The Mint Hill Candidates for Mayor

Mint Hill Town Hall.
Richard “Fig” Newton
Karen Trauner
Brad Simmons

The Mint Hill Times sent a questionnaire to the mayoral candidates recently. We asked each candidate seven of our most pressing questions we could identify that would give our readers and the citizens of Mint Hill a better understanding of their individual positions on the issues.

We sent the same seven questions to each candidate who had six days to review and complete with their responses. Each response was submitted by the candidate back to the writer who did not edit or change their response. We simply performed a copy and paste function and lined up the sentences correctly.

We used a business inventory accounting method by listing and displaying the responses from the candidates to our readers in the order received by each candidate using the “first in, first out” (FIFO) methodology.

By taking this approach and giving each candidate the same amount of time to respond, we believe we have been transparent, and will leave it up to each individual citizen to cast their vote at the ballot box to decide who they feel will be the best candidate to represent the town as the next Mayor of Mint Hill.

Response from candidate Karen Trauner

1. Do you think our downtown is healthy, successful, and offers the right amount of shopper options? If not fully satisfied, what would you do to improve it?



It’s hard to say exactly where our ‘downtown’ is. When I think of a town’s ‘downtown’, I visualize somewhere people can stroll, listen to a concert, enjoy an art event, relax in a park, etc. We don’t have that sort of communal area. So in that respect, I can’t say our ‘downtown’ is successful. However–there are many businesses at the Lawyers Rd/51 intersection, which is what most residents would say is the ‘downtown’, which have been there for many, many years. There is not a row of empty storefronts. So in that respect, yes, for those businesses, it’s a healthy enough environment that they’re able to stay in business. As far as shopper options, if you want hardware or groceries, you’re covered. If not…you might not be able to find what you want. And the layout, again, doesn’t encourage strolling from one retailer to the next for a pleasant day of dining and shopping. As far as improving it…I have a ‘big picture’ idea which is too much for this space, but includes creating a town identity, then encouraging businesses that fit that identity to establish here, so Mint Hill will become a ‘destination’ for that particular retail environment.

2. What is your view on the “superstreet” project being proposed by NCDOT?How do you feel about our options currently available?

Growth is inevitable; Mint Hill is an enviable commuting distance from Charlotte. In addition, 51 is a main thoroughfare. I have to believe NCDOT’s determination that the road needs to be widened. That being said, I’d prefer to see a narrower median than the 22 feet planned, and would want it planted with foliage to be attractive, not just concrete. However, what I want to stress about this whole widening project is: if homeowners along 51 lose their land–and they will–they might want to sell their property. It’s conceivable that they would want to have it rezoned to Commercial. And if it’s sold to commercial developers, we could end up with what looks like 74 running right into town. And that would be horrible. What we need to do first, is take control of our UDO (laws) and make changes to ensure that the town has to approve every bit of commercial development proposed for that street…and then only approve projects that build toward a big picture design, rather than allowing a lot of individual businesses to build freely. It should be up to the town to decide what we want development along that stretch to look like.

3. Some residents in our community say we have traffic flow problems today. How would you mitigate those concerns or improve the current situation?

This town has grown a lot in the thirteen years I’ve been here; increased traffic is inevitable! It has to be remembered that some of our streets are not actually town-owned; they belong to NCDOT. The town can communicate to NCDOT when something needs adjusting, fixing, whatever…like we did to get the speed limit lowered on 218. However, NCDOT might not always agree with our needs. And even if they do, it could be a while before requested changes can be made. This is why I think it’s so important to form a Citizens Transportation Committee. This CTC would be a conduit to communicate the needs of the citizens to the NCDOT, and be a source of information to residents. As far as non-NCDOT owned roads, the town needs to make sure that all construction projects are responsible for upgrading roads in their immediate vicinity as needed. For instance, if a new residential neighborhood would require a left-turn only and/or right turn lane added to keep traffic from backing up on the main road, the builder would need to construct any and all road refinements, as required by the town (and perhaps the CTC could be part of this too).

4. If you could change one thing in our zoning code, what would it be and why?

I would revisit the By Right laws. The By Right laws set a certain standard for building in Mint Hill; if a developer follows these rules, they don’t need to get specific permission from the town to build what they want. For instance, Char Bar followed all the rules for how to build their restaurant, so there was nothing for the Planning Dept to approve. n contrast, Chick Fil A wants  a drive-thru where one isn’t allowed; they need permission. While this may have been adequate when our town was more rural and less populated than it is now, I don’t think it’s appropriate for our needs today. We could conceivably have several residential neighborhoods underdevelopment at one time, all on the same street, as long as they’re following the rules. Imagine what this would do to the traffic on and near that street, and how it would affect our schools! And Mint Hill would not be able to stop the simultaneous construction to allow time for new roads or new schools to be built. I would prefer to see every development need approval, so that they are considered as part of the larger whole, rather than individual projects.

5. How do you plan to involve residents in the decision making process in our town?

I’m a big believer in transparency, and in getting people involved. I would:*Improve the town’s website; currently it’s nearly impossible to use. I’d make it interactive, so you could easily report a pothole or tree limbs down, etc. All official paperwork would be loaded and easy to find on the site. If you look at neighboring towns’ websites, there are some great examples we could follow. Also, a user-friendly website would encourage residents to contribute to surveys or answer questions quickly and easily. *Live stream and/or post videos online of all town meetings. The equipment to do this is already in place; why isn’t it done? *Install a large digital sign, perhaps in front of the police station, to announce important information, reminders about meetings, notice of special events, etc. *Create committees to get residents involved. Transportation, Economic Development, Beautification, more? *Require all elected officials to offer office hours. My neighborhood was betrayed by a BOC that didn’t physically come out to investigate our concerns. I would encourage all elected officials and relevant personnel to physically go to a development to see for themselves the impact of the changes, and to meet with the neighbors to hear their concerns.

6. In your opinion, how do we best manage growth and still keep a small town atmosphere in Mint Hill?

Based on geographical size and the growing population, I’m not sure you could convince me Mint Hill can still be considered a ‘small town’. However, that ‘small town atmosphere’–that’s a very important intangible.We felt it the first weekend we moved here–after we had registered our kids for school–when the secretary from Bain shouted hello as she rode by on a parade float; and again that night when we ran into new neighbors at Mint Hill Madness. It’s neighbors and strangers waving as you drive by, and the person who offers to return your shopping cart because you’ve unloaded it and they’re on their way in. These things illustrate small town atmosphere … and they come from the citizens, not the physical attributes of the town. So how do we promote this feeling? We have town events. We encourage gathering, whether it’s for a stroll through some future downtown or at a community center to watch a show. We stress participation in government and local charities and schools and senior centers. These are some of the things that to me promote a ‘small town atmosphere.’As far as managing growth? Stop granting variances to build smaller and closer together!

7. Why should the citizens and taxpayers of Mint Hill vote for your candidacy to become our next Mayor?

Having little political experience isn’t a bad thing. It means I have no baggage, no history in a less-than-effective government, and no obligations to anyone. Since making the decision to run for mayor, I’ve done a lot of research and spoken to many different, knowledgeable people who aren’t stuck in a ‘that’s how we’ve always done it in Mint Hill’ rut. The other two candidates for mayor have volunteered for local causes. So have I. One of my contributions came in the form of service as the sole member of the Bain PTA’s Cultural Arts Committee for eight years. I’ve spent the last 1 ½ years keeping Mint Hill residents informed about what the town was doing. I posted the true facts of the stadium bond, and the amount of money spent on the fountain. I created the Facebook page Clearly Mint Hill, so those who don’t want to read the full Minutes of the BOC meetings can just read ‘the important stuff’ in ‘plain English.’ My research into how the town’s government operates has led me to believe that it’s time for a leadership change. Remember–neither of the other candidates have more experience being mayor than I do!

Response from candidate Richard “Fig” Newton 

1. Do you think our downtown is healthy, successful, and offers the right amount of shopper options? If not fully satisfied, what would you do to improve it?

Our downtown area is a healthy work in progress! It takes years to develop a downtown area. I was appointed to work on the two previous Ten Years Town Plans (2000 and 2011). There will be another NC State mandated Ten Year Plan in 2020. The 2020 plan will continue the establishment of downtown. I anticipate the plan will trend downtown towards a pedestrian and bicycle friendly area and will also serve as a social gathering spot and commercial center. The downtown area will only get better! I am a firm believer in controlled growth. Not every business is right for our town. There are some businesses that will never come to the downtown area because we simply do not have enough “roof tops”. What I mean by this is the population of Mint Hill (27,169) cannot successful support a business like a large department store. We have a very active Chamber of Commerce who assist with bringing businesses into town. I will continue to support legislative efforts to keep Mint Hill’s“small-town” atmosphere while focusing on a pedestrian friendly downtown area. I also support our unofficial small-town ambassador, Mitchell Knowles, when he is riding his horse downtown!

2. What is your view on the “superstreet” project being proposed by NCDOT? How do you feel about our options currently available?

Our town faces important changes and issues, including the“superstreet” that is weighing heavily on citizens’ minds. This NCDOT project will no doubt impact our town. A superstreet consists of J turns (basically, a U turn with a longer turning lane); one example is Highway 51 and Brandywine Drive. Also, superstreets have several raised medians preventing traffic from turning left; traffic always takes a right in and a right to exit. Mint Hill has several of these medians already, like that in front of the library. No information has been released as to whether any residents will lose their homes because of this project. When elected mayor, the superstreet will be a TOP concern of mine, I will work closely with NCDOT for the best possible outcome for Mint Hill. But frankly, NCDOT will be making the decisions. Citizens should be aware that the superstreet project is not a town project, but a state project. ANY MAYOR ELECTED can ask for options, but NCDOT has the final say in this state project. If a mayoral candidate says they have all the answers for this issue, be wary. This project has been postponed.

3. Some residents in our community say we have traffic flow problems today. How would you mitigate those concerns or improve the current situation?

The Mayor of Mint Hill only has control of Mint Hill streets, which mainly are residential. The town maintains and controls the speed limit on town streets, the speed limit is 35 mph. The majority of main thoroughfares in our town are state owned and maintained. An example of a state street is Hwy 51, Hwy 218, and Wilgrove-Mint Hill Road. The NCDOT maintains these streets and sets speed limits. However, living in a town we know that the state does not always know town needs. A specific example is when the speed limit on HWY 218 was changed from 55 to 45 mph. As town commissioner, I made a motion in a town meeting to decrease the speed limit, the vote was unanimous to approve, then a letter was sent to NCDOT requesting the change and it was approved. This is one example of how I have been an effective liaison and leader with NCDOT. I also voted favorably for the stoplight at Hwy 218 and Brief Road. Having a good working relationship with NCDOT is very important to the town and I will continue this relationship with them when elected mayor.

4. If you could change one thing in our zoning code, what would it be and why?

At this time, I feel that our zoning ordinance is at a higher standard than in most neighboring towns and I want to keep it that way. As mayor, I would NOT approve any zoning that increased the density of homes per acre.

5. How do you plan to involve residents in the decision-making process in our town?

Currently, there are numerous ways for citizens to get involved in town decisions. People need to contact their elected officials and let their voices be heard! As an elected official, I represent the citizens of Mint Hill and I do so with my vote. I would say that all current elected town officials enjoy meeting with people to listen to their town concerns. I know I do! I will hold set office hours at the town hall weekly so people can come and voice their concerns in a comfortable unofficial setting. Also, citizens can call, email, text me or simple fill out the form on the town’s website. There are plenty of opportunities to get involved in the decision-making process! When elected Mayor, I will be transparent with citizens on ALL town issues, and I will encourage and support citizens committees.

6. In your opinion, how do we best manage growth and still keep a small town atmosphere in Mint Hill?

In order to maintain our small-town atmosphere, we need to enforce current zoning, which we do. Citizens need to be aware what the zoning is for current land. For example, if the land is zoned commercial then most businesses can purchase that land for their specific use. There is a process to get land rezoned and it can be difficult. Citizens should watch for the yellow rezoning signs posted on property and if they have questions, simply call the town planning and zoning department and ask what there zoning is for. All rezoning requests must be published. The towns rezoning criteria is published on the town’s website. A sense of community is what keeps our small-town atmosphere alive. I have always supported budgets for Mint Hill Arts and the Mint Hill Athletic Association and will continue to do so as mayor.

7. Why should the citizens and taxpayers of Mint Hill vote for your candidacy to become our next Mayor?

Vote for me because of my qualifications and experience! Currently, I am in my 6th year as Mint Hill Town Commissioner, and I served 2 years, on the Planning Board. I also served on the 2000 and 2011 Ten Year Town Plan Boards. The other mayoral candidates running against me have less or no town experience. Some may feel that I am part of the “old guard”, let me assure you I am not! I tried to present term limits for ALL elected town officials before the 2019 election and did not receive any support on this item. I believe the mayor and commissioners should not be able to serve more than 3 four-year terms. When elected Mint Hill Mayor, I will present term limits to the town board within the first three months in office. Personally, I am very involved with my church, town clubs and lodges. I recently retired and have the time to devote to our great town! I enjoy talking to people about our town and the issues that we face together! Please visit my website at voterichardnewton.com for more information. I consider myself a public servant, not a politician.

Response from candidate Brad Simmons 

1. Do you think our downtown is healthy, successful, and offers the right amount of shopper options?If not fully satisfied, what would you do to improve it?

I think the businesses in our downtown are healthy, my wife and I own a successful, thriving business in downtown Mint Hill. However, there is certainly room for growth and a demand for an increased variety of shopping and dining options. In order to attract more options for our downtown, I would engage in a positive dialogue with local developers so that they are familiar with our town and consider Mint Hill as a great place to invest their resources. I would also begin the process of revisiting our Land Use Plan or “master plan” as it’s sometimes called, to include getting input from the public and rethinking what parts of our current outdated plan are still serving us, which parts are not, and what’s missing from it.

2. What is your view on the “superstreet” project being proposed by NCDOT? How do you feel about our options currently available?

Though this project has been delayed, 51 is the town’s “main street” and we must always remember that it is first and foremost a state highway. The design that was recently proposed by the NCDOT was an effort to move cars in a safe and efficient manner. Of course, I am concerned about the impact it will have on our town and will continue to work with NCDOT to make sure that, at the very least, lots of attractive landscaping and pedestrian amenities are included to soften the impact as much as possible. As far as the impact on residents and businesses affected by the right of way acquisition, I am committed to working with NCDOT on reducing the size of many of the “bulb-outs”, all of which are currently designed to accommodate commercial traffic like tractor trailers. I have also already had conversations with business owners that may be affected about what the town can do to help them relocate their businesses if they are displaced.

3. Some residents in our community say we have traffic flow problems today. How would you mitigate those concerns or improve the current situation?

This obviously goes hand in hand with question two and it’s important that we maintain and foster a positive, collaborative working relationship with the state to make sure the town is receiving its fair share of road money allocated by NCDOT. As mayor, I can promise you I will take a very active role in the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization and their activities.

4. If you could change one thing in our zoning code, what would it be and why?

As a long-time member of the planning board, I know first-hand that no zoning ordinance is perfect and am aware that they are ever-evolving documents that must be comprehensively analyzed periodically. I am also aware that they are invaluable tools that play a crucial and important role in guiding the development patterns of our town, but I know development and changes take effect slowly and methodically and it often can take decades before you can see their true impact. However, there are few initial changes that would have an impact immediately, for example, our zoning currently requires all town home projects to have a vehicle entrance from an alleyway such as Brighton Park. Alleyways are currently owned by the HOA, however they are used by everyone in Mint Hill as cut-through’s and roadways. I’d like to see our zoning change for those alleyways to belong to the Town of Mint Hill so we can maintain them properly. The cost to the town would be minimal as we already maintain several roads, and we would gain the ability to ensure those roads are built to support traffic and emergency vehicles sufficiently.

5. How do you plan to involve residents in the decision-making process in our town?

It should be the aim of every government to involve citizens as much as possible and I would implement several initiatives to encourage involvement from the citizens of Mint Hill. If elected, I plan to have set, recurring open office hours for the mayor at our town hall, where the public is welcome to come to my office and bring their concerns, suggestions, praises and updates to share with me. I would also create a weekly recap email to inform citizens of what’s going on at town hall and what’s coming up in the near future. I would also continue to grow the Town of Mint Hill’s social media presence to get information out and create a positive dialogue. Most importantly I will continue to encourage citizens to please come to the Board of Commissioners meetings, the budget workshops and any other called meeting. The best way to understand what is going on in our local government and to give informed, helpful feedback is to come out and be a part of it.

6. In your opinion, how do we best manage growth and still keep a small-town atmosphere in Mint Hill?

The reality is our town is next to one of the fastest growing cities in the country. Growth is inevitable. It is also not widely known by the average resident that development rights derive from state and federal property rights. The NC legislature has further weakened local controls by hampering our rights to regulate many types of developments through our zoning ordinances. It is therefore imperative that we stay abreast of possible legislation that directly limits local control, share with our state representatives our concerns over these types of limiting legislation, and continue working with developers to make sure that while their development rights are guaranteed by higher governmental authorities, their projects must be in keeping with the direction we want our town to move and they are duly tasked with installing the infrastructure necessary to accommodate their development. Our sleepy little town is awakening and while the growth is unavoidable, it is my goal as mayor to make sure it’s the type of growth we benefit from economically, socially and aesthetically.

7. Why should the citizens and taxpayers of Mint Hill vote for your candidacy to become our next Mayor?

I have always had a strong desire to serve and I would be humbled to serve the Town of Mint Hill as mayor. I love our town, I have raised my family here, volunteered in many civic organizations, my grandchildren are being raised here, and I founded a business here. I’m invested in and committed to being a part of our continued success. I want to keep Mint Hill the great town I’ve always known it to be and I believe with experienced, intentional leadership, and the support of our amazing community, it will only get better.

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The Mint Hill Times has remained open and transparent in this process to deliver to the citizens of Mint Hill a fair evaluation of each candidates views on the questions asked. If you have other questions we may not have covered for the candidates please feel free to reach out to them, we are confident you will receive a response. There will be other public settings prior to the election to meet the candidates, your individual concerns and questions should be appropriately addressed at these events.




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Ed Berti
Ed is retired and remains active as a freelance writer, local journalist and independent contractor. He is engaged in print and electronic media writing stories covering business, sports, hometown news and veteran’s affairs including articles of interest to various media outlets. Ed is a graduate of Wagner College where he earned an MBA and holds a BBA from Pace University.
Ed can be reached at ed@minthilltimes.com, eberti7777@gmail.com and linkedin.com.