WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – Three Democrats and three Republicans are running for three seats on the ballot in the New Hanover County Commission race. In a forum Tuesday night hosted by WECT and the League of Women Voters of the Lower Cape Fear, the six candidates shared similar views on issues facing elected leaders on the county commission.
All six candidates said they opposed taxpayer money being used to build a stadium in downtown Wilmington. Asked if they would support re-opening talks with the City of Wilmington to build a stadium downtown, if the $37 million bond referendum fails in November, current Chairman of the County Commission Jonathan Barfield was adamantly against the idea. "If the voters say they don't want a stadium here, why would I as a county commissioner give them something they do not want?" Barfield said during the forum. Others like Woody White said if leaders had spent as much time on other pressing issues as they did on the stadium issue, they could have solved problems like funding the public utility authority or stopping sewage spills into Hewlett's Creek.
Robert Zapple joined several others in saying they would want to revisit the recent decision commissioners made not to enter into a contract with Covanta to refurbish the county incinerator. "I think the Covanta proposal was a responsible, forward-thinking proposal that gave New Hanover County a solid waste disposal policy that reached out 20 to 30 years," Zapple said. "It would save our valuable landfill space here in New Hanover County, it stabilizes the tipping fees so we are not held hostage by other landfills or trucking companies, it protects the taxpayer and most importantly, it takes responsibility for our trash."
The candidates were also in agreement against any bill that would allow a citizen recall election to remove a commissioner deemed "not acting in the public interest, although several did mention needing some type of process to accomplish the same goal. "A recall election spends a lot of money and goes for weeks at a time," said candidate Robert Murray. "But I think there should be ruled that we follow that would give a recourse to removing someone from public office that is not living up to the standards of that office." Candidate Beth Dawson echoed Murray's sentiment. "I believe a recall election is a scary path to start down. I would rather find other alternative ways to handle that."
Woody White believes commissioners must work in tandem with other government entities when it comes to economic development, and criticized the current commissioners. "When we have companies looking to move here, or looking to expand, they look at our leaders sometimes and scratch their heads," White said during the forum. "They say, ‘what's going on down there?' The city and the county fight, they don't talk sometimes. Our county has walked away from critical decision-making, and critical issues."
On the issue of funding requests by local agencies, boards and other groups, Derrick Hickey said Commissioners need to prioritize its responsibilities when it comes to spending. "Government cannot be everything to everybody," Hickey said. "In a perfect world, or if we can grow our economy, potentially we can fund these organizations, But first, we have to concentrate on the essential duties of government."
In the second forum of the night at the Northeast Public Library, the six candidates running for three seats on the school board also met to answer questions important to the campaign. Few questions brought drastic differences of opinion, except when the candidates were asked about whether they support the concept of charter schools and home schools, and what impact those programs have on public schools in New Hanover County.
Candidate Emma Saunders says county school administrators can learn from parents who choose to put their children in charter schools. "NHC schools should probably think in terms of ‘what is causing parents to want their children to go to another school other than a public school," Saunders said. "I am almost certain that they (charter schools) do not offer the same quality that we offer in the public schools."
"Charter schools are not our enemy," said incumbent board member Jeannette Nichols, who added that she supports parents having the right to choose what they think is the best education plan or process for their child. "If they (charter schools) can offer something we cannot offer, and I doubt it very seriously, perhaps that is where that child should go."
Candidate Tammy Covil is another proponent of school choice. She noted statistics about charter schools operating in North Carolina. "In 2011-2012, 65% of the charter schools in operation met state benchmarks, as opposed to 46% of our traditional schools." Covil said. "25% of those schools were Honor Schools of Excellence, as opposed to 10% of our traditional schools."
Incumbent Elizabeth Redenbaugh said she supports parent choice, just not with taxpayer dollars. "I believe charter schools are really private schools paid for by taxpayer dollars," Redenbaugh said during the discussion. "Charter schools don't have the same requirements that a traditional public school, they don't have to provide lunches or transportation. If you play that out down the road and you have more charter schools popping up, then you will have a diverse community within our traditional public schools. Charter schools will be for the wealthy and the less fortunate will be in public schools."
Candidate Karen Beatty said she would be in favor of a cap on charter schools in North Carolina, and believes charter schools could serve a purpose in educating children. "I would be in favor of a specialized school that offers special training that prepares students for careers." Beatty also says traditional schools should look at what's working in charter schools that may not be working in the public schools, and determine why some think different types of schools are needed.
Lisa Estep was the most vocal in support of the charter school concept, saying the money from federal, state and local governments does not belong to the Board of Education. "We're arguing over something we should not be arguing about," Estep said. "It's not our right to say "You shouldn't have the ability to go there because we don't like it because those are our dollars.' Those are not "our" dollars. They belong to the student. If the student and the parents feel that they are not getting what they need in the public school system, then the charter school is where they should be able to look. We should have choices."
Please check back soon, as the video from these forums will be posted along with this story.
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