The board of commissioners is the oldest form of county government in the country. They approve budgets, oversee spending and hire county employees.
While a race for a county commissioner seat isn’t as sexy as the battle for governor or president, for those living in the county the impact of the commissioners will arguably have more to do with daily life than who is sitting in the big chair up in Raleigh or Washington D.C.
In New Hanover County the commissioners are elected at-large by a countywide election, with elections held every two years. The commissioners elect a chairman and vice chairman during their first meeting each December.
There are five commissioners in New Hanover County, and three of those slots are up for election. A term for the position lasts four years.
Chairwoman Beth Dawson was defeated in the GOP primary, so her seat is available. Current Commissioner Woody White’s seat is also up for grabs, as is that of vice-chairman Jonathan Barfield Jr.
This year there are six individuals running for those three seats, beginning with White and Barfield who are both running for reelection.
In addition, two other Democrats and two Republicans are aiming for county commissioner slots.
For the GOP, Derrick Hickey and Patricia Kusek have their eyes on the prize. On the other side of the aisle, Julia Boseman and political newcomer Nelson Beaulieu are two more Democrats running for the commission post.
Early voting starts Oct. 20, and Election Day is Nov. 8.
We invited each candidate to answer the following four questions about business-related issues in the county:
1. If elected, what would you do to promote economic development?
2. What specific sectors should the county focus on to grow jobs and what role would you have as commissioner in helping attract those jobs?
3. What are you looking for in the county’s new Special Use Permit process and guidelines?
4. On what projects should local transportation dollars be prioritized?
5. Name three specific goals you would have while in office.
Political experience: New Hanover County Board of Education 2010-14
1. Government does not create jobs. What government can do is create an environment that is hospitable to investment. That starts with lowering taxes and eliminating unnecessary regulations. We must continue to support our public education system, vocational education and CFCC and continue our partnerships with UNCW. This will provide the educated population that business requires. We must reduce crime, ensure public safety and protect our natural environment so that people and business will want to relocate here. And we must be open to use any of the tools in the toolbox available under North Carolina law.
2. NHC needs to attract good paying jobs. We should welcome the interest of any business or industry. The county-funded Garner Report identified those industries where NHC held a competitive advantage. Innovate NC has pursued marine science research and development. We must aggressively pursue the other targets in the report: high value office operations, precision manufacturing and aircraft assembly and maintenance. Lastly, our area is blessed with a growing commercial port. We must promote our port and expand the use of the free trade zone to attract customs-free manufacturing to our region.
3. We need a special use permitting process that is clear and straightforward such that any individual or business can comply with it. New Hanover County is growing, and growth is good. We should encourage and assist any and all businesses that could have an interest in making New Hanover County their home with this process. Property rights are important, and people should be allowed to do what they want on their own property. But our property rights end at our property line. We need to bring in diverse businesses that have good, high paying jobs, but we can’t do that at the expense of the quality of life. Our special use permitting process should reflect this.
4. Transportation dollars should best be allocated toward projects that will provide the greatest economic benefit. Traffic congestion is getting worse. People are clearly frustrated with the recent approval of high density developments across the county without infrastructure in place to support it. Our past leadership’s answer has been to install traffic lights every few hundred yards rather than introducing overpasses at congested areas. Now we spend more time sitting in traffic than we spend at our actual destinations. Sustainable development mandates that measures be taken to ensure our residents’ quality of life, which includes expediting travel around the area.
5. Decrease crime: Improving public safety in our community is paramount. One of the first things that both individuals and businesses consider when selecting an area to locate or relocate is how safe it is.
Increase quality of public education: Individuals and businesses alike consider the quality of public education in a community.
Bring the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority under the N.C. Utilities Commission: Overregulation hurts business. But when an individual business is given a monopoly, it requires oversight. We must hold the CFPUA to the same standards of accountability to the public as other public utilities.
Political experience: NHC Board of Commissioners 2000-04; N.C. Senate 2005-11
1. I would promote economic development by ensuring the infrastructure is installed in the 421 corridor, revamp the SUP process to make it easier for businesses to come to New Hanover County, build a vocational high school so that our students are trained for the jobs we are attracting and create a department in county government as recommended by the Garner Report that would work to bring good paying jobs to New Hanover County.
2. Along with what I said in question 1, I think we need to work to bring multi-use development, advanced manufacturing jobs, small businesses and businesses that will not destroy our natural resources. I think this can be accomplished by updating our Unified Development Ordinance, revamping our SUP process, providing an exceptional education opportunity for all of our students and building our tax base instead of increasing taxes.
3. I think the SUP process needs to be revamped to make it easier for businesses to locate in New Hanover County that allows our economy to thrive with our environment rather than wilt under unchecked industry.
4. Transportation dollars should be used for the Cape Fear Crossing (formerly Cape Fear Skyway) to provide an additional bridge connecting New Hanover and Brunswick counties, improvements on South College Road and the widening and improvement of 421/Carolina Beach Road.
5. My three specific goals would be to adequately support education which includes early childhood education and a vocational high school, updating the SUP process and UDO to provide growth opportunities with the proper planning and infrastructure in place for residential and business development and to work to bring jobs to New Hanover County through the methods mentioned in the previous answers.
Political experience: N.C. Senate 2004; NHC Board of Commissioners 2012-present
1. I would continue to work hard to make certain that the Hwy. 421 corridor has water and sewer services. Having this critical infrastructure has eluded our county for decades. After working hard with many other parties, we are now on the verge of getting it done. Once completed, it will ensure that manufacturing and industry grows in the area close to transportation hubs. I would also continue a strong relationship with Wilmington Business Development, the chamber of commerce and other pro-business groups with whom we have enjoyed many years of solid outcomes.
2. Government does not grow jobs. Sometimes it acts like it does, but most people know that the private sector decides when to risk capital and make the investments for job growth. The things we can do as government are: ensure that we live in a safe community; provide infrastructure (see above); support funding to ensure excellent public education; and keep taxes low. If we do these things, the private sector will do the rest.
3. I am looking for the right balance between protecting our businesses and in protecting our environment. It is a political and policy balance that sets forth clear rules that are easy to understand and that are transparent. That way, any company looking to move – or expand – here knows what the rules are, and the community knows in advance what is planned.
4. Those that have direct impact on diverting through-traffic from highly-traveled areas, and those that make the roadways safer.
5. Lower our crime rates. Lower our property taxes. Promote strong leadership for county government.
CFCC professor of history and political science
Political Experience: First run for elected office
1. I would offer more competitive incentive packaging. In 2016 incentives are a reality of economic development and are required to attract most employers. I would market our county more aggressively. We are a county with a lot to offer prospective employers. We must highlight what we do well and the assets we possess that businesses find valuable. Finally, I would form a lobby with other boards of commission throughout the state to put public pressure on Raleigh to restore the film incentives and repeal HB2. Both have cost the state millions of dollars and thousands of jobs.
2. The Garner Report identifies industries that are a match to our small coastal community. The airport is an outstanding asset that has not been fully utilized. I would aggressively seek out businesses that could help us maximize the economic effectiveness of that asset. I would seek partnerships between prospective employers and CFCC in fields such as emerging technologies and marine and life sciences and make sure that they know the county can provide them with a knowledgeable and effective work force. I would seek out companies in these areas rather than waiting for companies to consider our county.
3. I support the Special Use Permit. It is not a block to growth. It is a block to growth we don’t want. I’m looking for citizen input and consideration of our special environmental circumstances. Each citizen moves in to a certain area of the county with an understanding about their surrounding environment. Before the surrounding areas changes the citizen deserves a say about the nature of that change. We must also be concerned about our unique size and environmental circumstances. We have one small county and our natural environment is a big part of the reason for what makes it so special. No industry is worth risking the treasures that we already have.
4. Products that can move us toward a permanent solution of our traffic problem. Counties cannot build their way out of such large growth with roads alone. We need to prioritize walkability with more bike paths and more sidewalks. We also need to look at bringing mass transit to Wilmington in partnership with the beach communities and our surrounding counties. New Hanover is unique, beautiful, innovative, and in an excellent position to do something special if we choose to make that investment.
5. I would try and develop a feasible and affordable way to bring a mass transit system to service New Hanover County in conjunction with Brunswick and Pender. I would develop a task force of community leaders, doctors, legal experts, law enforcement, parents and educators and members of the treatment community to come up with an innovative and concrete proposal that addresses prescription and illegal drug abuse in our community. Finally, I would work toward ending the dramatic segregation of our schools and increasing per pupil spending to make it among the highest in the state.
President and owner of Kusek Financial Group.
Political experience: Cape Fear Public Authority 2011-present; served as chair
1. We should be actively recruiting the right kind of business and industry for our county. Building a diversified economy that can call upon a variety of businesses and industries will greatly benefit NHC. We recently emerged from a difficult time when our region was not able to absorb the impacts of a tightened economy. Tourism and trade are vital, but we must move beyond our base and encourage brick and mortar manufacturers and high-tech entrepreneurs to call our county home. We also need to regain our footing with the film industry … In the end, the best incentive for economic development is a favorable tax climate.
2. We need to have diversified business and industry in NHC. That means not only tourism and hospitality jobs, but companies that make something. NHC has an incredible resource with UNCW, where talent can be directed to support budding entrepreneurs with new ideas. We need to foster this and find ways to encourage them to stay here once they are successful. We also have a fantastic resource with CFCC and the new Career and Technical Education complex, which is in the works. Providing our students with job-ready skills will also help existing businesses who have needs for additional workers.
3. Transparency and predictability, with clear expectations and requirements spelled out at the beginning of the process. The SUP is part of a long overdue overhaul of all development ordinances and zoning districts, which is now underway as a result of the unanimously adopted comprehensive plan, which sets the stage for the next 30-40 years of development and growth for our county. These ordinances have not been updated since the 1970s. From a public policy standpoint, we should follow the comprehensive plan and try to fulfill its vision through updated ordinances, including the SUP.
4. Although the county doesn’t build roads, county leadership should encourage staff to work with NCDOT and other agencies to ensure that new projects being built are evaluated in conjunction with existing development. Our priorities should be first focusing on the areas of highest traffic congestion.
5. Inject fiscal responsibility throughout the county, through working smarter, treating every taxpayer dollar as if it were my own. That includes staffing, operations, programs, services and infrastructure. Instill a sense of urgency in government. Things simply do not need to take forever. In the business world, time is money and effort pays big dividends. That philosophy can be applied to the government as well. Strike the proper balance between economic development, job creation in the manufacturing sector and the protection of our environmental assets, and exercise responsible judgment in the process.
Broker and owner of Barfield & Associates Realty
Political experience: NHC Board of Commissioners 2008-present, serving as chair and vice chair three times respectively
1. Since being elected in 2008 I have directly helped to bring over 1,000 good paying jobs to New Hanover County by working with our economic development partner WBD in providing the right infrastructure and economic incentives needed to encourage companies to make New Hanover County their home. I voted to run water and sewer down the Hwy. 421 corridor to encourage manufacturing companies to locate there. There is an old phrase “If you build it they will come.”
2. I would like for New Hanover County to be the RTP of the east coast, by increased focus on the Clinical Research cluster. We are seeing more and more people moving here with that knowledge base, and with increased effort we can grow it. I would also like to see the title Hollywood East to return, we have lost a significant number of jobs through the actions of the General Assembly whether it be the reduction of film incentives or the passage of HB2. We have seen an entire industry almost uproot itself and move to other states because of the shortsightedness of our leaders in Raleigh. I am convinced that we can rebuild.
3. Create a document and process that will give clear predictability to all in timelines, what’s permitted and where, with a table of permitted uses, with county staff being the first gatekeepers to ensure that no harm is done to New Hanover County’s quality of life and environment.
4. A third crossing over the Cape Fear River connecting New Hanover and Brunswick counties and developing a true outer loop to get traffic off of our main arterial roads. We also need to find a sustainable funding source for our public transportation system, i.e. Wave Transit and encourage citizens to use it as an alternative form of transportation which would help reduce the number of cars on our already crowded roads.
5. See the completion and opening of our Vocational and Technical High School, that will provide immediate job opportunities for students coming out of high school with no plans go to college; improve our current Special Use Permit Process as mentioned earlier; and increase job opportunities for all.
Jenny Callison - May 23, 2019
Cece Nunn - May 23, 2019
Johanna Cano - May 23, 2019
Jenny Callison - May 24, 2019
Johanna Cano - May 24, 2019
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