An attorney and a middle school music teacher are running to fill the void left by a longtime councilwoman who represented the Fort Hill area.
In the May 8 primary, Democrats Joseph Jenkins and Brandon Willard are running to represent Ward 12, where Councilwoman Susie Salisbury, who is not seeking re-election, will finish her third term. No Republicans are running in the race.
Jenkins, 38, is an attorney at Charleston-based law firm Lewis Glasser.
Jenkins said the most pressing issue that Charleston faces is the budget and how problems at the Charleston Town Center might affect it.
He said the mall should consider a mixed use for the property. He said the city may want to consider moving the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department and the Greyhound bus station because of complaints about panhandlers hanging around the nearby Civic Center.
“Ultimately that area and downtown needs to be a clean, safe spot that’s an area that people want to travel to and stay and possibly live,” he said. “That’s ultimately what it comes down to.”
Jenkins, previously of Raleigh County, ran unsuccessfully for House of Delegates in 2006 and for council in 2015. He said he didn’t plan on running again for council, but when he saw that Salisbury wouldn’t run again, he thought it would be a good opportunity to try again.
Jenkins said he thinks the current Charleston City Council did the right thing when the majority voted March 19 to take time to look into the needle-exchange program before voting on a bill that would have eliminated the program. He said some of the rules that police Chief Steve Cooper put in place make sense.
To address potential budget problems, Jenkins said the city needs an evaluation of programs and services to see what works and what needs to be fixed.
“If you look at our population in Charleston, it’s been declining for decades but the budget is rising,” he said. “If your population isn’t growing, why are costs going up?”
Jenkins said he would be open to raising the city’s user fee, but that shouldn’t be the first thing the city considers to balance the budget.
He said the city should consider a property tax system that would allow neighborhoods to use their taxes on fix a problem specific to their area. For instance, Fort Hill residents could vote to use their tax money to correct drainage problems within the ward.
He also said the city should consider a property tax that would value the land more than the building that sits on it. That would encourage the owner to build on the land rather than keep it vacant, he said.
“Part of my job on City Council [would be to] get out of the way and let people build,” he said. “Let’s look at zoning and building regulations to see what’s working and not, what’s preventing people [from building].”
Jenkins is married with a 6-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter.
Jenkins’ opponent is Brandon Willard, the band director and a music teacher at John Adams Middle School.
Willard said he decided to run after volunteering at events and through the Charleston Area Alliance and wanting to get more involved. He said he loves Charleston and wants to spend the rest of his life here.
He said he supports the needle exchange program at the health department but he understands both sides of the issue. Police officers and firefighters dealing with needles is a serious issue, he said. He said there are ways to adjust the program.
“I do think the program is a good program,” he said. “To completely shut it down, I don’t think, is the right move to make.”
Willard said he likes the city’s trash bag distribution program but wonders if there are other ways of disposing of trash Charleston can consider such as trash bins like other cities use.
He said the biggest problem facing the city is the declining population. Keeping the city’s population at or above 50,000 will help it generate revenue. He said the city should look for ways to maintain and draw people.
Willard said the city should focus on programs and events that give young people memories in the city that will draw them back in once they’re older.
Willard, 40, is married with two children who are 10 and 13.
The primary election is May 8. Early voting starts Wednesday.