‘Here’s Herbie Long … he does exist’

Candidates make their pitch at meet-and-greet 

By Kevin Spradlin

County Commissioner
^ Donnie Bryant ^ Thad Ussery ^ Ben Moss ^ Donnie Richardson ^ Peggy CovingtonHerbie Long
Richmond County Sheriff
^ James Clemmons Jr. ^ Bo Frye
NC Senate District 25
^ Gene McLaurin ^ Tom McInnis ^ P.H. Dawkins

ROCKINGHAM — Education seemed to be a common theme among many candidates for local and state office during a meet-and-greet Monday evening at the Richmond County Judicial Center.

The forum was coordinated by The Pee Dee Post and served as an attempt by the five-month-old daily digital newspaper to allow voters to hear from their candidates in office in advance of the general election.

Donnie Richardson

Donnie Richardson

Fifteen of 18 candidates running for county commissioner, sheriff, state Senate District 25, Superior Court clerk, district attorney and House of Representatives District 66 made appearances at the event, as did Chris Maples, a representative for Republican Congressman Richard Hudson.

Neither challenger Antonio Blue, a Democrat and mayor of Dobbins Heights, District Court Judge Scott Brewer, who is running unopposed for re-election in District 16A, attended. Neither did Rep. Garland Pierce, who is running opposed for re-election for District 48. Rep. Ken Goodman and Clerk of Superior Court Vickie Daniel each spoke for a few minutes though, like Brewer and Pierce, face no opposition in the November election.

Henry’s Uptown Cafe, in downtown Rockingham, and Cafe on Main, in Hamlet, donated light refreshments for candidates and audience members.

Each candidate was afforded up to five minutes at the podium to speak on their campaign. There was no formal question-and-answer session in this 90-minute forum but members of the public were encouraged to interact with candidates before and after candidates’ presentations.

Donnie Richardson pointed out Dr. Dale McInnis, president of Richmond Community College in Hamlet. Richardson was the last of 14 candidates to speak.

“We can not thank this man enough,” Richardson said of the Norman native who selected to the top spot in 2010. “We need to make sure that college gets all our support. It is a No. 1 facility out there. They do a wonderful job.”

Donnie Bryant

Donnie Bryant

Commissioner Donnie Bryant and Ellerbe Telephone retiree Herbie Long, who is one of six county commission candidates vying for four available seats, also suggested education was a top priority.

Bryant, of Hoffman, noted his father taught agriculture for 34 years, his wife taught English for 30 years, two sisters teach and two daughters now teach.

“I understand education,” Bryant said. “I really think the best way to come out of this county is to educate our people. We’ve got to train the kids for the new type jobs that are available.”

Long, a Hamlet native, said that RCC is “second to none in this state. There is no one in this room who does not want more jobs and better pay for the citizens in this county. Education is the key to everything. If we can get our kids educated … (and) on to RCC, they will probably stay here in Richmond County.”

Commissioner Ben Moss said that once he had children — he and his wife, Amber, have two kids — he felt compelled to do what he could to better the situation so his children to grow up and remain in Richmond County.

Thad Ussery

Thad Ussery

“This county’s not where I want it to be,” he said. “It can be a whole lot better. But I feel, in my heart, it has got a little bit better. I would like to serve another term. I would like to have another chance to complete some of the ideas that we’ve had.”

“We’ve got a great community college,” Moss said. “We’ve got a nice workforce here. We’ve got a way to educate ’em … but Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

Commissioner Thad Ussery, on the board for 20 years, said the property tax rate was about 96 cents per $100 assessed value when he was first elected. It’s now 81 cents though the budget has doubled to $48 million from $24 million.

“We’ve had $2 billion worth of growth in the last two decades,” Ussery said. “I don’t think that’s bad for a rural, poor county. We’re not as poor as maybe some people think we are. We’ve been very blessed in Richmond County to have what we’ve got here.”

Ben Moss

Ben Moss

No one, however, mentioned RCC’s $15 million bond request made in January and subsequently withdrawn in March due to what one RCC Board of Trustee member referred to as a lack of political will. College officials had indicated that RCC, the fastest-growing two-year school in the state, was at capacity and a lack of additional classroom space would prevent it from growing.

At the same time, no candidate for county commissioner mentioned the sales tax hike referendum that could help build a sports complex along Aberdeen Road in Rockingham. Even if passed, the additional sales tax revenue — up to $700,000 per year — hasn’t been committed to the recreation project that could cost between $10 million and $12 million. County Commissioner Ben Moss, for one, has said he’s open to the idea of other projects being considered for the funds but so far, no one has come forward.

Herbie Long

Herbie Long

PeeDeePost.com readers, through comments on previous articles and through the Post’s Facebook page, have suggested it might be difficult to vote for something from which the funds could be diverted from one project or another.

Dr. Cindy Goodman, superintendent for Richmond County Schools, recently told the Carolina Journal that she might request some of that money from the commissioners — should, that is, the initiative be approved by voters. Goodman was appointed to the job in August, a month after the commissioners passed a resolution authorized the referendum.

Richardson also suggested the county should consider building an agricultural center for use by farmers in Richmond and surrounding counties.

“I think with the economic development of Richmond County, agriculture should be right up there at the top,” Richardson said.

Peggy Covington

Peggy Covington

He said the county Extension Office, the Soil and Water Conservation District and the Farm Service Agency could then move into the new building and allow the Board of Elections to move into the building on Caroline Street and share it with the Health Department.

Peggy Covington served as commissioner from 2008 to 2012 but lost her bid for re-election.

“I don’t quite know the reason why yet, ’cause everyone was always saying, ‘oh, you’re doing such a great job,'” Covington said. “When I look around the county, I feel like they’re probably missing me and could use me again.”

Covington said immigration remains a concern for her and she suggested that sales tax revenue from online sales could be a source of new revenue for Richmond County.

Richmond County Sheriff

In the race for sheriff, incumbent Democrat James Clemmons Jr. stuck to his tried-and-true 2009 platform. He said he promised county residents a plan and he’s not yet done implementing that plan.

Sheriff James Clemmons Jr.

Sheriff James Clemmons Jr.

“In 2009, as I ran for office, I told the people what my plan was,” Clemmons said. “In 2014, nothing has changed. We’re still going to the community. We’re still going door to door. Our officers are in the communities more than they’ve ever been in any time in the history of this Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.”

Clemmons also touted his office’s relationships with local, state and federal agencies.

“We have a great working relationship with the U.S. Attorney General’s Office out of Greensboro,” he said, “where they adopt our cases. Our officers work the streets every day to make these cases.”

Clemmons spoke of a significant case backlog at the Richmond County District Attorney’s Office and “our District Attorney (Reece Saunders) has a hard time trying to manage his caseload trying to get these cases tried.”

As the cases are adopted by the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, Clemmons said, the cases are disposed of more quickly — to six to eight months intend of up to four years — “and we have these individuals serving time in federal prison.”

Bo Frye

Bo Frye

Republican challenger Bo Frye, meanwhile, highlighted his ties to Richmond County.

“My whole life has been a service life to people of my home, my county, my state and my country,” he said. “I started out as a junior fireman in the Hamlet Police Department at the age of 14. I stayed in that position until 17. I was a North Carolina National Guardsman as a senior in high school.”

He then served four years in the Marine Corps and then returned to Hamlet intending to join the state Highway Patrol. He took a job with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and was the first officer to work more than two years in vice — a total of four years, in fact.

He worked in patrol then as a detective in the homicide division.

“We need a different approach,” Frye said. “We need to think outside the box. We’re all trained … by the same people. Why’s our crime so much higher than four counties in the state that have the same number of people? We’ve got to use our assets better. I can do it.”

NC Senate District 25

Gene McLaurin

Gene McLaurin

In a race that statewide experts are calling a toss-up, challenger Tom McInnis, of Ellerbe, hopes to become the first Republican voted to represent the district. To achieve that milestone, he’ll have to beat incumbent Democrat Gene McLaurin, longtime Rockingham mayor who, in his first two-year term in the state legislature, has shown a willingness to do something other than toe the party line. Libertarian candidate P.H. Dawkins, of Hamlet, also is on the November ballot.

The district includes all of Richmond, Scotland, Anson and Stanly counties and a portion of Rowan County.

“I’m really proud of the record that I’ve established,” McLaurin said. “The thing that I have tried to really focus on is building relationships and working together. I think every governmental unit came together … Discovery Place KIDS, every governmental unit stepped up (and) all came together and did something that many small communities would never have the opportunity to do, and that is build a first-class, quality children’s museum, which I think says a lot about people of Richmond County.”

Tom McInnis

Tom McInnis

In Raleigh, “I’ve focused on working across the aisle,” McLaurin said. “I think that’s what the citizens of this district sent me to Raleigh to do.”

McLaurin said he’s voted more than 1,200, and not everyone will agree with each vote, but he tries to consider what’s in the best interest of his district.

McInnis, a member of the Board of Education since 2006, said the office needs “bold and decisive leadership.”

“We have sent the same folks to Raleigh for a long time,” McInnis said. “We’ve expected different results. We don’t have those.”

McInnis cited figures that nearly 30 percent of county residents are illiterate, nearly 25 percent are living at or below the poverty level and Richmond County’s unemployment and property tax rates, compared to neighboring counties.

P.H. Dawkins

P.H. Dawkins

“We’ve got to have different leadership,” he said. “Our schools are the paramount provider of prosperity for everyone in this county. Our community college, one of the best in North Carolina … but folks, the folks in Raleigh have forgotten us. There ain’t 85 rural counties in North Carolina. We’ve been forgotten, walked on and thrown away.”

Dawkins, of Hamlet, told the audience that “I really could care less about this office. But you’ve got Mr. McLaurin and mr. McInnis, and the whole (darn) country’s going to (heck) and a hand basket and no one cares.”

“You have so many people who would prostitute their own mothers to gain a position of authority, or presumed authority,” Dawkins said.

Dawkins also discussed the plans of China and Iran to use the euro to trade for oil.

“That’s gonna cost this country,” he said. “The United States is going to be going bankrupt, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

What’s next

Details for a second, town hall-style debate between candidates in the contested races for state senate District 25, Richmond County sheriff and county commissioner have yet to be finalized.

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  • Time4Change

    Glad tosee some coverage of the upcoming local election, but not much depth here. Sounds like the candidates just tooted their own horns and didn’t touch on any big issues. I would like to see some type of coverage where they are asked the HARD questions. Was interesting that the theme of the commision candidates seemed to revolve around the local college. Appears they are providing the types of education needed based on the comments from everyone and from some of the articles I have seen. I was also reminded that they did talk about a bond earlier this year, but then the subject disappeared. And then the fact that none of the candidates discussed the sales tax increase. Are they related? Do the commissioners even know anything about the tax request? I thought it was just going to be for the parks. Based on comments in this article and then other articles, there seems to be some confusion. Mr. Moss says he might support other needs, but then another article said it would be for the park and based on the cost it appears it will all be needed for that project. Don’t think there would be enough revenue to do both. But at least it appears they are looking at supporting education in some form or fashion. I would like to see some questions regarding ways that we could improve the literacy rate for our county. If the numbers that Mr. Mcinnis stated are true, we need to look into that. Ask the tough questions. What are the needs, since a tax increase could pay for educational items. It appears that both the local schools and the college should put a list of needs together since the county seems to be requesting needs. I think if we put a list of infrastructure needs for our education system along side the request for parks, the educational needs would be supported. Apparently the college had something out there, so maybe that needs to be looked at. Could funds be provided to the high school to improve needed working skills that students receive before they graduate? We need to make sure they all have the basic knowledge, but not all of them will go to college, so we need to make sure we give those that are not going off to school the skills they need to go straight to work in local businesses and industries. The sheriff’s candidates seem to be focusing on so local issues, but I would like to see the state senate candidates tell us what they hope to do to help Richmond County citizens. What are their opinions about the increasing medicare costs? What ideas do they have to control them? What plans do they have for legislation that will help local residents? Maybe if they would focus more on what THEY plan to do and less about what the other candidate has done, we would know more about where they stand. It would be nice if we could have all the money they have spent on those mailers we are getting being spent on our local needs. Again, I would like to see the hard questions asked, and would like to hear the honest answers.

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