Elect 2012: Cooperation key for Democrats seeking to lead county

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 13, 2012

By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — The six Democrats running for Rowan County commissioner want everyone to stop fighting and work together.
They stressed cooperation between parties and governments Thursday at a candidate forum. The event was held at Catawba College and sponsored by the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce and the Salisbury Post.
Some of the candidates were asked what they would do to promote a better relationship between the county and its municipalities.
Cleveland Town Commissioner Travis Summitt said some commissioners will work well with the municipalities, but others seem to “forget municipalities are part of this county.”
“We just have to separate our personal feelings and just dig in there for the people,” said Summitt, a Daimler Trucks North America mechanic.
Ralph Walton, a retired school principal, said focus on political parties and platforms has created mistrust.
“There is no compromise in the county for almost anything now,” he said. “Rowan County needs to be a model for the rest of the country and start cooperating and talking to each other.”
Corey Hill, union president at Daimler Trucks North America, said the commissioners “have to take the personality out of it” and look at the facts and the needs of Rowan’s people.
A question about re-establishing Rowan’s relevance and leadership in the region also got candidates talking about cooperation.
“We’ve all got to unite … and we’re all going to have to come together to get the county on the right track,” said Jack Eller, who owns a trucking company.
Eller and Carrol Crawford stressed the importance of attracting businesses and bringing back jobs for the county’s future.
“It’s going to be hard to get them back, but we can work together — everybody,” said Crawford, who owns a recycling business.
Leda Belk, a retired educator and law enforcement officer, said the county should get back to the regional table with organizations like the Charlotte Regional Partnership and the Centralina Council of Governments.
“We stay at home, and everything around us is developing and our wagon’s in reverse,” she said. “It’s going to take longer and longer for us to catch up, and we cannot afford it.”
She also brought up the need for teamwork, saying she hopes whoever is elected will be willing “to work with all municipalities and people of the community.”
The forum’s moderator was Dr. Michael Bitzer, associate professor of political science and history at Catawba.
He asked Democratic candidates if they would allow a voter-approved property tax rate increase to fund the new jail annex, employee bonuses and community college bond debt.
“If you have to do that, you have to do that,” Walton said. “The budget needs to be looked at from top to bottom. If there’s a place that needs to be cut, then cut it, but if there’s no place, then you can’t.”
Belk, a former county commissioner, mentioned previous scheduled tax increases for school bond debt and 911 telecommunications improvements.
Because commissioners have been very frugal, she said, they have avoided increasing taxes as much as voters said they could. But if the county can’t pay its bills, it has to do something to raise the money, she said.
Crawford said he thinks people are already paying too much in taxes and higher gas prices. But he later said higher taxes may be needed to pay for the county’s needs.
Eller said he doesn’t want to raise taxes on anyone.
Another question mentioned Rowan-Salisbury Schools’ low-ranked performance on standardized testing.
“Is it the proper role of the county commission to use funding as a ‘stick’ or a ‘carrot’ to influence the school system to shift their focus?” Bitzer asked.
“It’s not about a carrot or a stick — it’s about, what is it worth to us?” Hill said. “We need to take care of our teachers.”
He said the county should make sure teachers have the funding and tools they need to educate their students, and it also should work with the state to get more money allocated back into the classroom.
Summitt said the school board should be allowed to do its job, and the county should not micromanage teachers or school administration. The county should instead help to lobby for more funding from Raleigh, he said.
Walton brought back the theme of cooperation, saying the county and the school board should work together on improving education.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
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