By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on October 8, 2021
Five candidates running for a spot on the Manteo Board of Commissioners participated in a Dare County League of Women Voters’ forum on Oct. 7. Incumbent Mayor Bobby Owens is running unopposed. Four candidates, incumbents Christine Walker and Eddie Mann along with challengers Sherry Butcher Wickstrom and Ruth Jane Stetson, are vying for three commissioners’ seats.
Owens, a longtime local politician, is wrapping up his second term as mayor of the municipality. During his opening statements, he asserted that despite some people’s concerns that he was going to turn Manteo into “garages and high rises and everything else, so far that hasn’t happened, and it won’t happen. I have a saying that I’ve coined throughout my two terms – I just want to make Manteo better, not bigger. And together we can do that.”
Owens, being unopposed, did not participate in the question and answer portion of the forum.
Incumbent Christine Walker, a lifelong resident of Manteo, worked as a state employee at the Wanchese Industrial Seafood Park for 24 years. She’s been a Manteo commissioner for 13 years. Noting that her father was a commissioner and that she was on the planning and zoning boards prior to becoming commissioner, she noted, “I grew up on town politics…I’m proud of my commitment to public service and would like to keep that up and do what I can for all the town citizens.”
Incumbent Eddie Mann is finishing up his first term as commissioner. Mann said he’s been a homeowner in the town of Manteo since the age of 19. Currently in law enforcement with the state, Mann said he’s proud of the accomplishments of the board in the past four years, including the Town Commons parking and park area.
“I believe in government transparency and accountability and in the past four years, we’ve had a pretty hard fight as town residents to get the board meetings televised and we have done that,” he added.
Wickstrom is currently the chair of the Manteo Planning and Zoning Board as well as the Preservation and Architectural Review Committee. Prior to moving to Manteo, Wickstrom served on city council in Eden Prairie, MN for 20 years.
“I’m running for town commissioner because there is much to accomplish, from the completion of the town’s comprehensive plan to Manteo becoming a Mainstreet America town,” Wickstrom said, adding that the town has challenges to tackle such as development, traffic, affordable housing and protecting natural resources.
Stetson grew up in Manteo and has a background in the events entertainment industry. She is currently Youth Director at Mount Olivet. “A lot of what I would like to see happen here is an increase in some of our events that are really aimed at our community and growing that community tapestry and weaving us back together,” Stetson asserted. She named affordable housing as a priority that is before the new board, and said she hopes to develop a tech innovation committee if elected.
Candidates universally agreed that traffic is a concern in town and that a traffic plan was needed. “Traffic is an issue, it’s kind of a result of a good problem, that we have people come in here, but we…do need to do a traffic flow study,” said Mann, adding that foot and bicycle traffic need to be more accessible.
“I think that there’s just a basket of ideas that we really need to address with a lot of minds and community collaboration, but traffic is a big one that’s going to be a complaint across the board,” Stetson said. “But really getting the community together [through events], I think that’s a standard theme all through town.”
For her part, on the subject of housing, Walker said, “Eventually we’re going to run out of space for people to live in Manteo, our wastewater treatment plant is at half capacity…so we need to make sure we’re taking care of the existing industries and businesses and residents.”
Wickstrom said that the influx of people visiting Manteo, while positive, brings consequences that the commissioners will need to address such as staffing shortages and traffic congestions. “That’s an interesting thing we need to talk about in terms of…what we will do about this influx of people that we’re very happy to have,” she said.