A Conversation With Apex’s Incumbent Mayor Jacques Gilbert
I got the opportunity to sit down with Apex’s Incumbent Mayor, Jacques Gilbert. Jacques has served in the Apex Police Department for twenty-nine years and has built his campaign on fostering solid community relationships. We discussed topics that affect Apex citizens from all walks of life.
Tell me about yourself.
There’s so many things I like to do. I just like to hang out with people, and help as many people as possible. I would attribute that to being a native here in Apex and my mom raising me in a small town. She embedded in me the core values or loving others, putting God first, and helping out as many people as possible. And that’s what I’m trying to do everyday.
You have been seen at Apex High sporting events since we transitioned to the state of the art building on Laura Duncan, for those Legacy readers after the class of 2020, who never experienced the old building, how would you say it has changed since you attended school there. And in fact, how has Apex as a whole changed since you were born here some time ago?
There’s parallels there for sure. It is a complete transformation, in a good way. I would start out by talking about living here as a boy and then a young man. It’s quite slow here; there was one grocery store, which was Piggly Wiggly, and then we also had a small convenience store called Apex Food Mart. At eight o’ clock at night, things just kind of stopped; there was really nothing to do, and buildings were older. But the great thing about back then was everyone knew one another, and it was just good fellowship that embodied the biblical teaching, “Love thy neighbor”.
Today, at Apex High School, the difference is an older campus and older buildings. I remember all the roaches had their own names, and I would talk to them every now and then. There were smoke barrels in the courtyard, and unbelievably you could smoke on campus. I also drove a school bus at the age of sixteen and a half. But really, it was just an old facility, but the spirit was still here. The real spirit and passion of Apex was still here.
So now, moving forward seeing this new campus. There’s thousands of square feet of greatness, and I’m jealous a little bit. But at the same time I’m so happy for you, the student body, and the staff. And I love the gathering areas where people can come together and collaborate. That’s the Apex we’re seeing today. Our diversity is rapidly growing, and people are joining in from all parts of the world, and I’m excited about that.
As Apex grows, I hope that we can still keep what we had in the past Apex, where we are great neighbors who live, serve, and walk together in unity.
You graduated from Apex High and then served as the Apex High School SRO about fifteen years ago. As we have entered the age of E-cigarettes and iPhones, some would say aspects of the SRO’s job today have changed. Now they have become public health advocates armed with judicial – prisons systems to punish and treat addiction. How do you think vaping, teen nicotine, and cannabis use in schools should be handled, particularly in Apex?
Well being here for six years as an SRO was the highlight of my twenty-nine year police career. I think most people see a police officer on campus as playing the role of an enforcer, and that is not the primary role. The main role for a police officer is to develop relationships. That SRO, you have SRO Mellenberger, and SRO Allen, they’re there to help people. And there are things that can be considered distractions in the learning environment including some of the things that you mentioned (nicotine and cannabis use). But when it comes to addictions, there are many; I personally am addicted to my cell phone. We just have to educate, and SROs are an important part of that process in educating our students and staff of the dangers we seen as police officers and how these actions can affect the quality of life for the student and their family. It is not about the enforcement or acting as a strong eye trying to sniff out those students who are not doing the right things. If we are part of the process in helping students improve their life by removing those distractions, that’s a great thing, and that’s what we will do. We don’t want anybody to looked at as a target because they participate in those activities. It is more about how we can help you eliminate those distractions that can take you off course. At the end of the day, you’re here [Apex High School] because this is part of your process to become who you desire to be, and that’s what we’re here to help you do.
Your “three pillars” to build a bridge to a bright future are compassion, community, and commerce. I want to hone in on commerce specifically. The population of Apex has doubled from twenty-five thousand to over fifty thousand in the past 15 years give or take. With this population boom, comes huge increases in land development and land use. How do you think the economic benefits of expansion should be balanced with the environmental impacts of increasing human land use? And what should Apex be doing now during this time of exponential growth, to prepare for the inevitable stagnation of any economy?
Well, I’d like to start out by saying that we are positioned well here in Apex. We’re in the Triangle Area; we have proximity to so many great things. I want to continue that and maintain Apex’s attractiveness to anyone. But with that comes challenges. There are many people working together to try to mitigate those challenges. We have great staff at the Town of Apex who have put in many hard hours developing a land use plan, as well as a vision. But with that, as things evolve and grow, adjustments are needed.
I’d use an analogy if I could.The number one college basketball team in America is the North Carolina Tarheels. When Roy Williams takes his Tar Heels into the Cameron Indoor Stadium to play the Duke Blue Devils, he has a game plan, with a direction. But when they arrive at Cameron, the unexpected happens. Duke is a strong team who’s making shots and running stellar plays that Roy did not consider. So, Roy, although he doesn’t like to, must call a time-out to make adjustments.
I think that’s where we are today, we have a game plan, but the growth is happening so rapidly, we’re just not prepared. It’s not a fault of any person; it’s just the unpredictable. I saw some data today that said if no new Residential Land Permits were granted starting today, we will grow from fifty-eight to seventy thousand residents. So we have exceeded the projection of sixty- thousand by 2020.
So with those challenges, we need to involve everyone. There cannot be any lines. People may have the perception that they cannot get involved in Apex’s transformation while ensuring a great quality of life for everyone. It takes everyone; it takes the youth. The youth need to come to the table with us because they have great ideas and can lead us in a great direction.
As a Police Captain of twenty-nine years and founder of Blue Lights College, you have placed a high importance on the connection of public servants and the community. Your program focuses on training a new generation of police officers ways to better connect and empathize with their community’s needs while still maintaining safety and order. This is admirable and will better the next generation of cops, but how would you go about retraining or changing the deeply ingrained teachings of an old style of policing, less focused on outreach and more on enforcement in police officers in Apex and throughout the country?
This is a call to action for young people. Maybe it is not that they all become Police Officers. I think this new generation has a unique way of getting people charged up. Not to cause harm but to advocate for the best thing for our community, or our nation. Blue Lights College is just a component of that. We know we can’t do it alone, and we can’t get every single person to believe that the police are here to serve. Unfortunately, years ago we were trained differently, and I was a part of that. It was all about enforcement; this is how you can see people doing things wrong and how you can put them in jail. I think that has to change. I truly believe there are people who have made mistakes, or bad choices, but it does not define who they are. Police officers with that mindset are the kind we need because it helps involve more people with nationwide change and improvement.
It is hard to retrain; it can be done, but it takes a longer period to retrain versus starting fresh and introducing a new approach. That is what we’re doing at Blue Lights College. We’re trying to help potential officers understand it’s about serving other people. We need young people, leaders in their communities to spread this message and change the view of policing.
What is one area of focus that Apex excels in in your mind? What is one area that could use more attention and support?
Apex excels at having a quality of life founded by the people long before us in the town. We still have a very small town atmosphere here; we still have just two high schools, and that is a great atmosphere. But we are going to grow, and that’s going to be the challenge. We have to answer the question of, “Who are we going to become?” Our diversity is the best part about Apex, but we need a vision founded on simple principles to continue into the future and maintain that.
Apex could work on getting everyone involved. We must involve the entire town. We get to honed in on certain things, for certain people, and a lot of people’s voices aren’t heard. Many believe there’s a line, and that they cannot cross it. I want to erase those lines and emphasize that we’re all in this together. As well, I want to encourage people to bring solutions to the table, instead of simply voicing complaints.
I want us to walk in unity. We’re in this together.
What is your go to cookout tray?
Chicken Sandwich. Hush Puppies. Fries. A Large Tea. No Cajun Fries
Captain Gilbert’s campaign has themes of unity and togetherness. He is seeking to lead Apex into a new era, facilitated by the ideas of the young people of our community. Apex is changing, and according to the Captain, the best way to ensure it changes for the better is by offering everyone a seat at the table.