Town of Elon Mayor Emily Sharpe and Town Manager Rich Roedner sat down with students Oct. 5 in Moseley Center to answer questions about working at a local municipality. The town hall event included town, community and county issues. 

The event was part of the Active Citizen Series hosted by the Kernodle Center for Civic Life, Elon Votes, Elon Political Engagement Work Group and Council on Civic Engagement. Elon Votes coordinators sophomore Lindsay Bialecki and junior Bo Dalrymple moderated the discussion. 

Sharpe said the most pressing issue in Alamance County is educational funding and how it has affected her decision to keep her child in private school. She said at first this was because of the challenges of online schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic but now due to the lack of funding public education receives.

“I was a public school teacher. I was raised by a public school teacher. I'm a huge public school advocate. I never dreamt that I would put my child in private school,” Sharpe said. “We've just opted to keep her in private school because of the funding issues in this county.”

Sharpe also said animosity between Democrats and Republicans is affecting the county. Sharpe said she once campaigned door-to-door and encountered a man who said he didn't want to listen to her because he hated Democrats. After a 45-minute conversation with the man and his wife, Sharpe said she left with two votes in her pocket. 

“Those two people showed up, and they got out of their car. They walked over to me at the polls, shook my hand and they said, ‘We're only here to vote for you,’” Sharpe said. “And it only took that conversation.”

Sharpe said the divide goes all the way up to North Carolina state representatives. Though they have a good working relationship, Sharpe said she does not approach some Republican representatives if she thinks she knows what they are going to say — specifically state Sen. Amy Galey.

“I will be honest, I don't touch topics with them that I know I'm not going to get anywhere on, but the ones that I know that I might have some influence on, I make a point of speaking up,” Sharpe said. “One example is Amy Galey. … She said, ‘If you're a Republican, you are not pro choice ever.’ And I will never forget that because that was probably one of the very first times — and this is probably very naive of me — but very first time that I heard that level of ‘You either are or you aren't’ and not free thinking in a political party.”

Roedner said the biggest issue facing the town of Elon is funding. Due to this, he said the town has not done much work on infrastructure.

With some funding from the federal and state government — along with simply saving money over time — Roedner said the town is working on replacing a water line on East Haggard Avenue and the plaza currently being built downtown. 

According to Roedner, part of the funding issue comes from Elon University. Since the university does not pay property taxes but makes up 42% of the town’s land mass, Roedner said the town doesn’t make as much money. 

“Forty-two percent of our town is nonprofit,” Roedner said. “That's a huge proportion from the communities.”

The town works closely with neighboring towns, namely Gibsonville, for help when things break down, Roedner said. This can look like sharing a garbage truck, according to Roedner, and was especially important during COVID.

“We were constantly talking with each other. … We were prepared to send our workforce anywhere it was needed within the county,” Roedner said. 

In her position, Sharpe said she is most frustrated with how slow things move in government — an example being the lengthy construction time of the new downtown plaza.

“From the time that we approved the budget for the plaza that's being built downtown to now, I'm still like, ‘Why aren't they done yet? Why is there no one here working today?’ It is a struggle for me just how slow things go,” Sharpe said.

Sharpe said the things most people find surprising about her role is that being mayor is not her full-time job. She said she wants people to approach her.

“Reach out, send me a text, send me an email, give me a phone call. Because I think that if you're not having conversations, you're not truly able to lead the people who are part of your community,” Sharpe said. 

Sharpe also said she did not want to move to a higher position in the future. 

“This is where I want to be because I love my town. That's the only reason that I'm in this role,” Sharpe said. “A lot of times people will say — even my husband will say, ‘Emily, it's just Elon,’ and I'm like, ‘You're right, it’s Elon! We have so much potential.’”

Sharpe and Roedner encouraged students to get involved in the community by registering to vote in North Carolina, volunteering and even running for a town committee.

“Get involved. Vote. Register to vote here. We treat you as residents,” Roedner said. “You're a resident here and you vote here. You could run for office here.”