Editor’s note: This is one of several stories on municipal government races in Western York County in advance of the Nov. 5 election.
A political newcomer who is calling for a fresh perspective on the York City council and a 19-year councilman who touts the benefits of his experience are vying for the District 1 seat.
John Eakin, a 35-year-old disabled man with a previous career in the hospitality industry, is challenging councilman Charles Johnson, 77, who has held the seat since 1994.
The York District 1 race is one of three contested municipal elections in Western York County for the Nov. 5 election. The other York council race is in District 6 — where John Shiflet and Johnny McCoy are vying for the seat held by Mark Boley, who is not seeking re-election.
In York’s District 5 council seat, council member Denise Lowry is unopposed.
The third contested Western York County race is the McConnells Town Council, where five candidates are vying for four open seats. Municipal elections will not be held in Clover, Smyrna, Hickory Grove and Sharon because there were no contested races.
In York, council members are elected in six districts and serve four-year terms. District 1 is a smaller district in central York, located on both sides of West Liberty Street.
Eakin called for a more proactive approaching to governance, saying the city could promote growth and development with specific types of tax incentives that have been used in other cities.
He criticized Johnson, who has led a city campaign to tear down dangerous and dilapidated housing in the city. Eakin said York should seek ways to rehabilitate housing instead of tearing it down.
“I don’t feel like he has done very much for his district,” Eakin said about Johnson. He said the area has lost businesses and that it needs improvements to parks and pedestrian facilities.
He also said that a fresh perspective is needed. “Any time someone has been in a position like that for 19 years, it’s time for some fresh air, new blood,” he said. “It’s time to step back and get a new look.”
Johnson said the dilapidated housing is an eyesore and needs to be torn down. Although a private organization could rehabilitate housing, Johnson said it’s not the city’s role to do that.
“He doesn’t know what’s going on, that’s why he’s saying that,” Johnson said of Eakin. As far as rehabilitating housing, Johnson said, “we wouldn’t do that. We can’t do that as a city.”
Johnson said the city had a government grant to tear down some housing in the past, and leaders were hoping to find another grant. Johnson said there’s a cost to tear down derelict housing and, because most of the lots in question are not buildable under current codes, the city is unlikely to be able to recoup its expense by selling the property after the housing is removed.
Johnson said one of his goals on the council has been to pave Fleetwood Street, a dirt road which runs off West Liberty Street from the city into the county. He said the road is supposed to be paved with “C” Funds — revenue from a statewide program for road improvements.
Johnson said his record on the council speaks for itself. “I’ve got the experience,” said Johnson, who said he has never missed a council meeting in 19 years. “I’ve been a part of everything that’s been done.”
He said the council is planning to build a second fire station and will need to staff it. He also said the council is talking about plans to increase staffing in the police and fire departments.
“We’re working in that direction,” he said.
Eakin said the present council has done “a good job in keeping us afloat throughout this recession, but now it’s time to move forward, and we need people who can bring us into the future.”
He talked about the need for managed growth and improvements. He suggested local tax incentives for the owners of rental housing to keep it maintained, for people who purchase and restore historic housing and for those who rehabilitate dilapidated housing.
“A lot of them are really complicated,” he said of such incentives, “but I’ve done my homework on them.”
He also suggested getting a grant to offer matching grants to local businesses that want to improve the appearance of their property, a project that has been done in Clover.
“We need to look at what other cities have done,” he said.
He called for more pedestrian-friendly communities, noting that the York Recreation Center is behind his apartment complex but it’s a half-mile walk along U.S.321 to get there. He said a path through the woods could enable children to walk there.
“I am going to look out for everyone,” he said. “Here in my neighborhood, I want the kids in my neighborhood to be able to get to that park, so they can quit playing in the streets.”
He also said York needs to maintain its unique charm. “We don’t want to be a cookie-cutter version of everything that’s around Charlotte,” he said. “We need to be unique and different. That’s why people choose to live here.”