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Differing styles keep commissioners’ race interesting

By Jessie Burchette
jburchette@salisburypost
A broadcaster, an agricultural specialist and an incumbent, who could teach John McCain about being a maverick, are campaigning for two seats on the Rowan County Board of Commissioners.
A 29-year-old student ó Laura Lyerly ó is the fourth candidate for commission, but she has not actively campaigned for weeks and is generally considered MIA.
Carl Ford, 51, owner of radio stations in China Grove and Kannapolis, has lost count of how many times he’s run for county commissioner. But he’s listened and learned each time, and he’s hopeful that 2008 will be his break through year.
Raymond Coltrain, 57, retired as superintendent of the Piedmont Research Station but continues to do agricultural consulting around the state. Coltrain is close to setting a record for campaign contributions. He had raised $23,000 as of June 30.
Jim Sides, who operates Today’s Trading, a wholesale customized T-shirt printing business on Peach Orchard Road, continues to rankle some in his own party and much of the Salisbury leadership.
While Coltrain and Ford are cautious and tread lightly on some issues and work to win converts, Sides offers a blunt style with no effort to sugar-coat his positions.
Like the May 6 Republican primary, the deciding issue for many in the upcoming election is Sides, the Republican incumbent.
Ford, also a Republican, and Coltrain, a Democrat, hear as much about Sides as they do about land use, taxes, jobs or anything else.
Sides is completing his second term on the board ó the first was in the early 1980s when his habit of voting no earned him the moniker “Commissioner No.”
This century’s version is perhaps a bit more conciliatory. Sides has voted with fellow commissioners on more than 90 percent of county business. In recent months, Sides and Commissioner Jon Barber, a more moderate Republican, often join in making motions to approve issues, including spending.
At the same time, Sides, 60, has repeatedly run afoul of some county Republican party leaders. And he admits he needs a lot of Democrats’ support to get re-elected.
Sides also acknowledges he generates feelings that go way beyond like and dislike.
People either love him or hate him.
His yard signs with a cross instead of an “t” in “Vote” and his van plastered with his message of conservative and religious principles irritate some.
Others take a look at the van and get mad.
On a recent morning, Sides was driving around Salisbury. When he pulled into a parking space, a driver gave him a thumbs-up and a smile.
“Then I stopped at a stop light, and the driver looked over and shook his head in disgust,” Sides said.
While he knows some people hate him, he doesn’t take it personally. “As far as I’m concerned, I have no enemies,” he said.
While making the rounds of events, Sides doesn’t expect to change any minds.
“There’s not anyone in the county who doesn’t know my name. No one doesn’t know what I stand for. Everybody’s mind is made up,” he said.
Ford, a friend of Sides, also shares his fundamentalist religious views. But Ford differs from Sides on some key issues, including incentives.
On other issues such as prohibiting the sale or consumption of alcohol on county property, he agrees with Sides.
But Ford said he is running for county commissioner and doesn’t expect to be a moral policeman for the county. He would vote to approve a conditional use permit for a bar if it complies with the county regulations.
Ford and Sides serve side by side on the Rowan County Board of Social Services. Ford also serves on the Planning Board.
“Jim and I are friends. We’ve worked together on the DSS board. He’s never one time asked me how I was going to vote on DSS or the Planning Board. He’s never told me how to vote,” Ford said, adding that he doesn’t think that will change if both are elected.
In the radio business for decades, Ford’s day starts around 4:30 a.m., getting the stations going each day. Most of his days are taken up with selling advertising spots on the stations. Now, he’s selling himself.
Coltrain moved to Salisbury to head the Piedmont Research Station, where he lived for 14 years. He brings a more measured thoughtful style. He often refers to his 30 years of management with the N.C. Department of Agriculture.
He emphasizes using a team approach to solve problems and hesitates to criticize.
Coltrain announced plans to run for the N.C. Agriculture Commissioner in 2004 but later withdrew.
In 2006, Coltrain and Ford narrowly lost in the race for the Board of Commissioners.
Since then, they have spent more time together than some families. They attend commissioners’ meeting and a variety of other meetings and events.
Their campaign has been almost non-stop since 2006. They have taken every opportunity to speak to groups, attend church suppers, fire department fundraisers and the like.
All of the candidates agree that it’s very tough to get voters to focus on local issues, given price of gasoline and concerns about the economy.
Recently, Coltrain said, he hopes local voters go beyond the presidential ballot and take time to vote on all of the state and local races.

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