Housing issues are front and center at Manteo candidates’ forum

By on October 7, 2023

Left to right: Mayoral Candidates Mayor Bobby Owens and Sherry Wickstrom. Vying for the four open seats are Jason Borland, Todd Clissold, Hannah McOwen Forslund, Michelle Lewis and Betty Govan Selby. (Photo by Kip Tabb/OBV)

In the second in a series of candidate forums sponsored by the Dare County League of Women Voters (LWV), candidates for Manteo’s Board of Commissioners gathered at the Manteo Town Hall on the night of Oct.  3.

This year, four seats on the board of commissioners are up for grabs, with incumbents Darrell Collins, Tod Clissold and Mayor Pro Tem Betty Selby and challengers Michelle Lewis, Hannah McOwen Forslund and Jason Borland vying for them. Also seated at the forum were mayoral candidates incumbent Bobby Owens and Sherry Wickstrom, who is currently a commissioner. Not present was Commissioner Collins.

In opening remarks, the candidates outlined why they were running and what they hoped to accomplish.

“I love local government,” Wickstrom said. “It’s the level of government that is the closest to the people, and it is where local laws impact our everyday lives. It’s where you can talk with your elected officials at church, at the grocery store, walking your dog, or on the soccer field.”

Lewis highlighted cooperation, saying, “My work throughout my life has been about building bridges. How we can reach across the aisle to work together, recognizing we’re not going to agree on everything all the time, and that’s okay. But finding ways to work together to get the work done for the good of all of us.”

Included in her remarks was a request for a moment of silence acknowledging the death of Demetrius Selby, “for the Selby family. For the officers that were involved and for community.” Selby, a nephew of Betty Selby, was fatally shot by a Dare County Sheriff’s Deputy during an incident in Manteo on Oct. 2. An investigation is ongoing.

Borland highlighted raising a family in Manteo as his guiding principle for running for office. “I’m raising my family here and that’s my perspective,” he said.

McOwen Forslund echoed Borland’s remarks, referencing her lifetime in Manteo and how it had nurtured her over the years. “I want to make sure that this town will remain the safe, loving, inclusive community that I have always known,” she said.

Selby described her candidacy as a continuation of African American leadership in the community. “From fourteen up, I have been a tag-a-long kid to two great black women in this community,” she said. “The late Virginia Tillett and the late Dell [Dellerva] Collins who served this board as mayor pro tem. They told me, they prepared me to be a public service to the people.”

Selby, later describing her priorities, included poignant plea for better mental health facilities. “We just had a shooting in my family, and it was mental health,” she said, referring to the death of her nephew Demetrius Selby. “It is mental health issues we need to address at this time, and we need to partner with Dare County.”

Referencing recent efforts by Dare County to build affordable housing at the Bowsertown site and the general county-wide housing crisis, Clissold emphasized the need to control what was happening. “I think we know during the last few months that development is coming. And I think it needs to be important to this group, in a civic engagement, to be on top of it and work with these developers,” he said.

Owens said his experience was the reason voters should re-elect him as mayor. “I’m 90 years old and ready to go again,” he said. “I probably have more time put together than everybody sitting on this board in government. I have the experience.”

Owens, taking note of the role of the Manteo town mayor as legally only voting to break a tie, rarely responded to the questions that were posed to all the candidates.

Perhaps no single issue provoked as sharp a response as the affordable housing provision in the 2023 state budget that would strip the towns of the authority to apply zoning requirements to affordable housing developments funded by $35 million in state dollars. (On Oct. 6, all six county municipalities filed a lawsuit challenging that provision.)

“That legislation would…strip our ability to regulate…I’m against it,” McOwen Forslund said. “I hope that we can come to some type of agreement, not only with the [Dare County] Board of Commissioners, but also with whoever in the state put this in.”

Wickstrom blasted the provision. “What it basically did was, it took away our voices. No public hearing for a development. No zoning code requirements from our towns. No process to go through the planning and zoning board …That is (to] your Board of Commissioners unacceptable. In fact, [it] sounds to me like unconstitutional.” she said.

Owens offered a different view, noting that “I can see both sides of the equation. That’s my opinion.”

The affordable housing issue was a recurring theme in the evening with audience questions posed about the proposed 46-unit Bowsertown project that was thwarted when the Manteo Commissioners unanimously voted to not allow the county to tap into the town’s sewer system at their Sept. 6 meeting.

For Borland, it was the will of the voters that dictated the outcome. “It’s pretty clear what the people of Manteo wanted here and that’s the job of this board, to protect the opinions and voices of everyone in Manteo,” he said. “We do have a housing problem, but Manteo should never be bullied into abandoning its morals and standards and that’s…what we have here.”

Clissold agreed that it was public outcry that dictated his vote. “It goes back to the civic engagement. We listened to the citizens of Manteo,” he said.

McOwen Forslund took the opportunity to note that the town was working to address housing issues already. “Manteo has done a fantastic job in my opinion on forward thinking for affordable housing,” she said. “We’re one of the few towns that have instituted it as part of our land use planning goal is to have affordable housing before any new development.”

There was considerable discussion about creating a Manteo historic district and whether the Courthouse would qualify as a historic building; according to McOwen Forslund, the Dare County Courthouse, which is currently home to Dare Arts, is unique in the state.

“Our Dare County Courthouse is the last remaining courthouse that is not recognized in the state of North Carolina as a historic courthouse,” she said.

The courthouse is owned by Dare County. It was during this discussion that Lewis brought up a topic no one else had broached.

“I also want us to not forget about the other side of the highway, because…there’s another part of the town of Manteo,” she said. “So as we’re thinking through historic districts, and what that means and what that looks like, to not neglect the other side of the highway.”

Visit League of Women Voters of Dare County website to watch Dare County Candidate Forums.

SEE ALSO: Southern Shore Council hopefuls vie for votes at LWV candidate forum

Candidates make their case at Kitty Hawk forum

Affordable housing takes center stage at KDH candidate forum


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  • Sign, Sign, everywhere a Sign

    Some people may want to listen to all these fancy League of Women Voters debates but with all the hundreds of political signs all along the streets around Manteo I figure we are supposed to vote for the person with the best signs. After lookin at all the signs I decided I’m gonna vote for Baitan Tackle. I don’t know Baitan personally but she sounds like a smart lady. With a name like that maybe she can tackle our overdevelopment and traffic congestion problems here in Manteo.

    Saturday, Oct 7 @ 8:07 pm
  • William Harrison

    Lewis last comment speaks the truth for her entire agenda.

    Saturday, Oct 7 @ 9:11 pm
  • Ugly Rumor

    I heard a rumor that Mayor Owens is a nonagenarian. I don’t know if it’s true but I figured y’all should know just in case. In Manteo we are tolerant of these types of things with our mayors. To each his own. Judge not lest you be judged.

    Sunday, Oct 8 @ 9:27 am
  • Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice

    He is, by his own account, 90.

    Sunday, Oct 8 @ 6:08 pm
  • Muriel

    Dear all,

    I will be doing ethnographic research/film on the issue of overdevelopment in the Outer Banks from December to March. My aim is to uncover and understand a certain sense of place that is felt amongst long-time residents and locals. If you are interested in participating in this research, please email me at murielbkruize@gmail.com.

    Sunday, Oct 8 @ 9:47 am
  • outis

    As a mere septuagenarian, I bow to the wisdom of anyone who is an octogenarian, or a nonagenarian. That is, if I can remember who they are, or what they are running for. Or remember where I put my glasses, or what day of the month it is, or what year it is.

    Monday, Oct 9 @ 7:07 am
  • OutOfTowner

    Why are Owens and Wickstrom littering US 64 and Airport Rd and who knows where else on the north end of Roanoke Island with their yard signs? News flash candidates, the folks north of Harriot St can’t vote in town elections.

    Saturday, Oct 14 @ 1:08 pm