NHC Commissioner Candidates

By Staff Reports, posted Oct 16, 2020
Voters can pick three of the six New Hanover County commissioner candidates. Early vot­ing runs through Oct. 31, and Election Day is Nov. 3. For more info, go to the county’s Board of Elections website at
1. What would you do in office to promote economic development?
2. If elected, would you vote to change the contract to sell NHRMC to Novant Health that was recently approved?
Editor’s note: The current board of commissioners approved the final agreement on Oct. 5, and the deal is expected to close sometime in the first half of 2021. There is a $25 million fee if either side breaks the deal before then.
3. Name three specific goals you would have while in office.

Jonathan Barfield, Jr.

Occupation: Broker/ owner, Barfield & Asso­ciates Realty
Experience: Served 12 years on the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners, four times as chair and three times as vice-chair

1. “The first pillar of econom­ic development is a strong public education system and our commu­nity college as many companies when they look to locate in our area are concerned about the quality of education their children will receive. CFCC plays a vital role in helping to create a trained and skilled work­force so that employers can be ready to open their operation day one with the ability to recruit locally. Lastly, continue to partner with our eco­nomic development partners WBD, WDI, the Chamber of Commerce – support them in the work that they do in promoting our county, but also put the tools in their hands that they can do just that.”

2. “With the contract that was just passed if it were to be broken by either party that party would have to pay a $25-million breakage fee. I supported the sell based on 12 years of serving as a county commissioner and four years serving on NHRMC’s Board of Trustees, based on infor­mation received from the culmina­tion of the PAG meetings and all of the briefings and updates that I received. I would not want to deliver to the citizens of New Hanover County a $25-million-dollar bill to pay because I know want to change the terms of the deal.”

3. (1) “Have an increased focus on housing affordability. As we recruit more companies to our county there must be an affordable housing stock that will serve all salary ranges of their operation, not to mention the many UNCW graduates that would greatly benefit our county by keep­ing their talents here.
(2) Increased funding and focus on mental health and substance use disorders services in our county.
(3) Have an update to the Garner Report to see what new opportuni­ties may exist for our region.”

Leslie Cohen

Occupation: Business owner/artist
Experience: Title IX Committee of NHC Schools, 2018 candidate for N.C. House 20

1. “Companies want to be located in places where it is easy to recruit and retain employees. Making New Hanover County a better place to live and work also makes it a better place to do business. We are facing unprecedented challenges during the global pandemic and the economic fallout that it has wrought. I will work closely with the Chamber of Commerce, local business leaders and small business owners to support businesses as we recover. I will also work with the state legislature to re­instate permanent film incentives and restore more of those good-paying jobs to our county.”

2. “It’s not clear that changing that contract will be possible. I would have liked for different partnership models to be explored before settling on an outright sale. If other options are still available, I think they should be weighed before a final decision is made. The hospital is a community asset, and we must protect our local assets for a healthy financial future and to ensure the highest quality healthcare for our region.”
3. “(1) Move the 4 p.m. board meetings to 6 p.m., reinstate and televise board agenda review meet­ings and make work sessions publicly accessible.
(2) To fully fund WAVE Transit and build it into a robust system to serve all our citizens as we grow over the next several decades.
(3) To give our public schools the support they need to keep our chil­dren, our teachers and support staff, and our families safe and healthy as we recover from the COVID crisis.”

Deb Hays

Occupation: Realtor/ Broker
Experience: Wilmington Planning Commission chair, the Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee, Wilmington Downtown Inc., chair and commissioner of the Wilmington Housing Authority

1. “Focused Effort – research, realize and agree on type of compa­nies and jobs we need and want then target our efforts accordingly. We are most competitive with small- to mid-sized companies that have proven to thrive here, spawning additional startups that provide a continual incubator (ex: Live Oak Bank, Castl­eBranch, nCino, tekMountain).
Focused Approach – a united marketing and economic develop­ment effort creating a comprehensive and common marketing approach for our area. This would deliver a collaborative and consistent theme, showcasing an impactful reoccur­ring message for all to use whether it be for recruiting companies, jobs, students, etc.”

2. “No … the focus of effort now needs to be on the priorities for use of the proceeds; in particular the community foundation. This unprec­edented opportunity has the poten­tial to benefit the citizens of New Hanover County for generations to come … a true game-changer for our community. Care, diligence and attention need to be paid to every formative step throughout the process and on-going. This has an even greater potential than the Duke Endowment. We have a responsibil­ity to our current and future gen­erations to create a foundation of community care that is inclusive of all our citizens.”

3. “(1) Economic & Job Growth – Economic Development with a Focused Effort and Approach! Con­tinue to support and enhance those businesses, small and large, that have made our area home.
(2) Education – the core of ev­erything we do! Strong educational foundation and supportive plan must continue to be enhanced to provide the skills necessary for a dynamic workforce.
(3) Opportunity Housing and Quality of Life – Live, Work, Play in the same area is opportunity housing. Strong paying jobs provide housing affordability in more ways than any other solution. The work is now to enact for the preservation of the charm of our County while moving forward positively for all citizens.”

Kyle Horton

Occupation: Internal medicine physician and public policy advocate
Experience: 2018 Democratic congressio­nal nominee for North Carolina’s 7th District

1. “COVID has made job reten­tion difficult – let alone job creation. While I hope that stimulus funds like the EIDL, PPP, and Golden Leaf loans will increase; I will support small businesses as well as sole proprietorships and minority-owned businesses given worsening dispar­ities. I’ll support tax incentives and credits to create jobs in industries expanding to meet public health needs. Now is a unique opportunity to invest in infrastructure including advancing the Stormwater Utility ef­forts, building affordable/workforce housing and investing in workforce training for less-skilled workers to get them job-ready for the future.”

2. “It will depend on the Attorney General’s review. The community foundation should be accountable to the taxpayers. This is our hospital, and its proceeds are our money that should be managed in a publicly accountable foundation governed by public meetings law. There are public foundations granted expand­ed authority for riskier investment strategies garnering higher ROIs. I still believe this should’ve been a ballot referendum and the process delayed in respect to the pandemic and possible electoral change. Larger monopolies could bring layoffs, higher costs and lower wages. I will protect jobs and get the best deal for taxpayers.”

3. (1) “To restore faith in leadership with improved transparency by shifting meeting times away from 9-5 hours, restoring the agenda meetings and hosting regular town halls to engage the public.
(2) Strengthen public education by increasing the local teacher salary supplement as well as support staff yearly supplements. I’m also committed to investments in increased broadband and internet access which is even more necessary with COVID.
(3) Smart growth with reduced traffic: sustainably fund WAVE and invest in public transit to get cars off the road, reduce fossil fuel consumption and improve convenience working toward a more rider-friendly, walkable and bikeable community.”

Bill Rivenbark

Occupation: Retired
Experience: Current New Hanover County school board member
1. “To promote economic development, I would ensure our natural resources are protected, support our public schools as well as our institutes of higher learning such as Cape Fear Community College and UNCW. The most desirable employers and organizations want to invest and locate in areas where their employees want to live, their children can get an exceptional education and a well-trained workforce is available. By keeping our air and waterways clean, making our education system the best it can be and supporting a well-trained workforce, we will continue to be seen as a great place to live, work and invest.”
2. “I watched NHRMC born on the backs of our local physicians, citizens and philanthropists. While I’m not a fan of giving that away for a quick payout, I understand in order to continue to meet the needs of our region requires significant financial investment that the hospital isn’t prepared to make. I do support private/public partnerships, and though I’m not fluent in the intricacies, it speaks volumes to me that unanimous decision from the diverse PAG group and 17 of the 18-member NHRMC Board voted in support of moving forward with the Novant/UNC partnership with only one dissenting vote.”
3. (1) “Renew our commitment to ensuring our health, education and human services are funded, efficient and effective for all county residents. This includes fully funding schools and improving the conduit between all departments to ensure our most vulnerable citizens are fully supported in a collaborative fashion.
(2) To enhance the partnerships between vocational education and industry, we can make our region a place where our students can get great jobs and attract employers looking for skilled workforces.
(3) Preserve and protect our natural resources and quality of living in the area to ensure continued quality of life for all citizens.”

Skip Watkins

Occupation: Financial adviser and University of Mount Olive economics instructor
Experience: NHC commissioner (2014-18), NHC Board of Elections
1. “Like most communities, New Hanover County wants high-quality jobs. But competition is fierce. We must use our strengths. The county already has a strong incentive plan if needed. We work closely with Wilmington Business Development and related support groups. We have strong banking and pharma startups here and should leverage those. We must sell our quality of life (i.e. beaches, etc.) but also maintain a business friendly environment. We must also encourage existing businesses in their growth.”
2. “The county entered into a three-party contract. All members would have to agree to any changes. None could happen unilaterally. If any party breaks the contract there is a $25 million penalty. I cannot imagine a situation warranting a change unless all three groups agreed.”
3. “(1) To maintain fiscal responsibility. I helped spearhead the first property tax reduction in over 25 years with taxpayers keeping $10 million per year in their pockets and STILL increased education funding.
(2) To provide opportunities for everyone via economic growth by partnering with the business community, WBD, community leaders, leaders in education and relevant stakeholders.
(3) Basically follow a common sense approach to governing as I did previously as a commissioner.”
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