Ronald (R.G.) Hammonds, county commission candidate, District 6

1. What uniquely qualifies you to serve as a county commissioner?

My tenure as a Lumbee River Electric Membership Corporation for 18 years is the same as District 6 and the rest of our rural areas of the county. I know Lumberton, Saddletree, Rennert and Shannon. I understand the drainage issues and the importance of E.coli-free streams, swamps and water. My first platform is a cleaner and greener Robeson County. The other part of my district is downtown Lumberton and its outer subdivisions.

2. The Robeson County Board of Commissioners, at just more than $500 per student, provides funding to the local schools at the second lowest level of the 100 counties in North Carolina. As a commissioner, would you work to provide more funding for the local schools? Why or why not?

There is no choice but to provide more funding in a world of rapidly moving technology and education. We must be competitive or be left behind. The old cliche´ “education is not a preparation for life but is life itself” is true. Our kids must be safe in schools, have air-conditioned classrooms, textbooks to learn, and supplies with which to work. We need to pay and attract teachers who want to teach and enjoy teaching, salaries to recruit them, and not teachers who are there for the salary. Robeson County’s budget is $525 per student, but the state average is $1,568. We are still ranked No. 99 on per student spending. We need to act like a business and set a goal for where we want to be in the future, how we rank in the state and nation, and how we plan to get there.

3. Robeson County has a problem with roadside trash. The county has established a Clean and Green Committee, but it appears that as soon as one roadside is clear, a week later it is trashy again. Do you have any unique ideas on how to approach this problem? If so, can you detail?

First you must get proactive, not in words but action. Actions speak louder than words.

Cleaner and greener is a major issue in my campaign. It starts at your house, farm and roadway. We have always been picking up trash from alongside the roads and in the communities. As county commissioners we should set an example. Our county has in place a Clean and Green Committee, which I plan to support with more volunteers, churches and community groups. I want to find additional helpers through the court system and in the prisons. I will ask the Sheriff’s Office to implement more penalties for trash offenders. I want to create a county beautification award program to recognize the work communities do to improve the appearance of our landscapes. We need to identify the problem areas, especially the areas with dumpsters and mobile home parks. I will explore the creation of a bounty program for churches and community groups that can use the money.

4. The Robeson County commissioners are the best paid and benefited in North Carolina, and our county is among the poorest. This is true when pay, stipend, retirement, health insurance are totaled up. Do you think commissioners in a poor county are deserving of the best pay and benefits, or should they be scaled back?

For too long we have had to accept the facts. Based on facts, our commissioners should be ashamed of themselves. Robeson County commissioners have been identified as the best paid, along with other benefits such as stipends, retirement, and health insurance that they take with them after they leave elected office and keep for the rest of their lives. I will work with The Robesonian and other citizens and committees to help bring this to a stop with words and, if necessary, with an open campaign to list how much commissioners are paid, the amount of the county taxes they have not paid, and other compensations they receive. We have employees that work 20 years or more, but leave with no health or hospitalization insurance, while our elected officials do.

5. There is a perception among many people that nepotism and cronyism play a role in key hiring decisions for the county. Do you agree with that? If so, what would you do to end that?

Yes, the perception is there. People sacrifice and work to get a college degree, and then they seek a job by way of application. The first thing they are asked is, “Do you know a county commissioner?” It’s time to let the department heads do the interviewing and hire or recommend to the board the most qualified person. Robeson County continues to experience gender wage gaps compared with the nation as a whole. Women who have a degree earn less than men of similar education. Women frequently are the only wage earners in households with children.

6. The Board of Commissioners recently considered the purchase of the Angel Exchange building for use by the schools as a central office. That talk has died down. Do you think it will be resurrected after the election, and what is your position on its possible purchase?

This is a typical sweetheart deal that has been going on for some time. I don’t plan on wearing an orange uniform in the future. I am not a licensed lawyer, but this can be called malfeasance. Its definition is the performance by a public official of an act that is legally unjustified, harmful, out of order, or contrary to law, misconduct, an act in violation of a public trust. Even steering (Definition is to guide in a particular direction or manner) by elected official has been evident on many projects in the county. Do any projects come to mind, voters? People should have input. That’s called the democratic process. The policy most boards use in the county is majority vote, and should always be the policy. We have a duly elected school board, and it is clearly their responsibility to purchase land and build a building for the Board of Education of Robeson County. It is not our county commissioners’ responsibility. As to the question of resurrection after the election; Well, it happened with Jesus. Jesus was resurrected. Let it be known that I am no novice serving on boards. There is a thing called agenda that tells what is to be discussed for the next meeting. State policy is called the open meeting law or sunshine law. It’s common when a hot issue is on the agenda and you are between a rock and a hard place to leave, dodge or get sick. They have the votes.

7. Robeson County’s tax rate, at 77 cents for every $100 of property, ranks in the top 25 highest in the state. Do you have any ideas on how to reduce the rate without a dramatic reduction in services?

Again, we must be proactive on spending and expenses. I will work with the county manager, department heads for a line item budget and review it to identify fat in the budget, to include employees, contractors and waste. I will get rid of liability and buying property that is not needed and stop the practice of acting as a real estate broker for friends. I will seek out more bids on projects, especially capital projects and monitor change orders carefully. Our elected leaders should bite the bullet first with themselves. You always prune a tree from top down. Goals will be set as to where we want to be in the future and include all department heads working as a team with the same attitude. We did not become 25 highest overnight and it will not change overnight. We have very capable, intelligent, hard workers and employees. Make them part of the goals. Identify obsolete jobs and try to employ as many local contractors and services as possible. It is said that local work and services money turn over seven times more than money from outside the county or state money. It will improve our tax base in the long run and stop the sweetheart deals. We must sell unneeded property. Industries have been getting too much in tax breaks. Facility charges should be kept low to encourage growth and jobs in construction. We must get rid of positions some management positions and keep the workers. There was an example in The Robesonian on April 5, 2016. The story was about Robeson County contracting with U.S. Department of Agriculture to supply a wildlife specialist to administer beaver management in Robeson County at a cost of $59,060 to participate, $4,000 to join and $455,000 for manpower and equipment to remove dams and beavers. A report was issued showing that for the year 100 beavers were caught, 15 dams were destroyed and a number of complaint calls were made. I come with $518,000 for the year divided by the job accomplished. How much is that costing per beaver for the 100 beavers and 15 dams? Columbus County doesn’t have a beaver problem. They have a beaver bounty program at $40 per beaver. Robeson County can do this, too. No contract with the state, no employees, only volunteer high school kids and hunters in each and every community making money and enjoying working for our beautiful and E.coli- free water streams and swamps.

8. Do you think it is important for the county administrative offices to be located in Lumberton, which has the highest population and is in the center of the county?

Yes. Lumberton is the county seat! Let’s not change the county, but improve it. The location of these offices should be near the county seat or other locations that are convenient for travel, police, ambulance, health, hospitals, Interstate 95 traffic and safety.

9. Robeson County’s unemployment rate remains higher than the state and nation. Also many of our jobs, especially in the service industry, don’t provide a livable wage and are without benefits, with the result being about 40,000 people in the county depending on food stamps. The lack of jobs also drives our crime, rated the highest in the state. What new ideas, if any, do you have that can be implemented to try to bring more jobs to the county?

Invest in our people with better education and recruit a better quality of people. Until we stop paying people not to work we will have the same problem. Many of these problems have been passed down by our government to our county. Food stamps are intended more for children. People are having kids and not accepting their responsibility of raising, educating, providing health care and being parents by attending ballgames, PTA meetings and teaching right from wrong. Looks like we lost the war on drugs. Down the street or at the drug store, it is the same. Now it appears the task of raising some children is being lost because of the actions of some. Some families live above their means and cannot provide as they should. Trash, drugs, poor unemployment and poor education all go together. Robeson County’s greatest asset is our people. We should be contracting with local citizens and removing as many regulations as possible. Drugs kill our desire to work, save and be responsible to ourselves and others. Involve our community and churches.

Question to myself: What else would you add?

If elected, I will serve the people not myself. I view myself as a humanitarian. Commissioners should always show empathy to our citizens and taxpayers when they come before the board. Lack of term limits has brought our county problems. Term limits can provide checks and balances, promote political accountability and prevent steering and malfeasance.

I will work to develop a policy to remove myself from conflict of interest or anything unethical and for the board and their family members. Once a commissioner’s term is up, all benefits should stop! No credit cards, no insurance, no merit status. Economic development should be the whole county working together for the best interest of the entire county. There should be no taking from one city and giving to another, and no county official’s bird dogging for a particular town. For too long has Robeson County been divided along geography, locations and race. My district is the northwest section of Lumberton, and Saddletree, Rennert and Shannon.

I will be a commissioner who serves the people in my district first and works with the Board of Commissioners members to serve all Robeson County. My plans will be to have an advisory committee to help me better serve our district. I am proud to be a part of Lumberton.

FEMA funds should receive public input to identify most severe areas to keep our county swamps, streams and side ditches clean and free of E.coli.

Commissioners need to set examples of leadership. They need to stop double-serving themselves as elected officials. They should work with our county and local news media to involve goodwill attitudes.

Economic development appears to be fragmented. Our cities should not be competing against each other for growth. Commissioners should work for the betterment of the whole county.

County leaders should stop hiring family members for county jobs and contracts.

Commissioners should set a positive example by paying their taxes on time. County employees have to or their wages will be garnished.

Commissioners’ discretionary funds should not be carried over from year to year. All funds should be spent at the end of the fiscal year and should be accounted for.

I’m a firm believer in fiscal responsibility.