  

“It is one of the oldest and historic areas in Fayetteville,” he said of Murchison Road, and  revitalization “would provide a key gateway to further downtown development.” He also said public safety is another priority, although “it is definitely going in the right direction.”

Jesse Brunson

Jesse Brunson, 70, is a Vietnam veteran and a retired Methodist minister. He has a  bachelor of arts in education from St. Andrews University, a master’s in education from Duke  University and a doctorate in education from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.  

“We have owned our home here in Fayetteville since 2000 and have witnessed the  growth of Fayetteville over the years,” Brunson said. “I believe with my background as a pastor  

and the places I have served over the past 30 years, it is my belief that my experiences can help  the council and the third district with the issues it faces at this day and time.”  

Brunson said his experience serving on various committees in other communities would  make him an asset to the City Council.   

“I have served in Raleigh on the mayor's advisory team,” he said. “Also on the Raleigh  Historic District Committee and the Oberlin Community Committee.” He also served as vice  chairman of the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Committee.  

John Zimmerman

John Zimmerman, 52, said public safety is paramount in the city.

“It is one of the oldest and historic areas in Fayetteville,” he said of Murchison Road, and revitalization “would provide a key gateway to further downtown development.” He also said public safety is another priority, although “it is definitely going in the right direction.”

“I believe I bring a fresh perspective to what the city needs regarding improvements in processes, economic development, beautification and business,” said Zimmerman, an Army veteran and owner of JAKZ Transport LLC and Prepper JAKZ, a retail business. “Being relatively new to the city, I'm not influenced by ‘the way it's always been,’ and I know I will be able to help propel the city forward out of the ‘business as usual' mindset. I am open-minded to differing opinions and fair in my decisions.”

“I have always been interested in local politics, however, time constraints were always an issue,” he said. “I feel like I finally have the time to serve my community in a political role. I'm sure I have a lot to learn, but I'm committed to reintroducing myself to my constituents within my district and around the Fayetteville area.”


Kathi Harrington Gibson

Kathi Gibson, 64, is a small business owner and retired educator, serving as superintendent of Northampton County Schools and Weldon City Schools, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction for Cumberland County Schools and assistant superintendent for student support services for Cumberland County Schools.

She holds a bachelor of arts in English education from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a master’s in arts in educational administration from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke and a PhD in educational leadership and polices from the University of South Carolina.

“My professional career spans across three decades,” Gibson said in her application. “I have served on numerous boards and successfully led public organizations with dignity and success.”

Gibson said it would be an honor to join the City Council.

“The city of Fayetteville needs leaders at every level,” she said. “The decisions are too robust to have less than quality leadership … The experiences that I have as a public servant over the years positions me working with the existing council and citizens from all walks of life. It would be an honor to join the distinguished council that now leads the city of Fayetteville.”

Kurin Keys

When it comes to serving District 3 on the council, Kurin Keys, 44, gets right to the point.

“I’m vested” in this city, he said.

Keys is owner of Need T-Shirts Printed Inc. downtown and has been in business for 22 years. He is a 2015 graduate of Fayetteville State University.

“In 22 years of being a small business owner in the city of Fayetteville, I can do everything from remove a clogged toilet to telling you the socioeconomic demographic of every car that passes by my shop every day,” he said. “I serve 200-plus customers a month from all different backgrounds, circumstances and traumas,” he said. “They all have the same expectation. ‘Treat me like I matter and do what you say.’”

Keys said if he is appointed to the District 3 seat, his focus will be safety, infrastructure and connecting the small business sector of the community with government resources. Keys said if he is not appointed, he plans to file for the District 3 seat.

Keys was involved in an issue in 2020, when Democratic state House candidate Terry Johnson filed a complaint with the North Carolina State Board of Elections alleging he was offered $12,500 by Keys to end his challenge against Rep. Billy Richardson in the primary election.

Keys denied the allegation, according to a published newspaper report, and said he never offered Johnson money to end his campaign.

Mario Benavente

“The State Board of Elections had no findings,” Kurin said Friday, “and said there were no violations.”

Mario Benavente, 31, is a third-year law student at N.C. Central University. He said he is engaged in the community by working with several nonprofits and committees that work with youth and people who are homeless. He also has worked to address the needs of millennials in Fayetteville. He is a 2018 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Benavente said he wants to be a voice for the Latino-American population as well as the Asian American community.

“The Latino-American population has grown to nearly 12 percent and is estimated to continue increasing,” he said. “The Asian-American community in Fayetteville has a longstanding presence, but never a voice in the entire history of our municipal government. … I will engage with these underrepresented communities in a way that benefits our city from newly invested citizens. Fayetteville is a city of nations, and it is high time that the City Council begins to reflect that.”

Benavente said he follows the City Council and city issues.

“My interest in serving on City Council is rooted in ushering in the next generation of civically engaged citizens with open arms,” he said. “I want to proactively organize our communities to address long-standing problems with innovative new strategies. I'm interested in serving on City Council because I know Fayetteville has all the ingredients to be an even bigger player on statewide issues. We just need to get cooking.’’

Meleisa Lane

Meleisa Lane, 52, is a legal analyst, business consultant and mediator. She is a 1992 graduate of Wake Forest University and a 1995 graduate of the North Carolina Central University School of law.

Lane said she had contemplated running for City Council even before Waddell resigned. Lane said she sees herself as a bridge-builder.

“I love working with and for people and I am someone who is very easy to work with and communicate with,” she said. “I also have the time and commitment to personally engage with our citizens.”

Lane acknowledged she was disbarred in 2016 by the N.C. State Bar after a hearing by a panel of the bar’s Disciplinary Hearing Commission. Lane used money from a client’s trust account to make a payment on a home loan, according to the order of discipline. The order also cited her conduct “involved failing to file and pay personal income tax returns and failing to comply with employer tax obligations over a period of many years.”

When asked about the disbarment, Lane provided a letter emailed to the City Council from Albert Kirby Jr., the lawyer who represented her in the case. “I am writing this letter in support of Melesia Lane for appointment to a vacancy on the Fayetteville City Council for her district,” Kirby wrote on Dec. 1. “I represented Melesia before the North Carolina State Bar and her disbarment proceedings. Those proceedings dealt with technical legal requirements for lawyers. In her case, there was no finding of misappropriation by her of any client trust funds. In my opinion, the key disbarment issue was the failure to timely file income tax returns, which were filed prior to the commencement of the disbarment proceedings.


“As a former member of the Sampson County Board of Commissioners and a former Senior Resident Superior Court Judge, I am familiar with the types of issues that can cause concerns for municipal governments in the appointment of members.

“I am intimately familiar with those proceedings in Melesia’s case and see nothing that should cause any concern or embarrassment to the council for the above stated reasons,” Kirby wrote. “… I support the appointment of Melesia Lane to fill the vacancy. She will be a wonderful addition to the council and can draw upon her education, training, skills and experiences to become a productive member of the council.”

Mike Dobs

Mike Dobs, 55, is a retired Army veteran now working as a data systems/ information management specialist at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center on Fort Bragg. He has served on the Fayetteville Planning Commission and previously ran unsuccessfully for the District 3 seat.

If appointed to the District 3 seat, Dobs said he will focus on safety and security; better lives for the future of young people; and recognizing Fayetteville as a “fair and just ‘All American City.’”

Dobs said Fayetteville is growing at what he describes as an astounding rate.

“We must work on lowering crime and using our educational environment to our advantage,’’ he said. “With two major four-year colleges, a technical community college and military community, we can build an awesome educational environment that will feed all business needs. … Low crime rates and school performance are important factors when trying to attract new businesses and homebuyers. We have it all. We just have to manage it better.”

Raymond Makar

Raymond Makar, 62, is a retired Special Forces soldier and a past leader of the Cottonade Community Watch. He now works with U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg. He has served on the City Planning Commission.

“I have been a resident of Fayetteville for more than 30 years and a resident of Cottonade since 1992,” he said. “Much of my military and subsequent federal service has been in the Fayetteville city area/community. As a self-professed ‘life-long learner,’ I am certainly very interested in contributing by volunteering and assisting where I can.”

Makar said he can bring exceptional communication and interpersonal skills and establish long-term working relationships with professionals at all levels.

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at bkirby@cityviewnc.com, billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961.