Democrat Franklin Gomez Flores, 28, looks to defend his Dist. 5 seat on the Chatham County Board of Commissioners against Republican challenger Peyton Moody, 36, in November.
Gomez Flores beat Republican Andy Wilkie for the seat in 2020; Wilkie had been appointed to fill the unexpired seat of Walter Petty.
The southwestern-most district, which contains Siler City, Bonlee, Bennett and Goldston, is the most poverty-stricken in the county; some areas have as many as 25% of residents living below the federal poverty line, according to the 2018 Chatham Community Assessment. The 2021 Community Assessment showed the region as the lowest income and furthest away from supermarkets.
Both candidates hope to address the increasing inequality between the eastern and western portions of the county by focusing on local issues such as planning, zoning and infrastructure. Plans for achieving those ends, however, contain quite different means for each candidate.
Gomez Flores says the county needs strategic investments in minority-owned businesses to reduce inequality. Meanwhile, Moody says the county needs to find common ground to make decisions for all people in Chatham.
Gomez Flores has lived in Chatham since he was 5 years old. He says he’s seeking another term to continue on the progress he’s made in office by helping the county accommodate the pressures of growth and preserving natural resources.
Beyond his past two years on the board of commissioners, Gomez Flores is also on the Chatham County Board of Health, where he serves on the Maternity Care Center task force for Chatham Hospital. He is also a member of the Chatham Hospital’s Board of Trustees and on the board of directors for Siler City Futbol Club.
Moody is a lifetime resident of Chatham County. He works as the owner of PFP Propane. He’s seeking office to help control the growth of the county, lower taxes and improve conditions for businesses. He said the county itself should be operated like a business where the needs of all stakeholders are met.
Moody’s other community involvements include attending Goldston Methodist Church and Gentlemen of America, which is “a men’s group devoted to the promotion of masculinity in a society that deems it toxic.” Moody previously served as the treasurer for the group.
Both candidates identified future growth as a result of VinFast and Wolfspeed as the biggest challenge in the coming term for Chatham. Gomez Flores said he wants to tackle growth through strategic funding allocation.
“Our tax base is increasing and diversifying,” Gomez Flores told the News + Record. “I am against budgeting any property tax from the megasites into the county’s daily/yearly operations, and rather opt to address major one-time investments that can be paid off quickly.”
The incumbent commissioner said that includes investing in major institutions like schools, parks and increasing broadband. By doing this, he said he believes Chatham will be prepared for megasite growth while also preserving the “agricultural economic base” of his district in the western portion of the county.
Moody, meanwhile, said the current board hasn’t done enough to control the growth coming to Chatham. He advocates for improving the financial structures of the county to capture more tax revenues.
“The people of this county can’t afford, nor should they have to afford, to cover the tax implications that come along with more infrastructure,” Moody said. “I would ensure that while we are a welcoming place to bring profitable business, we first take care of the folks who call this place home every day.”
Moody said the current board of commissioners has “no structure” in plans for growth; he believes they do not accurately represent the people they serve.
Gomez Flores, one of those current commissioners, of course, disagrees. He said he understands people’s frustrations and is acutely aware of distrust of the local governing body, especially from the agricultural community. That’s why he said he will meet with these communities in the coming term.
“I treat everyone with dignity and respect and am interested in meeting with interested parties to ensure that we cater to their needs and that we are taking into consideration the challenges they face with any decision the board makes, so they don’t sell their farms,” Gomez Flores said.
Prior to his election, Gomez Flores says many of the task forces and committees assigned to address issues in Dist. 5 like agriculture or minority-owned businesses came from outside the boundaries of the constituency. Now, he sees ensuring community representation as one of the most important factors in addressing present and future hyperlocal challenges.
“There is an idea of ‘only investing where the population is’ from key individuals,” Gomez Flores said. “And honestly, that gets under my skin. If anything has to change, it is that ideology. It is dismissive of the rest of the county, creating a divide.”
He said reducing that divide will only increase in importance with future development. To manage growth while ensuring the interests of existing residents are heard, Gomez Flores believes all residents need to feel empowered to participate in the political process. That includes speaking up in the production of the upcoming Unified Development Ordinance and desires for future housing projects.
Moody said reducing the divide is about understanding the unique needs of all residents. He said the current board hasn’t found “common ground” for the whole county.
“I understand that as one county there must be some symmetry,” Moody said. “But to draw a line saying that everything in Chapel Hill or in the business park is what is best for the citizens of Bennett, is completely asinine.”
The challenger said there can’t be a one-size-fits-all approach to decisions in the county when there is such a divide in culture and socioeconomic status. Making sure all needs are heard, he believes, will prevent current residents from falling through the cracks.
With anticipated growth also bringing a population boom, Moody said it is pertinent to keep taxes low because property values are already unaffordable for many.
“We need to have a board that can reach out to state leaders and show the need for state funding to help us build affordable housing, in all areas of the county,” he said. Moody added the county needs state funding to build affordable housing as the population increases.
The general midterm elections will be on Nov. 8. Early voting runs from Oct. 20 through Nov. 5. To find your polling location, visit vt.ncsbe.gov/PPLkup.