CoastLine Candidate Interviews: Mayor of Leland - Bozeman vs. Kent

Oct 5, 2017

The Town of Leland turned 28 years old in September.  The current population, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, is just under 19,000 people.  That’s growth of about 37% in just the last six years.  Leland is part of the Myrtle Beach Metropolitan Statistical Area despite its proximity to Wilmington.  That was a change a major change for Brunswick County which took effect two years ago.  

Arguably, the biggest challenge facing Leland Town Council is dealing with the rapid growth and needs that come from a large influx of people.  A quarter of Brunswick County’s population is 65 and over, and it’s likely that Leland, as a retirement destination for Baby Boomers, has a higher-than-average senior population.

The Town Council is made up of four members who serve staggered four-year terms. The Mayor serves a two-year term. 

There are two candidates hoping to be the next Mayor of Leland – the incumbent, Brenda Bozeman, and one challenger, Lee Kent.

Segment 1:  Lee Kent

Lee Kent is challenging the incumbent, Leland Mayor Brenda Bozeman, for the seat this year.  His Facebook page says he was born in New Bern, NC and moved to Jacksonville around age five.   He went to work for Waffle House and moved with that company around Georgia, then Florida, then back to North Carolina in Leland over 20 years ago.  He says he was responsible for 8 to 12 stores during his last years with that company.  Now a local small business owner, he operates five Vapor Shacks in Wilmington, Leland, Ogden, Southport, and Whiteville – retail stores offering e-cigarettes, the juice, and gear.  He also owns a ladies' clothing boutique called Kent and Co., and he recently opened a hot dog restaurant in Leland called Brodee Dogs. 

Rachel Lewis Hilburn: Lee Kent, welcome to CoastLine.

Lee Kent: Thank you, Rachel, for having me.

RLH: This is your first run at any kind of elected office. Why now? What was the galvanizing issue for you?

LK: Well, the galvanizing issue to me was the taxes that -- we recently received a tax hike this past year. I've been in Leland for going on 21 years. And I know based on living in the area for so long that we have roughly from four to six percent increase in our tax base each year by default, because of the people that are moving in. And I also know that things are going to grow, and I want to be a fresh set of eyes for that growth and help guide that in a direction that could be a little more balanced, in my opinion, without raising the taxes.

RLH: What does that mean, balanced growth? How do you see that the current growth of Leland? Is it unbalanced now?

LK: In my opinion, it's unbalanced. And when I say that we have so many people coming in, which require a lot of services. Services such as water and sewage and things of that nature, also in those services we have police and fire and rescue and things of that nature. We're going out and we're building buildings to support a population of 100 plus thousand people while we're only at 19,000 now. Not that they aren't nice, but they're very expensive at this time. I believe to balance something of that nature that you should work toward that, and not just put it there and then work in retrospect on how to pay for it.

RLH: One of the struggles for municipal planners is planning for growth, because once a large population has arrived and there isn't sufficient infrastructure, then suddenly there is this scramble to play catch up. How would you balance that then? Because right now, aren't Leland's officials planning for this explosive growth that they've been witnessing over the last few years?

LK: Leland does have some master plans on how to handle some of the things that are going on today. I'm not so sure that I agree with everything they're looking at. And when I say balanced, I mean, go at it in a direction that takes care of the financial needs while growing at a rate that we can afford. We're already 30 years behind, and we have been for years, as far as infrastructure and things of that nature are concerned. So to think that we could catch up in a year or two years, four years, six years is just unattainable. So I believe that if we look at it carefully with a different perspective, that maybe we can guide that in such a way that it would be maybe workable. I believe also in working with other municipalities to try to look for different alternatives, thinking outside of the box not business as usual.

RLH: Talk about some of those ideas you have where you would cooperate with other municipalities, which municipalities and on what sorts of projects?

LK: Well, just about on every project that would have to do with things of service. For instance, we live in direct relation to a town called Belville and Navassa that are right next to us. I believe we should work with those towns, in whatever respect we can to benefit both of us. And that's what I'm looking for, I want to benefit everybody. And in doing so, we have to have those relationships. Other things could be, you know, Raleigh. We could work with the DOT, anybody in the expert field that we need to go to, we need to work with him very carefully.

Also to look at our history to try to predict what happens in our future. And I'll give you a real small for instance. We are growing at a tremendous exponential rate. You mentioned it earlier, a large number of seniors over and above the younger families, and I think it's great that everybody loves our area, and we have a beautiful area to live in, but the potential problems down the line would be economic collapse, if we're not very careful. And what I mean by that is, unfortunately, life is life and there's an end to it. And if 90, and I don't know the percentages so if I'm off, just please forgive me. I'll just use 90 percent, if 90 percent of all of the growth and population in our small town are seniors, then in 10 to 20 years we're going to have to an empty town. With that said, I think it's very important that we look toward the future with the idea that we have to attract a younger population. We have to attract jobs that a younger population could live in our area, and afford to live in our area, and afford to bring their children and raise their children in our area. We have to track those types of things to our community in order to sustain, not only the growth, but perpetuate our existence.

RLH: And I hear you on attracting people across all different age groups and a younger population, certainly. But don't we continue, I mean, we have an aging population that is on the upswing, because people are living longer so as people die, more people become senior citizens and then more people retire. I mean, that's a continuing population, and we're all getting older.

LK: We are all, definitely all, getting older. 

RLH: I mean, the senior population, it's not this thing that is in stasis. It's growing, moving, more people become seniors, more people retire. You know, Florida, for instance, which is a very popular retirement destination continues to see seniors, new seniors coming down there.

LK: There are new seniors, but what you do find in middle Florida is a bit of oppression, as far as the job market and things of that nature. That's what my fear for our area is, because the only seniors, seniors are retired and they have to put in their time. They deserve to enjoy their latter years. And I think it's great, but we have to we have to look at this whole picture of how. Who's going to provide the services for the seniors, such as, I give you for instance, there was a segment on the news the other day about trades. There's a lack of carpenters, skilled workers. I mean, in the entire United States, Dallas for instance is destroyed. We don't have enough labor force, enough skilled labor force to go to fix that. Southern Florida is in the same situation. We're in a situation where everything's new and great and it all looks good, but we have to have the younger people to be able to service the older generation, and that's how it should be. So we have to be able to attract those in the way that they can afford to live here.

RLH: And how do you do that? If you became mayor of Leland, what specifically would you do to attract more younger folks?

LK: Well, I think the first thing that I've been thinking about for a while is, somehow to gather a group of young professionals and form -- what for lack of a better term -- some type of think tank and utilize their talents to help me with that.

RLH: A group of young professionals in a think tank to help develop Leland, you're saying?

LK: Absolutely.

RLH: Lee Kent, it seems like you've spent a lot of your life, you managed Waffle Houses moving around the country or around the southeast rather, with that company and then you came to North Carolina and started opening up your own businesses. Was Vapor Shack the first business that you opened here?

LK: No, m'am, it wasn't. The first business I opened, after retiring from Waffle House, was a U.S. Cellar Authorized Agency and opened that on Village Road, and did very well with that. And then the second one opened after that, was a publishing business. So I published community directories. I had 16 communities, I published their directories and it just kind of kept moving from there. I enjoyed working for myself. I enjoy watching things work out. After I've kind of planned them, I like to see them come to fruition and be successful. I've been very fortunate; I've experienced some success in most everything that I've set out to do.

RLH: So you are the current owner of seven different retail operations, five of those Vapor Sacks and one a lady's boutique and one hot dog restaurant. How do you manage all of that?

LK: I have some very good people that work for me.

RLH: And how would you have time to be mayor of Leland with that kind of an entrepreneurial load?

LK: Well, being mayor of Leland, it's very important. By living there, I have experienced some of the things that would help me in that job, just by speaking with the local people and my neighbors and people of that nature. And really as a mayor, I believe it's the mayor's job to be at the forefront of the needs of the people that they serve. And to me, it's a service job. And since I've always been in a service job, I believe it would be pretty simple for me to step into that role. Now, does that mean that that job is simple? No, not by any means. But I also know that staying busy keeps people sharp, keeps me sharp. So I am very busy. So it's easier for me to multitask from one subject to the next subject, and hopefully retain some of that, where if I was doing absolutely nothing, it would be more difficult.

RLH: You talk about having conversations with your neighbors and fellow members of the Leland community. On your Facebook page, you agree with one commenter that signage laws are too strict in Leland, and they hurt businesses. Give us an example of what you mean by this, and which ordinances would you like to change?

LK: Well, as a small business person, you're not getting rich. Somebody once told me that an entrepreneur would rather work 80 hours for themselves than 40 hours for somebody else. But at the same time, they'd also like to make a decent living. So in doing so, they want to be able to market their business in such a way that it's not going to cost them their business. And one of the things, the first thing, that usually comes to mind is signage and visibility. Well, in our town we have some sign ordinances that have come to fruition that only allow signs no higher than 15 feet. There are some marquee signage ordinances in there that have changed the face of how marquees, that give visibility to larger shopping centers are to be utilized. And it's very difficult to be seen.

The first thing that you need to do as a small business is to let people know that you're there. Signage is the first and foremost thing that people think about, and the first and foremost thing people look for when trying to find a business. So with the new ordinances, it made a little, actually very, very difficult for small business to be able to utilize that first line of attack.

RLH: There are some people who have said when you first drive into Leland off the Causeway, it's not a very pretty sight when you see sort of what's on Village Road: gas stations, fast food restaurants, aboveground power lines. Is that an issue for you? Do you do you see the town's attractiveness as an important element of the town's development?

LK: I think that attractiveness certainly plays a part in our attractiveness to incoming potential buyers and business people in the area. If you're talking about the Causeway that comes directly onto Village Road, the actual interchange does need to be landscaped. They've done a tremendous amount of work, and it has been tremendously helpful as far as moving traffic. But also understand the Department of Transportation has set aside approximately six hundred thousand dollars to landscape that area. I don't know when that plan will come to pass, but that's my understanding.

And then back in 2001, Leland and DOT had a partnership plan of a beautification project for Leland, one of which is the sign that now sits there that is very attractive. The others were to sidewalk each side of the road and landscape each side of the road. I don't know where we fall at this present time in the landscape of each side of the road. I'm assuming -- this is only an assumption -- that is still on the plans, and when that date is, I don't know, but yes, beautification is very important. It can be done in such a manner that it's attractive to look at.

RLH: What about the types of businesses that are on that main drag?

LK: Not sure I'm following you, the question, the types of businesses that are presently there are businesses such as fast food and gas, which is present at most major intersections and exchanges, because people need to get off the highway and get gas and something quick to eat. I don't know how to answer that. Is that what you're asking?

RLH: Yeah. Just if there's any issue there, but you see that as because of the proximity, you're saying, to the big highway, that's an appropriate use of that area.

LK: Yes.

RLH: OK. 

RLH: During the last municipal election you've talked about cooperating with other municipalities, that the tension between Belville and Leland was pretty high. There has been a dispute over ABC territory, that was just one issue. How would you smooth over that relationship with Belville and kind of increase the level of cooperation there?

LK: Well, I think it would be fairly simple for me to do. I'm good friends with the mayor of Belville, and we have a relatively decent relationship, and I believe the two of us could work very well together.

RLH: I took a look at your voting record. You voted in the last four presidential elections from 2004 on until 2016. You've never voted in a primary in Brunswick county or a municipal election. So why the interest now in municipal government?

LK: Well, I'm getting a little older. I'm looking at those retirement years coming up and in doing so, everything becomes more important. Everything becomes more clear, crystal clear, for lack of a better term. For me as a young person, things were never going to end. I was 10 foot tall and bulletproof. Today, I'm realizing that's not the case, and things have become more important.

RLH: Lee Kent, Leland, theoretically, would have a leg up when it comes to attracting businesses that offer higher paying jobs, partly because Leland has higher than average educational level across all age groups. According to the Leland master plan, almost every age group exceeds the high school and Bachelor's Degree statistics for the state, the county, and neighboring Wilmington, which means it's not just the older, more affluent people who are coming into Wilmington. How could Leland use that information to attract businesses with higher paying jobs? And is that something that's important to you as the owner of seven retail businesses?

LK: Well, it's very important to me to begin with to, as I spoke earlier, come up with some industry or higher paying jobs. I do know that there are some medical jobs that are becoming available: nursing homes, different specialties in the medical field, which only makes sense. Those are services to the older population that is growing at an exponential rate. So that's absolutely, it makes all the sense in the world. But we need more than the services for the older people.

We need to manufacture something. We need something in our town that would attract, back to your question: How would I utilize the higher education? And I'll go back to my other answer, that we need to get those young professionals in there, and I need to ask for their help. How do we? You're younger. You have things on your mind. You got an education. You know, I need your ideas of what it is we need to attract, you know, aquaculture, things of that nature in our area.

I know we have a college that is experimenting with aquaculture. There are other ideas that I have in mind that could go along with aquaculture like a biodiesel plant that could utilize algae, which grows at an exponential rate to come up with a bio diesel. It's possible. I know there's a developer in Leland right now that is actually working with a bio diesel person, experimenting and trying to get them to come to Leland. Those types of things would be not only futuristic as far as energy and things of that nature but also create jobs.

So I think anything in the energy field, the green energy, those types of things. I think those are very necessary, and they would help perpetuate our growth and there would be a higher paying, higher education jobs. But we don't just need higher education jobs available in Leland. We need jobs for the everyday person, which do take up more population, on average, than your educated population. And we don't have those jobs available. So we need those factory jobs. Now, I would just work with everybody who has the education, who has the connections, who has the ideas to try to figure out how to attract those people.

See Leland's only 19 square miles. So to be able to put that large factory into Leland may not be what we can do. But we can certainly attract them to the outskirts of Leland, and Leland would receive those benefits by having working people who spend money within the town, and that would be very helpful.

RLH: So we we just have a few seconds left. Let's say that you win this seat. So we're two years out in the future. We're looking back, what has happened? How is Leland different because you became mayor, Lee Kent?

LK: We'll have a good working relationship with our neighboring towns. We will have some very relevant ideas on the table for growth of young families. And hopefully we will have no need for raising taxes.

RLH: Lee Kent, thanks so much for joining us today. 

Segment 2 - Brenda Bozeman

Brenda Bozeman is the first woman to be elected Mayor of Leland.  She is completing her third term and is seeking a fourth.  But her last six years as Mayor do not encapsulate her involvement in the development of Leland.  She served on Leland’s Planning Board when it first formed in the 1990s, and she continued in that role for more than 9 years.  She won her first seat on Town Council in 2003 and was chosen Mayor Pro Tem in 2005.  That’s a position she kept until 2011 when she was elected Mayor. 

Brenda Bozeman is a native of the Cape Fear region and has two children, four grandchildren, and has been married for 47 years.  She’s also worked as a full-time Realtor for 30 years. 

She helped establish the North Brunswick Chamber of Commerce and served on the Steering Committee for Brunswick County's "Brunswick Tomorrow".

Rachel Lewis Hilburn: Brenda Bozeman, welcome to CoastLine.

Brenda Bozeman: Thank you, Rachel for having us here today. I love being able to talk about my town or answer questions of what's going on.

RLH: Brenda Bozeman, you've said that you want to continue leading Leland into being the kind of town that its residents want it to be. What does that mean? What does that town look like to you? What are the next steps?

BB: The steps that we need to continue taking in the Town of Leland is to continue listening to our citizens as we have done for many years. You have to give credit to past councils, our councils started many years ago, having charettes, having these workshops with the public to find out how they wanted to Leland grow, and what they wanted to see. And we worked diligently to get to where we are today, to make the vision of our past councils come true.

RLH: And in your current master plan, which you have available online, some of the results from those charettes are published, and that is part of what helped you craft this master plan. What are some of the elements of that, that stand out to you, that you think are important? If an alien came here and said: How is Leland developing, and what is the master plan, how would you explain that?

BB: The master plan is planning for your growth. It's what you want the town to be. Do you want parks? What kind of recreation do you want?

RLH: And what does Leland want?

BB: From our last plan, from the last charettes that we had, we were falling right in line with what they started seven, eight years ago. One, they wanted the parks. They wanted walking trails, they wanted the businesses to come, that they were used to having.

RLH: Then what does that mean? Are we talking about national chains or...?

BB: Well, a little bit of both. They like the small town feel of the small stores, and that's one reason we started Village Road with the flex code zoning, so that the small businesses could get a good start and have us a true downtown. But, you know, they will want stores like Chico's. You know, everybody wants...Everybody wants these nice places that they're used to going into. I love Chico's. I love Stein Mart, and I would love to have them in the Town of Leland, but that's what the master plan is all about, trying to plan. And we have done that by hiring an economic development director a couple of years ago, that has come in and he has actually worked hard in going after the businesses to come to the town.

RLH: Are you talking about Mike Hargett? 

BB: Oh no, he's with the county. We have Gary Vidmar. And Gary is actually, I think it's co-chairman or vice chair of the North Carolina Innovate, here in the area, working with Wilmington. We're working together to bring businesses to our towns, to help us grow, and grow like we should.

RLH: The public, private operations, now that's gone through several incarnations.

BB: That's exactly right.

RLH: And when we look at some of the businesses that are coming to Leland, in the Leland 2020 plan one of those key principles says: local character builds regional economies. We have Chick-Fil-A, a Panera Bread, those are our big chains going up.

BB: And Apple Annie's.

RLH: Yes, and Apple Annie's, that is a local business. So how do you encourage local businesses, and is there a concern that the balance is right? Are we a little out of balance one way or the other?

BB: Well, I don't think so, with the population we have, we have the folks that like the small businesses, we have the folks that like the large businesses. So when you have a mixture like that, you've got to have it all. And actually, the new Hertiage Square that we've got going up on Village Road under our flex code zoning, that will be small businesses. We have already, I can't say the name of the place, but there is a place in Wilmington that is opening up in there that will give several business owners a chance to be able to sell their goods. I can't say what it is, and I wish I could.

RLH: Oh, you can break some news here.

BB: Oh, I wish I could.

RLH: This is a business that exists in Wilmington?

BB: Yes.

RLH: That is going to expand to Leland?

BB: Exactly. And this is because there's so much going on with due diligence, and we have to wait until due diligence is done before we can make announcements.

RLH: That's fair. Maybe after the discussion... 

RLH: We've heard allegations that Leland Town Council has failed to hold developers' feet to the fire when it comes to insisting on sufficient infrastructure for all of the growth that's happening right now, the housing that's going up in Leland. Some say that's the reason for the inadequate and the failing sewer system that keeps overflowing in the neighborhood of Magnolia Greens. Should the town have demanded more from developers?

BB: You know, the allegations, they're not always correct. We have inherited some areas in the town that does not meet today's standards. But that's like everything in life. While it was good back in the 90s, is not good today. Everything changes. And the reason that they make those changes is because there are problems. So you do what you have to do to fix those problems as we come about them, and we are in open dialogue now with all developers, our engineers, and with our residents. So we are working to prevent future disasters as such.

RLH: So what would you say to those folks who say: But if back in the 90s, the Town of Leland had said hey developers you need to put in a sounder sewer system; you need to put in more robust infrastructure so that as we grow, it'll be sufficient.

BB: But Rachel that's what they were doing. That's what they were doing, and that's what we continue to do. You continue to plan for the future. You know, some of the lines and all that, are causing some of sewer spills is because our partners had put a check valve on our system that clogged us up, and we could not flow like we were supposed to. So it's not all just one, you've got to understand what's going on there.

RLH: You're saying it's more than one entity?

BB: That's correct. We have a partnership, there's a partnership between Leland, Navassa, Northwest, the county, and with H2GO.

RLH: And so Leland is working with all of these different municipalities?

BB: That's exactly right. And so all our lines kind of run together.

RLH: We have all learned about GenX and the water supply, this unregulated chemical compound. We've heard from scientists that GenX is only a tiny part of the potentially toxic cocktail that is in the drinking water supply. And this is thanks to, the Star News actually broke this story in mid-June. Supporters of H2GO's reverse osmosis plants have suddenly found expanded support for their effort to build this RO plant. There's still, of course, substantial opposition, but the Town of Leland has resisted the building of this reverse osmosis plant. Explain to folks who support the RO plant why the Town of Leland doesn't want to see this built?

BB: It's not necessarily that we don't want to see it built. But let me start off by saying reverse osmosis plant is three words I have learned to dislike very much. It has caused division in my town, that upsets me. It has caused neighbors to turn on each other. It has caused long-term friendships to fall apart. In today's world, people cannot agree to disagree. They cannot disagree on something and remain friends, and that's upsetting. We have too much going for us in the town to have that much division, but it's not just the Town of Leland. We have had former Susie Hamilton with the House of Representatives, Deb Butler, and Frank Iler on both sides, so we got both sides of the political party. Wait till after the election.

RLH: They've filed a bill.

BB. They've filed a bill to ask for H2GO to wait till after the election. And, you know, if that's the only way that we can keep our people safe, to have safe drinking water, then OK let's build it, but let's work with the partners. Let's all work together. Let's don't put that financial bind on a small amount of people when we can share it with the whole county.

RLH: And so you're talking about a regional approach.

BB: Right.

RLH: Who would be the partners in that?

BB: Well, our present partners right now in the sewer, is the ones I mentioned earlier: the county, H2GO, Navassa, and Northwest. The water, right now, is Cape Fear Public Utilities, the county, and H2GO, whether or not everybody wants to do it or wants to be involved. Let everybody decide. You know we all want safe drinking water. I mean, we would be crazy not to want it.

RLH: And I'm seeing this e-mail right now from Patty who writes -- this is about the water issue. Would you please tell me what you have done as mayor about our water crisis? We can talk about the boom in Leland, but once this crisis becomes better known, I believe the boom will slow down and might even stop completely. It's not just GenX and our drinking water, it's all the other chemicals. Brunswick Forest is experiencing large growth, and we get our drinking water from the Cape Fear River. What would you say to Patty?

BB: About what I've been doing?

RLH: Yeah.

BB: Myself and my staff has constantly been working with county manager, our chair chairman of the county commissioners, Frank Williams. We have been all working together, trying to come up with what needs to be done. And right now, everybody's waiting on final testing. Like I said earlier, we all want good, safe water.

RLH: And this was such a recent revelation, relatively, you know, the Star News broke this news in mid-June. So we don't really know, but we have heard anecdotal reports that this person or that business or this potential retiree read about GenX in the water and what was happening here and chose to go somewhere else. Are you hearing about this, and are you concerned about what this might do to Leland's growth?

BB: As a realtor, I've been very busy between campaigning, running the town with the town staff, and working my customers. You know, it's been a busy time, and I'll tell them what's going on in the area, because I don't want nothing to come back on me, and it's not slowed me down at all.

RLH: The poverty rate in Leland appears to be dropping. Is this simply a dilution by all the affluent retired folks moving in? And how do you keep those needs in front of you, because this is a smaller portion of the population than it has been but those folks who are in poverty in Leland?

BB: Rachel, you got to look at the whole area there, and all the statistics that we get, they involved the whole area. They don't involve just Leland.

RLH: You're talking about Brunswick County?

BB: They do, they do it like in the North Brunswick area. Anything that's got the 28451 area code. And it's not just us that is growing or that have the influence people. Belville had some very nice subdivisions there. They are not low income or anything. They are people with high paying jobs. And so, we're not the only ones that have experienced…The poverty rate, I think what they're starting to do now, is to take out some of the areas. So there's a lot of county area there that surrounds us, and that 28451 area code, that's more where a lot of the poverty is coming from. So where it used to be, they did it for the whole entire area. Now they're kind of zoning in.

RLH: So needless to say, there are some folks who are living below the poverty line in Leland, and there are lots of very affluent retired folks who are educated and very comfortable communicating with their elected officials. How do you keep the needs and the voices of those folks who don't have the resources in front of you?

BB: You know, we have, the people that have got the resources there in the town, you would not believe how they share. We have the most good-hearted people in our area I have ever seen in my life. Every time you turn around, we have all these groups now, they're putting together backpacks for the kids. They are sending food home with the children, so they have food on the weekends. They buy Christmas for these children. We have Manna Ministries in Leland. Once a month, they have people come that don't have food, and they can get the food that they need to feed their family.

And Leland has worked hard with these organizations. Matter of fact, we formed a North Brunswick community group where we've got representatives from all of the nonprofits in the area. Last Saturday, they had an expo at our Culture Arts Center, to show people what they do, and how they help others. And they were all based in our North Brunswick area.

RLH: During the last municipal election, the tension between neighboring Belville and Leland was pretty high. We know there was a territorial dispute over an ABC store; there have been other issues that have come up between those two municipalities. How is that relationship progressing? And if you continue as mayor of Leland, how will you continue to make that a more cooperative relationship than antagonistic?

BB: You know, that has just not been for the last two years. That started back in 1980s, whenever Belville wanted to annex part of our area there in Leland, and the residents did not want it. So they formed Leland themselves, they incorporated. Things were going very good six years ago when I first went as mayor, Mayor Jack Batson and I, we sit and talked about the benefits of becoming one town. And, unfortunately, Jack resigned from office, but we still continued working together with Belville. You know, I don't see and hear all the tension. You know, I'm the kind of person, I can get along with anybody; I really can. And I was there at the grand opening of their town hall the other week.

Mayor Allen said I was his friend. That's what he said when he introduced me. You know, there again, we can agree to disagree, and he disagrees that we should have ABC permit, and I think we should. But we still have a relationship. I mean, when they opened their park we gave them a gift. We put a bench there on their riverfront, in support of our neighbor. And, you know, we get along great with the other towns. So we work very heavy with Navassa and Sandy Creek. We do their building inspections, and six years ago we also offered to have a North Brunswick police department. Mayor Willis of Navassa was interested somewhat; Sandy Creek didn't have one. They've changed mayor since then. Belville has changed mayors since then, and so that's never came to. But that was something I was hoping to accomplish.

RLH: When you talk about some of these neighboring, very small communities there are now legislative limits on a municipality's ability to annex some of those areas. But is there any way that Leland could grow geographically? Is there a path?

BB: Sure. Oh, sure.

RLH: How do you see that happening?

BB: We have a lot of in-field that could be done right in the middle of Old Federal Road. For an example, there is a little small subdivision there. It backs up to Magnolia Greens; one side, it backs up to the middle school. If that could be brought into the town, but, of course, it's a little segment of Belville there, so that one can't be. But as you go out into the county, I mean, all of Lanvale Road, but all these roads there, Mount Misery Road, going up Mount Misery Road, if all that was to come into the town, and up until it gets to the city limits of Navassa, we could be huge.

RLH: We have a question. Jake writes: In 2015, the Town of Leland passed a resolution attempting to takeover H2GO, stating that Leland can do it better. However, we see this may not be true, how their sewer systems put in at the same time and H2GO maintains theirs much more efficiently. He's asking: Does Leland have plans and goals to attempt to take over H2GO? 

BB: No. When that resolution was made, about two and a half years ago, that was at the request of a petition of 2,000 people and that was the requests that they made. So we, we did what our citizens ask us to do. But to just take over, no. I'm kind of person, you don't want to work with me, fine, but let's don't be ugly. We just won't work together. But I can work with you, if you want to. So if I were if they were to want to merge with us, that would be great. If not, I'm going to leave them alone.

RLH: And Mary Ann from Leland asks: Leland took over the volunteer fire department. Why didn't they put that up to a vote?

BB: We did. The vote of the council and the vote of the fire department members, volunteer fire department, was exactly that: volunteer. They had hundreds some members -- I think it was. Chief Grimes came to us, he needed help. He needed firemen. He didn't have the money, and we could not take our taxpayers' money and give to the fire department and not have a say so. So we offered, merge with us and we will help you. And that's what we've done. We hired eight fireman. Now we have a full-time fire department at the disposal of our citizens and our neighboring area.

RLH: We know that obesity is a major health issue for Brunswick County, and, of course, Leland childhood obesity is on the rise as is adult obesity. What role, if any, does Leland's Town Council play in addressing this health issue?

BB: Well, the Town of Leland's Park and Recreation Department has worked diligently with Brunswick County's Park and Recreation Department to have programs in the summertime for the children. Little camps, they're in our park. We also know it actually really starts at home. The children have got to be active. You know, even as an adult, if we're not active, we're sitting around, we're going to be obese. We're sitting around, eating all the time. So the walking trails, bike trails, the parks that we have, we should bring them all in.

RLH: Thank you so much for being with us.