Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Editor’s note: Nine Republicans and six Democrats are running for two seats on the Rowan County Board of Commissioners. Today, the Post takes a look at the Republican candidates and their views. 
By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — One Republican candidate summed up this year’s county commissioner’s race at a candidate forum.
“This year, whether you want it or not, you will get change,” said Gene Miller. “There are no incumbents running, so there will be two new faces on the Rowan County Board of Commissioners.”
Commissioners Carl Ford and Raymond Coltrain have chosen not to run for re-election. Fifteen candidates are competing for the chance to fill their seats, including nine Republicans.
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Education is, as always, a hot topic in the race.
When asked about the county’s role in education, Gus Andrews and Joel Johnson stressed that it’s the job of school boards, not commissioners, to improve education.
Johnson is a deputy with the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office. Andrews, who is self-employed in real estate, is a former chairman of the board who wants to be a commissioner once again.
Carl Dangerfield, a detective with the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, and Mike Caskey, a patrol officer with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, agreed that the school board should make the decisions, but they said the county should be able to advise the board.
“I think we should be able to communicate better with the school board and have some input into where funding goes,” Dangerfield said. “But the school board is the school board, and I want them to be able to do their job.”
Craig Pierce, owner of Pierce Interiors and Construction, suggested the county take a more direct approach. “During the budget period, the county could earmark dollars that we give to the school system to go directly to the classroom,” Pierce said.
William “Bill” Feather, the owner of Concord Consulting Associates and a Granite Quarry Alderman, said the county is only legally in charge of funding for the school buildings, though it provides more than that to help pay other costs.
Mac Butner, owner of Mac Butner Real Estate, said it seems like the Rowan-Salisbury Schools Board of Education “feels like they don’t owe county commissioners any explanation.” He said the school board should defer to the county’s direction.
Rowan-Salisbury Schools Assistant Superintendent Gene Miller said he thinks the commissioners should be able to hold the school board accountable for doing everything possible to help classroom education.
“But in turn, the Board of Commissioners needs to adequately fund the school system so it can do its job,” he said.
Laura Eller Hutchison, a home health nurse with Gentiva, also said the county needs to give the school board the resources it needs to improve education for Rowan children.
Caskey said he’s in favor of keeping funding at the state level. He said he’d like the school board to present projects with a plan to reach specific goals within a specific time period. Depending on the results, the projects could be discontinued, renewed or put permanently into place.
“As a school board member, I don’t want the commissioners trying to do my job,” Caskey said. “And I don’t want to do their job. We need a better working relationship.”
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All of the candidates agree that the county and local governments need to work together and communicate more with each other.
“I don’t think there’s any question that the relationship between our current boards and municipalities is nowhere close to where it should be,” Andrews said.
Feather said nearly half of Rowan County residents live in cities or towns.
“If you don’t have a good relationship with the municipalities, that’s like saying 50 percent of the population doesn’t matter,” Feather said. “You need to remember who you’re representing.”
Butner, Caskey, and Johnson say elected officials from the county and its municipalities should meet regularly to get to know each other and talk about their concerns. Dangerfield and Miller proposed the same idea for the county and the school board.
“You can’t have a relationship if it’s not based on mutual respect,” Butner said.
Pierce said he’s concerned that the “ongoing power struggle between the Salisbury City Council and the county commissioners” is keeping businesses from wanting to grow or come to Rowan. He said the boards need to work on a better level of trust.
Miller said he thinks county commissioners need to be more civil and professional – not only in dealing with other boards, but with each other.
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Andrews, Dangerfield, Feather, Johnson, Hutchison, Miller and Pierce all said the county has to offer incentives to compete with surrounding counties for jobs. Feather cautioned that the county should make sure it’s getting a good return on its investment.
Butner and Caskey both said they don’t like incentives in general, but they’d look at them on a case-by-case basis.
“You’d have to prove to me beyond the shadow of a doubt… it’s going to be in the best interest of the taxpayers,” Caskey said.
Dangerfield, Johnson and Pierce say they want to let RowanWorks Economic Development lead the way in job creation.
“I think we need to have a more flexible incentive program administered by RowanWorks,” Johnson said. “We can also establish a fund specifically for local businesses that are already established.”
Pierce said a comprehensive incentive package should include tax relief, education programs to train the workforce and investment from the company itself into the community.
“We could make our county more business friendly by reducing the amount of regulations and zoning we currently have,” he said.
Butner agreed with Pierce that training through the community college system is important.
“I believe the best way to attract jobs in terms of economic development is with low taxes; safe, good roads; affordable neighborhoods; and good water and sewer,” Butner said.
Dangerfield, Feather, Miller and Hutchison said the county needs to focus on marketing itself as a good place for business.
“One of the things we’re not doing right now is utilizing the fact that we are so close to the North Carolina Research Campus,” Hutchison said. “We should be promoting that.”
Miller said the county needs to market its infrastructure, its community college system and its ready and able workforce.
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Out of the nine Republican candidates, only Dangerfield, Miller, Johnson and Feather say they would change the way they pray at public meetings to abide by a recent court ruling.
“A fair compromise would be a moment of silence,” Johnson said. “We swear to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the land, and we need to honor that commitment.”
Feather said the Granite Quarry town board has chosen to adopt a moment of silence.
“I think I should be able to pray any way I want to,” Feather said, “but I think the parameters were set (by the court), and we should follow those parameters if we can.”
Dangerfield, Miller and the other candidates all say they disagree with the ruling, and it should be challenged if possible.
“I feel like each commissioner should do what he feels is his belief,” Andrews said.
They say taxpayer money likely won’t be needed because private groups would be willing to pay the county’s legal fees.
Pierce said the county shouldn’t get involved in the legal fight, but outside groups could take it on.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
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