Commissioner candidates say managing Wake's growth critical
Posted November 2, 2016
Updated November 3, 2016
Raleigh, N.C. — Wake County voters are electing three of the seven members of the county Board of Commissioners this year, and candidates agree that the county's soaring growth is the biggest challenge they face.
After a federal appeals court in July threw out a redistricting plan adopted by the General Assembly that would have limited voters to casting ballots for candidates running in their individual district and in one of two regional districts – either the urban core or the suburban-rural ring around it – the county reverted to the districts the Board of Commissioners drew for themselves in 2011 that allows voters to cast ballots for every seat on the board.
Commissioners Chairman James West is running unopposed in District 5, while former commissioners Kenn Gardner and Erv Portman face off in District 4 and longtime Raleigh City Councilman John Odom and political newcomer Greg Ford battle in District 6.
"In local office, we don’t really deal with partisan issues, whether we’re talking about wastewater, landfills, building schools. These are inherently not partisan issues," said Portman, a Democrat and former Cary Town Council member. "I think it has a lot more to do with what you bring to the table than the label you bring."
Portman, 57, a business owner, said more emphasis needs to be placed on keeping up with enrollment growth in the Wake County Public School System. The county is responsible for building and maintaining school district facilities.
"We have to make sure we are providing a good optimal learning environment for people to learn," he said. "One of the things I’d like to do is to make sure our school construction matches our growth, and it doesn’t become a hindrance to our quality of life."
Gardner, 58, an architect, agrees that education is an important issue for the Board of Commissioners, along with attracting businesses and maintaining the county's environment. But he and Odom said the board needs Republican voices so taxes and other issues can be discussed more thoroughly.
"It’s all one-sided. It’s all Democrats. They don’t have open debate. They don’t talk about issues," Gardner said. "I think we’re stronger when we have both parties at the table, people who are willing to look at the issues in a different way."
"I think it’s always important to have a balance. I think there needs to be a voice of conservativists, and I think there needs to be a voice that doesn’t say, 'Let's tax somebody' every time you turn around," said Odom, 69, a business owner.
Both Republican candidates said they have worked on bipartisan solutions before and are open to supporting a county transit plan if voters approve a half-cent increase to the local sales tax rate in this election.
"There are 11 municipalities (in Wake County), and we need to make sure they’re connected," Odom said. "I’m for the transit. I don’t like everything in there, but I want to make sure the money is spent well."
"My focus is how do we strategically use our resources," Gardner said.
Ford, 43, a former teacher and principal, said he would bring a new perspective to the board.
"We really need to invest in our infrastructure and people. That includes not only our educators, but our health and human services folks, our first responders," he said.
Like Portman, Ford said the county needs to do better at keeping pace with school growth.
"We want to make sure we’re building schools for the growth is coming, but they’re also renovating our schools that are currently serving our population so those students have quality experiences as well," he said. "There are a variety of funding sources. It’s more about what we want first, and let's have discussions as a community, and then from there, let's talk about how we can pay for it."