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Council Hopefuls Invited to Public Debates

Debate Logo It’s summer. The garden beckons. The mountains call. The beach taunts. Greenville’s upcoming municipal election? Probably the last thing on your mind.

Still, serious campaigning for city council gears up in just a month.

To help voters begin assessing their options, the Guardian will sponsor a series of issues-focused debates between the candidates for every contested seat on Greenville’s city council. On consecutive Saturdays, September 12 and 19, three debates will take place each day: two between candidates for district seats and one among those seeking city-wide seats. The full details follow.

It’s been awhile since Greenville has seen debates; they’ve largely disappeared, in favor of so-called “candidate forums” and “town halls.” Debates were the norm 25 or 30 years ago. Sponsored by the League of Women Voters (the local chapter of which no longer exists), debates posed questions on critical policy issues directly to the candidates in a moderated public setting, allowing them ample but limited time to respond to each question, and to rebut an opponent’s answer.

The local League chapter may be gone, but we still believe in debates. They offer a unique opportunity for the public to see how candidates think and react under pressure, and that can be very helpful in deciding how to cast one’s votes.

One reason debates went away was the cost and logistics of staging them. Another was the often-ridiculous negotiation process between campaigns, which could turn on something as trivial as the venue. Or the date. Or the time. Or the format. Or whatever any candidate wanting to avoid a debate decided was unacceptable.

So we’ve sidestepped all that.

Thanks to the generous support of our readers, including that of one particularly community-concerned “Guardian Angel,” we’ve secured a site we feel no serious candidate can argue with, for it is the goal each campaign seeks to reach: city council chambers. We’ve also devised a format that ensures an informative, issues-first, civil exchange. And because we’ve reserved the venue more than month in advance of the first session, all candidates have ample time to note the debates in their schedules and to prepare.

We’ve invited moderators and questioners from various other Greenville media to participate in this voter-education effort. Editor Steve Johnson of the Minority Voice newspaper has accepted. We’ve also invited the Daily Reflector and WTIB’s Henry Hinton, and we invite other media outlets to contact us if they’d like to join in.

Candidates need only to say yes and to arrive ready to engage their opponents and the electorate on the date and time of their debates. Greenville’s print media will handle the rest.

We’ll also let readers know as candidates commit, and if a candidate demurs–because, very frankly, we’ve made accepting so easy.

Two coin flips will occur between candidates prior to the start of the debate. The first will determine which candidate responds to the first question. The winner of the flip can opt to “take” or “pass.” Thereafter, the first respondents will alternate (or rotate, in the case of three-way races). A second coin flip determines the order of the candidates’ closing statements.

In addition to the candidates, each debate will feature a moderator (who will keep time and will intervene when responses exceed the time allotted or skirt the rules of engagement), and two reporters, who will serve as questioners. The reporters will ask three questions each, in alternation, over the course of the debate.

Each new question begins a “round.” During each round, the first respondent will have three minutes to answer the question. The other candidate(s) will then have three minutes as well. The first respondent will then be permitted a 60-second rebuttal, and the round will close when all candidates have rebutted.

Questions may be on any topic of the reporters’ choosing, provided they are:
(1) answerable by all candidates, and
(2) germane to Greenville, its governance, or to the responsibilities or decisions (actual or hypothetical) a city councilor might face.

The focus of these debates is issues of public interest affecting those who live, work, study, or play in the city, and who make use of its infrastructure and other amenities, with particular emphasis on the interface between city government and those residents, workers, students, and visitors.

After six rounds are complete, each candidate will have three minutes for a concluding statement. These should focus on the reasons for their candidacy, and on the qualifications which they believe make them the best choice for the seat. During closing statements, the “no personal attacks” rule remains in force, and the moderator will step in should it be violated.

While spirited debate within the subject areas noted is expected and encouraged, the moderator, at his/her sole discretion, may warn and redirect any candidate or questioner deemed to be “making things personal,” and may exclude from further participation any candidate or questioner who repeatedly fails to preserve a climate of civility and mutual respect.

There will be no direct questioning among candidates. Comments or references related to the non-public behavior of any candidate, whether such reference is made by a questioner or a candidate, are not permitted.

Candidates may refer to their own actions or to those of their opponent(s), which took place while serving in public office (elected or appointed), or in non-governmental, public-interest capacities. Also “fair game” are previous statements relative to public policy and governance made in a public venue (i.e., a public meeting, or in print or electronic media) or otherwise on the public record.

Candidates, please note: The veracity of all prior statements, quotes or acts which you attribute to yourself or your opponent(s) are subject to fact-checking by media. Further, we anticipate that videotaped, full versions of the debates will be accessible to the general public on local TV systems throughout the campaign.

Only the candidates listed in the schedule below, each of whom officially filed for office with the Pitt County Board of Elections by the July 17 deadline, are invited to participate in this series of debates. Candidates are asked to confirm their intent to participate with Lisa Ellison, at the email address provided in the next paragraph, by August 31.

The public is invited to attend the debates, and to submit questions for consideration by the reporter-questioners. Although there is no guarantee that questions from the public will be asked, all submitted questions will be provided to the reporters in order to inform their understanding of issues important to Greenville residents. Please submit questions at least one week prior to the subject debate, either in the comment section below or by sending questions directly to Guardian editor Lisa Ellison at Be sure to note to which district’s candidates you wish for your proposed question to be addressed.

SCHEDULE (incumbents listed in italics):

There is no District 2 debate; incumbent Rose Glover is running unopposed.
There is no District 3 debate; challenger McLean Godley would not commit to participate on any of several dates offered.
Neither incumbent mayor Allen Thomas nor At-large challenger Angela Shackleford Williams replied to numerous invitations to participate.
Our announcement of the debate series and format information is here.

Incumbents are listed in italics.

Saturday, September 12

10:30 a.m. District 1

Patrice BarrowYesSep. 2, 2015
Kandie SmithYesAug. 23, 2015

Saturday, September 19

10:30 a.m.: District 4

Terry BoardmanYesAug. 11, 2015
Rick SmileyYesAug. 11, 2015

1:30 p.m.: At-large

Erik AndersonYesAug. 29, 2015
Calvin MercerYesAug. 11, 2012
Angela Shackleford Williamsnone

3:00 p.m.: Mayor

Ernest ReevesYesAug. 23, 2015
Allen Thomasnone
Donna WhitleyYesAug. 12, 2015

Saturday, September 26

12:30 p.m.: District 5

P.J. ConnellyYesAug. 14, 2015
Rick CroskeryYesAug. 11, 2015

Responses (3)

  1. Rebecca Powers says:

    An important part of the LWV debates was allowing attendees the opportunity to write their own questions for the candidates on supplied note cards. The cards were gathered as the event progressed by a team of “card picker-uppers” and taken to the “reader table” where a team of League members sorted them into topics and rewrote the ones that were hard to read and then passed the “reviewed questions” on to the moderators (dumping any that were inappropriate like “How can we solve the problems of the world?”). This activity served the function of indirectly involving the audience, helping attendees to feel like their concerns mattered and encouraged folks to stay and possibly hear the answer to their question. Perhaps you were already aware of this process?

    In memory of the LWV of Pitt County, most sincerely, Rebecca Powers

    • Anthony Noel says:

      Thanks for the memory, Rebecca, I recall the process you describe being a staple of many LWV debates.

      Our hope is that by taking questions via email and in the comment section in the weeks leading up to the debates, then turning them over to the reporters, they’ll get a good idea of the issues most important to voters, allowing the reporters to craft questions around those issues. We believe this will keep the debates focused and proceeding in a timely fashion–a key point given that we’re doing three per day.

      It’s somewhat unexpected, but when you do the math based on the format, the two-candidate debates time out to around 82 minutes each, the three-candidate sessions to 105. This assumes candidates use their full response, rebuttal and concluding statement times. It also factors in time for the posing of the questions, minimal moderator interventions, reading of the rules and format, etc.

      We will be keeping a clock in order to assure the question period ends timely, and we will retain all submitted questions so that, if there is time after the initial six rounds of questions and the candidates mutually agree, additional questions can be posed.

      Other considerations in taking questions in advance: It allows those who cannot attend to voice their issues, and it eliminates the legibility issue you mention.

  2. Bob Williams says:

    As the Executive Director of Community Crossroads Center, I would like to know what these two candidates (on Saturday, 9-12) know about homelessness in our community and what they would do to help resolve the issue with this ever increasing population.

Join the discussion! To promote civility and the useful exchange of ideas, we moderate comments and require full names (first and last), and a valid email address (used solely for verification). If you have an issue posting, please describe it and paste any error message you receive in the body of an email. Send to: Thanks for your participation!

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