A first-time candidate who worked for several local campaigns including those of Woody White and Lisa Estep, Skip Watkins is one of six candidates seeking three open Wilmington City Council seats. In addition to his job as a financial adviser, Watkins has for the past 15 years been the manager of the Cape Fear Fair and Expo, and has served on its board of directors for the past 24 years.
Why are you running for city council?
All my life I’ve wanted to serve in public office. … I’d been approached by some folks a while back [asking] ‘Would I consider running?’ I thought once about the county commissioners, but that just didn’t feel right. But when I saw the city council election, my business and my family — everything just seemed to line up.
What are the biggest issues facing Wilmington?
We need to bring some jobs back into the region. If we can assist in bringing business to the area it benefits our citizens. … But crime is the fire we have to put out. … The boots on the ground initiative; that’s been going on recently that chief Evangelous was involved with, I think that was a wonderful beginning and I think that’s where it’s got to start.
List three policy initiatives you would champion if elected.
One thing that city council cannot do by itself but it can recommend: We need vocational in our high schools. … I’m not an educational expert but I know there’s a high dropout rate. … But [a solution to gang violence] is going to be multi-faceted; it can’t be any one thing. I’ve spoken to both fire and police department officials about our compensation level; we’re losing highly qualified, highly trained men and women because our pay scales are low compared to other communities, so we’re an entry-level location.
Where will the money for city employees’ raises come from?
I am an advocate of zero base budgeting. We’re never going to have it; but zero base budgeting is that every department, every agency — whoever gets money has to basically start over from zero every year. … I’ve got some ideas where a lot of money goes, and do we continue to fund things at the same level, [or] do we fund things at a different level? That’s going to be something the general public is going to have to trust their council.
You have specific ideas about which budget items to be cut?
Yeah, I do. … You don’t want to give away all your trade secrets.
Is transparency currently an issue with council?
I’m not aware of any lack of transparency. Legally, certain numbers of council cannot meet without a public meeting. I don’t think that happens, looking back on the recent situations, with the exception of concern over the current site for the proposed convention center hotel — that is an example of transparency that needs to be addressed.
How would you have handled the baseball stadium?
Mandalay did not have enough skin in the game. … I did not have the faith and confidence that the numbers [were] accurate … I also saw tax dollars being used to basically take the disposable income away from those existing teams in sports. If we had built a baseball stadium, then the disposable dollars would have been taken away from the existing businesses. They would have had public competition in a private entity.
How can the city and county better work together?
I have personal relationships with four of the current five county commissioners … on the existing, current city council there are several members of council I am on a first-name basis with. … With the county commission members that I’ve spoken with, they are willing to work more closely with city council. … I believe I can be a conduit for as much cooperation as will be possible at this point in time.
What don’t people know about you?
I like to spend time on the beach with my family and my friends. We have a boat; we’ll go out on the waterway do a little fishing, cruising a little bit. And I say ‘watersports,’ maybe the better phrase is ‘the salt life.’ [laughs] That new catch-phrase, ‘the salt life.’