MAXTON — During a debate that touched on term limits, stipends and job growth, county Commissioner Noah Woods touted his experience as an elected official, while his challenger Faline Locklear Dial stressed the need for new leadership — particularly a female voice.
The two Democratic candidates for District 4 faced off in a forum Thursday night at Prospect Elementary School’s gym. The 90-minute event, which was sponsored by the Robeson Honor Guard, drew about 85 spectators.
The rancor-free forum included questions from a moderator, audience members and the candidates. But Dial did ask Woods to defend commissioner pay and health insurance.
“How is health insurance for commissioner family members a reasonable expenditure for the county commissioners?” Dial said.
Woods said he only had health insurance for himself through the county. When pressed by Dial about how he — as chairman of the board — could allow others to continue the practice, Woods said he was not responsible for his fellow commissioners.
“I don’t speak for any commissioner but Noah Woods,” he said. “They have to answer for that, not Noah Woods.”
Dial also questioned Woods about the $700 a month stipend provided to commissioners.
Woods said he earns his stipend because of all the traveling that he does.
“I’d like for you to travel with me to find out how many miles I travel,” Woods said. “I log my miles every day. The only day I don’t travel is Sunday. I use those resources to get my job done.”
Dial also asked Woods to explain why commissioners do not respond to people who speak during the public comment portion of meetings. Woods said the practice was established to give the public three minutes to bring an issue to the board without an immediate response from commissioners.
“But people don’t have to come to the Board of Commissioners to get an answer from me,” Woods said. “I have public forums throughout the region and citizens can come to those or can call me … I’m out in this community every week.”
Woods spent much of his time talking about his political experience and his accomplishments as commissioner.
“I’m committed to ensure that the need of citizens of the great state of Robeson and particularly this district remain a priority,” Woods said. “We have made strides to attract economic growth and will continue the efforts to recruit viable industry that we can successfully match with the skills of our workers.”
He also talked about his volunteer work and questioned Dial about her lack of experience in politics or community service.
“I have been a volunteer in the public schools for nine years. I’ve been a volunteer coach for 30 years,” said Woods, a retired educator and former school principal. “I challenge each and every citizen and my challenger … how much volunteering have you done? I think people should demonstrate what they are doing in their community.”
Dial, a speech-language pathologist for 20 years, has operated Speech N Progress Inc. for 10 years.
“I own my own business. That is not an elected position, but it is certainly a leadership role,” she said. “I’m vice president of the Pembroke Chamber of Commerce. They have confidence in me that I can serve in that position. I also serve with the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs.”
Dial praised Woods’ service to the county, but said “a change in vision” is needed.
“Our current commissioner has served 24 years on the Board of Commissioners and there is no doubt he has given much to District 4. But after these many years with no opposition, an incumbent can become comfortable,” she said. “I think a change in vision is needed … a vision that brings fresh perspective and innovation to move this county forward.”
Dial said that her vision of Robeson County includes students with high test scores, workers with good wages and a reduced reliance on the Department of Social Services.
“Imagine a place where our leadership is working together, they are transparent and there is no good-old-boy decision making being done,” she said. “I can imagine it can be done with a change in leadership.”
Dial also argued for the need to have a woman on the Board of Commissioners. Billie Britt is the only woman to serve as a county commissioner and her term ended in 1992.
“It is time for a woman to sit on that Board of Commissioners,” she said to applause from the crowd. “There needs to be a balance of male and female perspectives. Women are the ones that find solutions and this is desperately needed on our commission board. I want to be the female voice for my child and each one of your children and grandchildren.”
The candidates were asked their views on term limits.
Woods, who is seeking his seventh term, said the issue should be decided by the General Assembly. Woods is the longest serving current commissioner, having first been elected in 1990.
“That is for the General Assembly to make those rules and I would not debate that,” he said. “If the citizens were not pleased with me, I would not have stayed here 24 years. That is not an issue for the Board of Commissioners.”
Dial disagreed, saying she would like commissioners limited to three terms.
“I don’t see why it can’t be sent to the General Assembly for consideration,” she said.
There is no Republican candidate seeking the District 4 seat, so the May 6 primary will decide the election.