LUMBERTON — Two incumbent Robeson County commissioners are facing determined challenges for their seats in Tuesday’s Democratic primary.
In District 4, Noah Woods, the board’s current chairman and a commissioner since 1990, is being challenged by Faline Locklear Dial, who is seeking her first elected office.
District 2 finds incumbent Hubert Sealey being challenged by five candidates — Larry S. Graham; Berlester Campbell, a former county commissioner; John Jackson; Jason Carter; and Paul Hunt Jr., a current Rowland commissioner.
In District 6, three Democrats are vying for the seat currently held by David Edge, a Republican. The winner of Tuesday’s primary will face Edge in November.
The three Democrats competing in the District 6 primary are Lloyd “Mickey” Meekins Jr., Ray Cox and Brenda Bullard.
The Robesonian did not interview the candidates for this story, but relied instead on information provided by the candidates on a questionnaire they received from the newspaper. Candidates who did not submit answers to questions included Campbell, Jackson, Carter and Hunt in District 2; and Cox and Edge in District 6.
The questions and candidate responses can be found at robesonian.com.
Woods, a retired educator, touts his years of experience as a commissioner as the reason he should be re-elected.
“Though being a good county commissioner takes a love for your county and for your people, to be an effective commissioner you must also have a good understanding of local, state and national laws, policies, and procedures,” he said.
Although commissioners have come under fire for their large stipends and benefits, Woods contends that the expense of their compensation to taxpayers is worth it.
“If we divided the total amount received in compensation for this job by the number of hours we actually work, I think you would find that we are doing this job for pennies,” he said.
Woods also defends the process the commissioners use to distribute their discretionary funds, called community development funds, to various organizations of their choice.
“There are guidelines for the dissemination of these funds and good records are maintained that document how this money is spent,” he said.
Dial, a speech pathologist, believes it is time for change in how county government operates.
“I envision change as an avenue for us to have a county with high test scores in our schools, safe communities, clean roadways, and decent paying jobs for everyone,” she said.
Dial strongly believes that the commissioners receive too great a salary and benefits for serving their constituents.
“I absolutely believe that the pay and benefits that our commissioners receive is a problem — a major problem,” she said. “We are one of the poorest counties in the state, yet the commissioners are the fourth highest paid in the state.”
In District 2, Sealey, a commissioner since 2002, believes positions held by commissioners — such as chairman of the board, or chairman of the personnel committee — should be rotated among commissioners and not just appointed by board members.
“When the same person stays in key leadership roles on the board it prevents growth and progression of these positions and the committees they oversee,” he said.
Sealey defends the compensation, including benefits the commissioners receive, as well as the way in which discretionary funds are distributed.
“When calculating benefits received, it is important to factor in the size of our county both in land and people,” he said.
Sealey also is a strong supporter of the use of discretionary funds by the commissioners to help organizations and programs of their choice.
“Without these funds, several small groups that are not on the radar of the county’s overall budget would go without … . We are a government and entity and there are rules and regulations that must be followed before the funding can be dispersed,” Sealey said.
Graham, who is employed by the state Division of Motor Vehicles, sees new leadership as the way for the county to move forward. He said he is running in part because the county needs to increase educational opportunities and tap into resources, such as the interstate highway system, to increase economic growth and job creation.
Graham said he is in support of the commissioners having their $30,000 annual discretionary funds to distribute to the organizations and programs they wish to support.
“Discretionary funds, in my opinion, are needed for our districts,” he said. “… I do not believe that stockpiling monies is an appropriate action. The needs are too great to fund just pet projects for a select few.”
Graham said how much a commissioner is compensated for his service should depend on what he does for the county.
“…We have a massive county to serve, a man’s worth depends upon what work he provides to it,” he said.
In District 6, Meekins, a Lumberton businessman, said that he wants to bring a “new perspective” to the board.
“My primary objectives in running for public office are creating economic growth, a more efficient use of tax dollars, and improvement of educational and youth programs in Robeson County,” he said.
Meekins said he wants to see a budget that provides more efficient use of tax dollars.
“If elected, I would propose to increase the amount of local taxpayers dollars given to our school system, and strongly propose that we renovate and utilize, whenever possible, our current schools and old prison on N.C. 72 instead of new construction,” he said.
Meekins also said he believes the commissioners are paid too well considering the economic state of Robeson County.
“I have pledged that if elected to donate my salary to educational initiatives and youth programs,” he said.
Bullard said that she is running because of a tragedy she experienced and her desire to “do something to bring about change for the Robeson County legal system.” More money to fight crime is needed by the county Sheriff and District Attorney offices, she said.
“Our county leaders must step in and fight for more funds from the state,” Bullard said.
Bullard offered no response to questions pertaining to the pay and benefits received by county commissioners, or the availability and process for distributing discretionary money. She did say that she does not support the construction of a new county jail or technology high school.