NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - Republican voters in New Hanover County have seven candidates to choose from in deciding who they want to nominate for county commissioner. Two of the candidates, Woody White and Beth Dawson, are running for re-election in 2016. One candidate, Derrick Hickey, served a term as a member of the county school board. The four other candidates, John Babb, Jim Brumit, Campbell Dodd and Patricia Kusek, have experience serving as volunteers on county boards or committees.
White, who is an attorney, served in the General Assembly in 2004 when he was selected to fill an expired term in the North Carolina Senate. In his first term as county commissioner he was elected to serve as Chairman for 2012-13. White says one of his priorities if re-elected would be to focus on reducing crime in the county. "One of the goals that I have, and Jim Brumit and Patricia Kusek that I'm running with have, is to focus on where we can have effective law enforcement," White said. "Because a high crime rate adversely affects our economic development efforts, it adversely affects people moving their businesses here and growing their businesses here, and it makes us spend more money to incarcerate people. That's a big challenge."
Dawson is the current Chair of the county commissioners after being elected to her first term in 2012. Retired from the banking industry, she served on several local volunteer boards before seeking political office. Dawson sees economic development as a priority if voters give her a second term. "Economic development and job creation especially, we need to continue to recruit businesses and retain the businesses we have, and encourage them to grow," Dawson said. "Along with that we need to have a strong community college system that can provide that workforce training for those businesses looking to grow here."
Derrick Hickey is an orthopedic surgeon who served a term on the New Hanover County Board of Education from 2010-2014. Along with continuing to improve the county schools, Hickey also mentioned fighting crime as a priority. "We need to start with public safety, people need to feel safe,' Hickey said. "I don't know if you watched the last county commissioners meeting. They (commissioners) brought the sheriff up and they asked him about jail overcrowding, and what he thought a new program would do for it. It was clear he didn't feel comfortable talking to the commissioners in an honest way. We need to be honest with ourselves about the problems we are facing in this community."
Pat Kusek is a financial advisor, and is a member of the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority Board, serving as the Chair for the past two years. She stressed the county must be fiscally responsible, and must improve when it comes to recruiting new industries. "It's a wonderful place full of resources, and if we can attract business and industry to come into the area, that brings what everyone has said, in survey after survey, they are concerned about good paying jobs," Kusek said. "Industry and jobs do what? They bring our tax base up. That means we can keep our taxes level, and we have enough money to have great schools and keep our community safe."
Jim Brumit retired after serving 35 years in the Army, and received Master's Degrees in Business Administration, and Military Arts and Science. Like Kusek, Brumit is a member of the CFPUA Board, and stresses fiscal responsibility for the county. He also supports giving high school students another option as they prepare for future careers. "I would like to see that we add a vocational school here in the area," Brumit said. "We need to offer an alternative for young people, boys and girls, than the traditional four-year or two-year (programs). If we could add a vocational school then what would happen is they would have a career that would pay good money and probably would keep them off the streets."
John Babb is also retired from the military, serving in both the Navy and the Marine Corps. He serves on the Cape Fear Community College Board of Trustees, and believes it is time for new leadership to pave a new path for the county. "I think we have reached a point in time where the same old way of doing business will not suffice," Babb said. "We are critically behind in our ability to gather new industry coming in. You hear all of the candidates talk about the 'Big 3', economic development, education and infrastructure. However, there are two more important elements there that need to be discussed, public safety and public trust."
Campbell Dodd is a certified real estate appraiser, and member of the New Hanover County Special Board of Equalization and Review. That position has given Dodd a look at one of the issues he thinks must be addressed if he is elected, the special use permit process that he calls "a hindrance for companies to come to town and manufacturers to come to town". Dodd also would like to be innovative when it comes to education. "We do some good things at Cape Fear Community College with training these kids to be in industry, but we need to expose our kids to that in the ninth grade maybe, and have a program where they are partnered with some of our larger manufacturing facilities or like a PPD, or the hospital to give them that taste of 'well, maybe college is a good thing, but maybe something else is there for me'."