Statesville Mayor Candidate Profile: Costi Kutteh
BY HALEY JONES
Constantine H. “Costi” Kutteh, 65, has served as Statesville’s mayor for the past 12 years, and is seeking re-election in the Oct. 10 municipal election.
“Being your mayor for the past 12 years has been the most rewarding, the most encouraging, the most uplifting position I have ever had in my life,” said Kutteh, addressing the people of Statesville. “Every day I get an opportunity to do something for one of you or one of the other 26,000 that call Statesville home and that is very meaningful to me. Statesville, N.C., is my home and I am running to serve you.”
Prior to his 12 years as mayor, Kutteh served 16 years on City Council as an at-large member.
Kutteh spoke on a variety of subjects during his interview, including the old Davis Hospital site, basic utilities, the Vance Hotel, the transparency of the City, and the extensive list of city programs.
The old Davis Hospital Site
Described as a significant undertaking by Kutteh, progress on the old Davis Hospital site was a collaboration between the city, county and Mitchell Community College.
The site became the city’s sole responsibility after the landowner failed to perform proper maintenance on the property. In turn, the city formed a partnership with the county and the college, which resulted in plans for a 40,000 –square-foot Health Science building to be built on site
The partnership jointly agreed to purchase the property for $404,000 with Mitchell Community College offering $75,000; the City of Statesville offering a matching $75,000 and Iredell County providing $254,000.
This was a project that Kutteh said was well worth the investment. By waiting for the appropriate end use of the property, all the citizens will benefit greatly, he said.
“This project wasn’t just about taking down an old asbestos-filled hospital. It was about a rebirth, a re-creation of the site,” Kutteh said. “The people that are educated in that building are going to work here, and take care of us here. It’s going to have a ripple effect throughout Statesville and will transform the west side of Statesville over time.”
The City of Statesville owns part of a nuclear plant. As a result of the city’s participation in that group, the city was able to refinance its debt and reduce residential electric rates, a reduction of 8 percent over the last three years.
“We know there are concerns from residents about electric and other utility rates and we deal with those concerns daily relative to our competitors, (the city) is very competitive and we will be even more competitive with our electric rates into the future,” said Kutteh. “The operation and management of all of our utilities are among the most efficient in North Carolina.”
The status of the Vance Hotel/ Parking Deck
“To understand the Vance hotel/parking deck, the council has decided that we will pursue the parking deck on the back side of the property regardless of when the Vance Hotel is developed,” said Kutteh.
This will relieve parking stress for the Civic Center, the City of Statesville and people who patronize downtown with the addition of a parking deck.
“The engineering and design work are being been done,” said Kutteh. However, he also stressed one miscommunicated fact. “No money has been committed to construction. We are still trying to determine the cost and size of the deck.
Kutteh says this to dispel any numbers floating around in community conversation regarding the Vance Hotel.
“We continue to work with a private developer on rehabilitation of the Vance Hotel into 37 residential units,” said Kutteh. “The private developer is going to get a loan and he is going to receive a large amount of historic tax credits. That credit will be sold and the money put into the project.”
However, even with that revenue, there will still be a gap created from the difference between the source of money and the cost of construction.
“We are reasonably sure the developer will come to Statesville and will ask the city to participate or entirely fund that gap,” Kutteh said. “What we are working on now is to determine if the City does participate financially in the Vance Hotel, then how and when can we get our money back? We don’t intend to make a gift; if anything, it will be a loan with a repayment plan in place.”
But as far as money spent on the project, again he stressed:
“No decision has been made; no financial commitment has been made; no commitment to the construction of the Vance Hotel has been made,” said Kutteh. “We’ve spent money cleaning out the building and boarding up windows but we haven’t spent any money on capital expenditures for the Vance Hotel or the parking deck; we are working with architects and engineers now to properly plan both projects.”
Kutteh also highlighted the importance of the open house that will be held in 6 to 8 weeks prompting engagement from the community.
“The citizens will have numerous continuing opportunities for input into any decision regarding the city’s involvement in the Vance Hotel,” said Kutteh. “And together, we will determine if it is of a propriety equal to or greater than other needs in the community.”
Transparency of the City
“Transparency and communication are always important topics,” said Kutteh. “And there are a series of things we have done to communicate with the public since I have been mayor.”
Kutteh said communication methods include:
- Press releases published in the local media
- Publicly-broadcasted television coverage of city council meetings
- Social media
- Numerous Public forums
- Citizens Academies
- Master Plan Committees, such as for the street scape and Vance Hotel
- The city council meetings themselves are open to the public
“Obviously we try to be as open as we can but personnel, economic development and legal issues must be discussed in closed session,” said Kutteh.
Kutteh also recalls a most-successful community engagement process called “Connect our Future.” This program was coordinated by Centralina Council on Government, which went to various communities throughout the region and asked the question, “What do you want the region to look like?” According to Kutteh, Statesville hosted the most successful forum of all with the largest turnout.
There was also a period of time when department heads and elected officials met openly on Saturday mornings with citizens once a month to discuss updates. This meeting was open to the public.
Kutteh also said that the City tries to seek public input in many instances such as in 2011, when public hearings were held on the changing of ward boundaries for election; or during the selection process that selected Chief Barone as police chief. Public forums have been held on the I-40/I-77 construction and other projects as well.
“We have gone throughout the community to seek input on many occasions,” said Kutteh. “Are there more ways we can engage our community? Sure. But have we engaged the community? We certainly have.”
Economic Growth of the City
“Economic growth of all kinds is essential and continuous throughout Statesville,” said Kutteh, as he spoke of six local companies that are in the process of expansion, which will add 550 jobs and $70 million of investment in the city.
He also spoke of five other companies that are discussing significant expansions.
According to Kutteh, Larkin Regional Commerce Park gives the city 1,000 acres in one location for significant development; the construction along the Highway 21/115 corridor will continue the stabilization of the community that began when the city leased the Depot to use for expanded police operations; and a meeting room in the planned municipal services building will offer another gathering place for community groups.
Kutteh highlighted the importance of single family residential development in Statesville.
“Single family residential permits are increasing as well as the conversion of rental properties into single family home ownership,” said Kutteh. “Increased retail and commercial development will follow this residential growth.”
Kutteh also spoke of public safety.
“Public safety is a major focus and will continue to be. We must recruit and retain the best police and fire staff,” said Kutteh. “Our innovative recruitment program for police has worked and we must make the total environment such that these employees, as well as others, work and live in Statesville, such as forgivable second mortgages, might be worth trying.”
Another component of public safety that Kutteh explored in addition to “boots on the ground,” is workforce training and citizens watching out for each other.
“We have initiated a Domestic Violence Task Force with specially trained officers,” said Kutteh. “A Major Crime Prevention Division puts the best officers on cases needing the most attention, to find the criminals and get them off our streets. We have strengthened our community by partnering with Iredell-Statesville Schools, Statesville Housing Authority and others to develop an environment of greater trust.”
According to Kutteh, the Statesville Police Department will serve as lead agency for a County Law Enforcement Assisted Division program so that low level offenders can be diverted to community services instead of jail.
And the airport is to be a model for general aviation airports around the states, said Kutteh. “We have an aggressive plan for its continued growth and have bought 33 acres of land and received $11 million in recent grants. We will actively, pursue growth from our existing clients and new prospects.”
City/Citizen Engagement Programs
“We have several flourishing programs and some of these continue,” said Kutteh. “Interest waned in some programs so we moved to others. But enthusiasm seems to be up and we’d like to revisit (these programs).”
The programs include:
Statesville 101 – A 9-week, biannual program in which 20 citizens visit multiple city departments, aiming to educate more citizens about the inner workings of the City. The program lasted for about 5 years but citizen interest waned and the program was cut. Department leaders led the program and it is likely another program will be offered in spring of 2018.
Citizens Police Academy – This program still remains a very popular interest among citizens and walks participants through community safety and the police department.
“Both of these programs have been models for other communities,” said Kutteh. “We get repeated requests from communities all over the state wishing for us to share these program’s models.”
Police Call-in – Offenders in the area accused of domestic violence, crime and gang involvement, were invited to a call-in hosted by the City Police Department. Representatives of the District Attorney office, Sheriff’s Office, ALE, the Troutman and Mooresville Police, and elected officials were also present, as well as community agencies like Fifth Street Ministries. The goal was to bring offenders to this meeting who may be one step from hard time and provide them with a last chance intervention to “go straight or go to jail.” The record of success for that program resulted in both a “turn-around” for offenders and an improved crime rate.
“The call-ins will likely start up again in the near future,” said Kutteh as he explained that this type of program is held in phases so that a new group of offenders can be targeted for help.
Student Government Day - A favorite program of Kutteh’s is the elementary school program in which fifth graders from four city-feeder schools: N.B. Mills, Third Creek, Cloverleaf and East Elementary. Students are initially assigned an essay topic with the prompt, “What would you do if you were mayor for a day?” From there, the principal of each school selects five students based on their essays, and these 20 students total get to spend the day with city staff. The students get to experience Statesville Recreation and Parks, the Statesville Fire Department, Police Department, Electrical Department, and Water and Sewer Department.
After the students report on their activities and have lunch, a mock city council meeting is held with one half acting as Council, and the other half acting as citizens. The program has been in place for 12 years.
“It’s neat to see students who were participating in 5th grade, get involved in youth leadership (when in high school),” said Kutteh. “It’d be great to see them go off to college, and return to Statesville and participate in Leadership Statesville.”
Hello Statesville - Another program Kutteh thinks highly of is the city’s Sunday night call, “Hello Statesville.” A simple concept with a large impact, Statesville citizens receive a phone call around 7 p.m. every Sunday night, updating them on programs and happenings throughout the city. The program also provides opportunities to call a city employee to ask any questions about city.
“That’s what is important,” said Kutteh. “To engage people in the community and understand their concerns and desires.
Born on leap year day in 1952, Kutteh is the son of an immigrant couple from Lebanon. His father came to the U.S. as a practicing OBGYN physician and his mother, now deceased, was a registered nurse.
Kutteh’s profession is managing partner of the Pope McMillian Law Firm, where he has worked for 41 years. He has been married to his wife Teresa for 41 years, and has lived in the same Statesville home for 34 years. Kutteh has three adult daughters.
Kutteh is a Statesville High graduate, a Magna Cum Laude Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Wake Forest University and received a law degree from Duke University and an LLM degree from Emory University in tax law.
Kutteh has held numerous roles of leadership within the community. Some of those roles include with Barium Springs Home for Children (now Children’s Hope Alliance), Statesville Chamber of Commerce, United Way, Greater Statesville Rotary, Downtown Statesville Development Corporation, Statesville Regional Development, March of Dimes, Cancer Society, Red Cross and Fifth Street Ministries. He is also a founding director and current secretary of the Boys & Girls Club of the Piedmont.
He has been recently named as a Board of Trustee Member at Mitchell Community College and was a Founding Director of Piedmont Bank, now First National Bank.
Honors in the community include:
- Community Distinguished Service Award (Statesville Jaycees) 1987
- Iredell County Legal Secretaries Boss of the Year 1999 & 1989
- Iredell-Statesville United Way Benefactors Club Honoree 1989
- Volunteer of the Year (Ebenezer School) 1994
- Citizen of the Year 2009
- NC Bar Association Citizens Lawyer Award 2011
- Volunteer of the Year, Fifth Street Ministries 2007
Yet, despite this extensive list of accomplishments, Kutteh finds it difficult to speak about himself.
“Yes, there are ceremonial aspects to being Mayor, as well as economic development and leadership aspects, and I perform to the best of my ability in each of those areas,” Kutteh said. “But one thing I have that I feel sets me apart is my commitment to this community. It is one thing to have passion but we need commitment. There is an energy, an enthusiasm, and a fire that burns inside of me every single day to make Statesville the very best it can be. I am committed to Statesville, it lives inside of me and is in every breath that I take. What I have tried to do is to make other people feel the same way about this great city.”
Kutteh spoke of simple but impactful moments such as speaking to others on the street or volunteering his time at a school. In fact, this latter occurrence sparked the interest of a young citizen, who has just turned 18, to register to vote.
The young citizen recalled Kutteh reading to him at his elementary school and being kind and speaking to him during his visit. After all these years, that event prompted the young citizen to be inspired to vote in the upcoming election.
“It’s those small acts of commitment that I want to engrain in this community,” said Kutteh. “You, our residents, are our greatest strength. Your ideas and assistance make us a better city. I truly believe this, and have tried to serve that way as your mayor. Like a family, we must keep an open dialogue on everything of interest to each of you.”