In the race for the Fayetteville City Council District 3 seat, incumbent Antonio Jones is being challenged by Mario Benavente.
Jones was appointed to the seat in December by the City Council to fill the vacancy created when two-term Councilwoman Tisha Waddell resigned in November.
Benavente was a finalist from among 11 applicants for the seat. Jones was appointed after a second round of voting by the council where he received a 6-3 majority over Benavente.
Benavente, 32, lists his occupation as a community organizer. He recently earned his law degree from N.C. Central University.
Jones, 48, is a Realtor and small business owner.
CityView TODAY asked the candidates for City Council and mayor questions about several issues facing the community. These are their answers, which have been edited for style and grammar.
Occupation: Community organizer, legal professional
Elected offices held: None
Benavente did not respond to the CityView TODAY questionnaire.
Occupation: Realtor, small business owner
Elected offices held: Appointed to City Council District 3
Crime in the city continues to rise, according to a recent report on the first quarter of 2022 by Police Chief Gina Hawkins to the City Council. Are city officials — and specifically, the police chief and the Police Department — doing enough to address crime? If not, what should they do differently?
Our Police Department is doing a good job and as with everything, there are opportunities for improvement. We have to address and effectively deal with morale and salary issues within the department to ensure our officers are proud to serve our city and can do so knowing support is there. As it relates to the increase in violent crimes, I believe we have to increase current efforts to remove illegal guns from our streets, increase our new PROOVE initiative that aims at educating and engaging the public to assist with violent crime prevention, continue to utilize the micro-grant program to support community efforts to reduce crime, and increase engagement between neighborhood residents and their patrolling officer(s). I also am advocating for a co-responder model for our Police Department that allows us to further support our residents and officers by partnering with/working with/hiring mental health professionals to help address situations where there may be mental health issues and/or crises occurring. We must also work with our judicial system to move more toward a restorative justice approach. It is also important that FPD continue to release public messages in regards to what we all can do to assist in reducing crime, such as ensuring car doors are locked, that weapons and other valuables are out of plain sight in vehicles, to name a few. We must continue to ensure we have an officer at Community Watch meetings, FPD faith forums, etc., to answer specific crime-related questions as this will also assist in crime reduction efforts and provide an additional opportunity for residents to engage with those helping to patrol their specific area. Crime is a multi-faceted issue and the approach(es) to address it must be the same and include concerted efforts from the FPD, cooperating agencies, council, city manager, police chief and the community.
Record numbers of officers have left and are leaving our police force. Many are underpaid and feel they don’t have the support of their leaders. What is your plan to correct this serious issue?
This is definitely a concern. Whenever you have tenured officers leaving for any reason, it requires a thorough look into the “why.” Although recent pay studies have been performed and pay increases provided, along with other incentives, more has to be done to increase salaries and address salary suppression, where applicable. Our officers are in what some would deem a thankless occupation and should know without a doubt that they are supported, have open avenues of communication and have a good working environment that makes a very challenging job a little easier. This is one reason I make it a point to support graduations and promotions, even if at times I may be the only one in attendance physically. Since salary is definitely not the only contributing factor to retention, more credence has to be given to work environment concerns and any information provided not only at exit interviews but especially during times of employment. With a council-manager form of government in place, where police chiefs are direct reports to city managers and city managers report to council, we must require that staff/city management look into these issues, report back to council as to what specific things are being done to address these issues and their measurable outcomes. In addition, we must require open communication among the ranks, from the top down and hold everyone accountable for such, and make any applicable changes as necessary.
Affordable housing continues to be an issue for many in our community. The City Council decided to earmark part of its American Rescue Plan Act funding to address housing issues. What else can the city do to help residents find safe, affordable housing?
First, I want to be extremely clear and state that affordable/workforce housing has been a priority for me well before my City Council appointment. I came in with this being a priority, it still is one of my priorities, and we see now how it has become a priority for the council as well, which is great. I voted to increase our housing bond, expand and increase down payment assistance programs, to incentivize organizations that partner with the city to build affordable housing and to reduce hindrances associated with building affordable units. The aforementioned is all required and more, as it would be foolish and unrealistic to believe that all future developments would only include one type of housing but rather will include mixed housing opportunities to address a nationwide housing shortage that Fayetteville is not exempt from.
I am also advocating for an increase in missing middle housing in lieu of tiny houses, in addressing our housing shortage. In addition, we must actively market the city’s strategic location along I-95, which makes it attractive to developers, etc., to invest in affordable and workforce housing efforts per these noted incentives and other options, including the GO Bond, which would further increase affordable and workforce housing opportunities. I also believe that affordable housing is a long-term and specific issue that will require some form of an advisory board to assist our community and economic development team in addressing this issue in an aggressive but calculated manner. Lastly, as it relates to the safety aspect, we will also continue to ensure increased police presence in not only any new affordable housing unit areas, but in all of our neighborhoods and assist areas in creating a sustainable Community Watch group.
Advocating for housing affordability, etc., is not something just on a checklist for me, it is simply what I’ve been doing for years. As we create sustainable plans for this, I look forward to continuing to do so in the years to come, as your District 3 council member.
A review of Fayetteville’s traffic stops shows they totaled over 70,000 in 2016 and less than 22,000 last year. There are still problems with speeding, red light violations and other traffic issues. Was there a conscious decision made to ban minor traffic stops, and if so by whom? Are you concerned about the decrease in stops and what should the city do about it?
During my short time of appointment, there was not a conscious decision made to ban minor traffic stops in that timeframe. There is, however, great concern with the speeding throughout the city and steps are being taken to help address those issues. We have an expanded camera system spanning the city, license plate readers that have aided in arrests, decreased the speed limit along some major thoroughfares (i.e., Country Club Drive), increased initiatives to hire and retain quality officers that will further assist with these and future initiatives. We must continue to increase enforcement of speeding not only on major thoroughfares but also on some neighborhood streets that are being used as “shortcuts,” creating a safety issue for residents walking, cycling and simply enjoying their neighborhoods. Our officers are doing what they can, and I want to make sure that we support and increase efforts to keep our residents and roadways safe.
Fayetteville has seen some economic news in recent months with the new Amazon distribution center and other business announcements. What does city leadership need to do to increase jobs in our community? What city resources need to be devoted to this cause?
As I have continuously stated, creating and maintaining viable partnerships are going to be key in regards to continuing to attract businesses that are paying livable wages. We will need workforce development and training opportunities through partnerships with Fort Bragg, Fayetteville State University, Fayetteville Tech, Methodist College, businesses, etc. in order to increase our talent pools, which will aid in attracting new, higher-paying businesses to the city. With these new jobs, there must also be workforce housing units available. This is partly seen through the entire council approving a zoning approval of new housing units near Amazon that were in alignment with the UDO and Future Land Use Plan for that commercial area. We must also devote resources to improve our Transit System to service more areas to better support our working residents who depend on our transportation system (including increasing the number of bus stop benches and/or shelters). This is also demonstrated by the council’s approval of a bus route to support individuals working at Amazon. We have also increased resources in the form of grants, technical assistance and other support for local small businesses to assist in their growth, development and sustainability.
One of the endeavors I will advocate and assist in is maximizing our city-owned airport potential in increasing its capacity, not only for embarkments and increased flight destinations but as a logistics hub that could bring jobs to the area and potentially assist with affordable and workforce housing efforts. With our proximity to I-95, the noted presence of Amazon, FedEx, UPS, Fort Bragg, etc., we have the rare opportunity to take advantage of a dire need in the airline and logistics arena in providing support to the aforementioned businesses and countless others, who could use our now regional airport to not only set up terminals, hubs, provide jobs, etc., here, but possibly invest dollars into our community per city directives and negotiations. Lastly, I will work to ensure our marketing and communications department highlights the plethora of opportunities that Fayetteville has to offer potential businesses that provide the jobs for our residents. Fayetteville has a lot to offer and it has to be continuously shared on a global level, on various platforms and at applicable events/seminars/conferences to attract new businesses.