New Hanover County candidates square off in forums - WECT, weather & sports Wilmington, NC

New Hanover County candidates square off in forums

Sheriff Ed McMahon and challenger Jason Vaughn on stage during their candidate forum Tuesday night at the Senior Resource Center. (Source: WECT) Sheriff Ed McMahon and challenger Jason Vaughn on stage during their candidate forum Tuesday night at the Senior Resource Center. (Source: WECT)

Nearly all of the candidates running for local office in New Hanover County met at the Senior Resource Center Tuesday night, taking part in candidate forums sponsored by WECT and the League of Women Voters of the Lower Cape Fear.

NHC Sheriff's Candidates

A large crowd gathered for the first of the three forums, for the candidates running for Sheriff.

Incumbent Sheriff Ed McMahon is running for a second full term in the office. McMahon took over when Sid Causey retired in 2009, and was elected the next year to a first term. 

Jason Vaughn is a former Sheriff's Deputy and Corrections officer, currently working as an attorney in Wilmington. The two disagreed on several issues, including whether residents in New Hanover County are safer now than they were when McMahon was first elected.

“If we think we are safer than we were just a couple of years ago, then I think we're not paying attention,' said Vaughn when asked the question. “What about the fact that we are 33 percent higher crime rate than Brunswick County, and we are more than double that of Pender County, according to the North Carolina Uniform Crime Report. Now those are the facts."

"My primary responsibility, and what I'm funded for are the un-incorporated areas, the areas outside of the city, and they are absolutely safer,” McMahon countered. “From 2009 until the end of 2013, those unincorporated areas, your major crimes are down 16.9 percent, almost 17 percent."

NHC Commissioners Race

Two Commissioners' seats are open in New Hanover County. They currently belong to Brian Berger and Thomas Wolfe, who are not seeking re-election. 

Derrick Hickey is a member of the Board of Education making his second attempt at joining the Board of Commissioners. 

Patricia Spear is running for elected office for the first time. 

Skip Watkins unsuccessfully ran for a City Council seat in Wilmington in 2013, while Rob Zapple ran for County Commission and came up short in 2012. 

They agreed on many of the issues discussed in the forum, including support of a study that looked at potential consolidation of city and county fire services.

“I would support consolidation of the fire departments, and I would also support looking at other places where we could consolidate to have efficient, cost-effective services without a decrease in service quality,” said Hickey.

The candidates were also asked about a recent series of reports by WECT that uncovered spending by current commissioners and county officials that some consider frivolous. Each candidate supported requiring itemized receipts for any meal the county pays for, which is not a current county policy.

"Any item that the county tax payers are paying for should be itemized and should be turned in just like you would any other business or corporation,' Zapple said in his response. “Certainly in my business that happens."

Watkins agreed. "We need to reassure the voters and the tax payers that their money is being spent well and how it's being spent, I've got no problem with an itemized list," he said.

The group basically agreed on the use of incentives as a tool to lure potential new businesses into New Hanover County, although Hickey said that in general, he views incentives as unfair and favoring one group over another, but in today's business climate they are needed. Spear believes they can be a way of bringing in new jobs and increasing the tax base in the county.

NHC School Board

Six of the seven candidates for School Board appeared at Tuesday night's forum. Ed Higgins is on a family trip and did not attend. 

Two other incumbents, Janice Cavenaugh and Don Hayes, were present. Hickey's seat on the School Board is open, since he chose to run for County Commission instead of for re-election. 

Challengers include former County Manager Bruce Shell, running for elected office for a first time. 

Tom Gale ran for the newly-drawn state House District 20 seat in 2012, but lost to Rick Catlin. 

Chris Meek is a teacher who worked in the New Hanover County schools before taking a job in Onslow County so he could run for the School Board. 

Emma Saunders is a retired educator who ran for school board previously but was unsuccessful. Both Meek and Saunders filed to run as part of the “Red for Ed” campaign that organized early in 2014 to advocate for teachers' rights.

Early voting in North Carolina begins October 23, and Election Day is November 4.

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