1. What uniquely qualifies you to serve as a county commissioner?
First I am doing this job for the betterment of our county and not for myself. I do and say without concern for re-election. I do not serve in this position for personal gain. I have not acquired a single customer that I feel was due to my county position. I know I have lost customers due to my position. I would be much better off financially if I were not a commissioner, but life has been good to me and the qualified need to take an active role in our government. I have hired and had to replace many employees over 42 years. I have built many customer and friend relationships which has taught me to stand for what is right and fight to the end. I have learned to do it in a business like manner, with honor and credibility. I know that this is the people’s county and they have a right to know the government activities. I am able to be truthful with all residents whether they are in my district or not.
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?
The funding level provided to the Public Schools of Robeson County was written by the state of NC during the merger of the various city schools with the Robeson County Schools and is adhered to today. It has been basically written in concrete for these years and has some mathematical variation from year to year to do with county taxes and other items. There has been conversation that we should look at it and I think we will soon. I was for the consolidation of schools that was public conversation about two years ago. I think it got a bad wrap when a few were afraid they may lose their local school and a lot of negative conversation was spread. I spoke for it publicly and with school board members privately, it was a good plan that had to be ironed out if the state would have allowed it. The largest problem with the schools in Robeson County is the school board itself. It is racial much like our board in most things that it does. It is the problem with Robeson and until the races quit fighting for positions and territorial rights we will have poor schools.
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?
I tried several years ago to find a volunteer to head the cleanup of our county and spoke of it in our board meetings before the current clean and green committee was restarted. My idea was to start a program that would work much like the fire departments drop and roll. I envisioned a leader with as many helpers as possible from our retired community (like our Hardee’s etc. coffee drinkers that need something constructive to do) to go into schools often and teach the kids to stop drivers of their cars from littering. The state DOT has this month hired a trash contractor and we as commissioners have been asked for our suggestions of roads to start but we need to hit it at the root of the problem as well as the cleanup. If someone has a burning desire to lead such a campaign I will get them going and fund their needs.
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. As a commissioner, you have benefited from this. Do you think commissioners in a poor county are deserving of the best pay and benefits, or should they be scaled back?
The answer is no. If you remember when I was elected to office this county board of commissioners had a deferred compensation plan and full spouse insurance coverage. It now has no deferred compensation plan and the spouse cost is only half paid. I have tried to get more cut but cannot. To be totally honest we have too rich of a insurance plan for our county employees, much better than I can pay for my employees and we have a very fair plan at Image Supply. Some would say they are not paid as well but our employees are paid very well. It is my belief that we cannot pay our help better than we can afford for our employees and the county employees are the citizens employees. I am sure this will get me some employee votes.
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?
I do agree it does happen but can you totally stop it? No. When I became a commissioner every new hire came before the board with three names and the commissioners made the choice. I insisted that it had to stop. It is impossible for a manager to manage someone that he feels his commissioner got him a job which is his manager’s boss. There was nepotism there and when you give it to one or two to make that decision, it will happen then. Not enough rules or laws will fix it, you just manage it the best you can. It is easier to manage with one than with commissioners that want a family’s vote.
6. The Board of Commissioners recently considered the purchase of the Angel Exchange 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 current position on its possible purchase?
I do not think it will resurface even though I would never expected it to come up as it did. It has been clear I was against it from the start and did all I could to stop it. I gave my approval over a year ago that if the school board wanted it, it was OK with me. They did not and I think they are as capable as the commissioners that wanted to buy it for them to decide if it fix there need. There are other buildings in the county that will work for the school board that cost much less and are better suited for them. The EMC in Red Springs is one example, it has 30,000 square feet of office space and another 30,000 of warehouse and garage space, more than the school board needs with a tax value of near $2 million and could possibly be bought for much less. It will be vacant soon.
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?
Cautiously no, not with request for more money for our schools. When I last checked there are about 20 counties that have a higher tax rate than Robeson County does. In the low income area we are, that is not bad. We all think we can and yes there is waste, you can always cut if you have to. The thing we have to remember is the county budget is near $150 million. Property tax brings in about $44 million, less than a third of the budget. Each 2 cents of the 77 cents brings in $1 million, it would take 15 cent cut to cut 5 percent of our budget. What we have to do is bring more industry with significant investments into the county, like recently with Pepsi and Sanderson Farms. That is the plan that the Trump White House is doing with new jobs, the lowest unemployment in 17 years among other things, to be able to pay for the services we need instead of run and cut. In my business plan I have never cut employees or expense; I have a theory to outsell expense because they will rise.
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 I do. Lumberton is the county hub, it is where the majority of the residents are and where the business of the county should be. If those that want to take away from Lumberton would work to build and be proud of it, the entire county flourishes.
9. Robeson County’s unemployment rate remains higher than the state and nation’s. 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 rate, 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?
I believe and I continually hear that our school system is the key to our success and growth. Until we educate our residents, our children, we just stay in the same circle. New industry brings us out of property, industry wants good schools, poverty loves poor education. School board members protecting poor performing schools, principals, teachers for racial purposes and votes, is keeping us where we are.