Taxes motivate Gupton’s candidacy

Robert “Bobby” Gupton is running for Harriette Butler’s seat on the City Council, but he said Friday that he is not running against the incumbent.

Gupton, a newcomer to city politics, said he considered running for weeks because he was disappointed in the way the City Council handled the budget this year, and “experienced people” advised him to go ahead and file Friday.

“I have chosen to run for this City Council seat because I could not afford the increase in taxes, water and sanitation charges,” Gupton said in a written statement he issued Friday afternoon. He added in a phone interview: “The present council has kind of gotten us in a hole.”

He said it was just coincidence that his filing came two days after Butler filed for re-election to the Ward 2 ward seat.

“It’s not aimed at her,” Gupton said. “I don’t know that much about her.”

For those who don’t know much about Gupton, he’s a native Hendersonian who retired from Americal as a production control manager in 1999 after 29 years with the sock maker. He works a couple of days a week at the hobby shop next to Gupton’s Sporting Goods on Garnett Street.

He and his wife, Ruby, live on Carroll Road, “which is within the boundaries of Ward Two,” he noted in the written statement. Butler owns a home on Woodland Road in Ward 2 and has repeatedly said she intends to live there again once a mold problem has been corrected, but she has lived in her offices in Ward 3 since before her first election in 2001.

Despite some controversy over her housing situation, Butler went unchallenged in 2003, and the Vance County Board of Elections upheld her right to run in Ward 2.

She and Gupton appear to have some policy differences from the start:

* Funding for the new library at Embassy Square.

Gupton said he is not against the new library, due to open on Breckenridge Street in the spring. “I do not support funding the library beyond previous annual funding until new sources of revenue are found,” Gupton wrote in his statement. “Granted, we must move in when it is completed, but maybe we should utilize some of the available space for other city and county offices.”

Butler said this week that she is committed to the completion of the library and the continued 50-50 split in local library expenses between the city and county. She said the money must be found to run the library.

* The Henderson-Vance Economic Partnership.

Butler said she is a strong proponent of the partnership and of the people who stepped up to create the private, nonprofit group. She said she is eager to work with the partnership to bring jobs to Henderson.

Gupton agrees on the desperate need for new industry in the city, but he is leery of the Economic Partnership. He said he needs to learn more about the group. But he doesn’t like the lack of accountability for the partnership, and he is suspicious of claims that the group won’t spend any public money without the approval of the City Council and the county commissioners. Gupton suggested during the Speak Up Henderson forum Monday night that one way for the partnership to reassure Hendersonians that it won’t follow the path of the Embassy Square Foundation is for Sam Watkins, who chairs the Embassy foundation and the county Economic Development Commission, to decline to serve on the partnership board.

Instead of the partnership, Gupton suggests turning to the former executives and many Ward 2 retirees of Henderson’s fallen corporate giants: Rose’s Stores; Americal; and Harriet & Henderson Yarns.

“The companies through no fault of their own are no longer with us, but the leadership of those companies remains,” Gupton wrote. “The years of experience of the workers and leaders need not go to waste. This experience is a valuable asset we can use to solve our many problems. Those of you that read have already read the many suggestions by some obviously intelligent people.”

Gupton and Butler also have areas of agreement. For example, both support a switch to curbside garbage collection, and both want the city to work hard to increase the fund balance.

Gupton said the city must try again and again to cut waste out of the government because residents can’t afford more increases in their property taxes and water and sewer rates. He pledged to vote against tax increases.

With all of the construction of public buildings in the city, Gupton said, “Henderson is running like someone that just won the lottery.”

He said the city’s financial situation motivated him to ask more questions about city operations, something he has done during several appearances at Speak Up Henderson forums. He also credited with increasing his awareness of and interest in city issues.

“I’m new to all this,” Gupton said, and he will count on the other council members to bring him up to speed if he wins.

“The ward seat I am seeking belongs to the people of the second ward and I openly solicit your suggestions,” he wrote. “It will take the entire community to change things by working together.”

The candidate filing period runs through next Friday at noon.