Eight Republicans battling in primary for seats on Rowan County Board of Commissioners
Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 6, 2014
The pool of Republican candidates battling for the three seats opening up on the Rowan County Board of Commissioners certainly is diverse.
There are a 12-year veteran of the Wisconsin State Legislature, a former chairman of the Rowan County Republican Party, a deputy and multiple business owners among the mix.
The current board’s chairman, Jim Sides, also is looking to make a run for his fourth term.
With longtime commissioner Chad Mitchell challenging N.C. Rep. Harry Warren for the District 77 seat this year, and with Jon Barber choosing not to file to retain his seat — ultimately there will be at least two new faces on the board.
Here’s a look at those running:
A staunch member of the Tea Party, Joe Coladarci said he has spent more than 40 years employing other people and being self-employed.
“One of the differences is that I was brought up with the idea, as an employer, that I have an obligation to employ people — to find work for them to do. They don’t necessarily make jobs in an environment of being a politician,” Coladarci said.
Coladarci said the idea of building Fibrant so that Rowan County becomes the high-tech center of the state is “pie in the sky.”
“Soliciting the people who distribute to McDonald’s is not. These are realistic, attainable goals with the infrastructure that you presently have and with the need for jobs that you presently have,” Coladarci said.
A literacy failure exists in Rowan County, Coladarci said, which sits at the steps of the school board as opposed to the county commissioners.
“When we start to speak realistically and ask the elected chairman of the school board the same hard questions that we ask the chairman of the county commission and insist on an answer as to why our schools are failing — never has anyone done that,” Coladarci said.
Coladarci said teachers are given a 6.5 percent supplement of their pay versus 20 percent to 35 percent of pay in supplement for administrators.
“There is something wrong with that picture,” Coladarci said. “What message are you sending to your teachers — (teachers) have no value. We value our administrators.”
The school district is the largest employer in Rowan County and school board members are the least accountable people, Coladarci said.
“Not one member of the school board is asked why did you vote on this or why did you give that or do that. They ask why did you leave and go to the bathroom of the county commissioners,” Coladarci said. “The school board has closed meetings all the time. Nobody asks why.”
In the last 30 years, no development along I-85 has happened south of Webb Road because “the powers of Salisbury have insisted on anything that happens in the county happens in Salisbury.”
“Nobody wants to talk about this,” Coladarci said. “The game plan is to work together, but you can only work together with someone who is honest with you. I don’t see any reciprocal honesty coming from the school board or the city of Salisbury.”
At 36 years old, Brandon Cupp is the youngest Republican candidate in the group and said his age is an advantage in the race.
“The youth need to be leaders and have to step up and take the reins. It’s not that everybody feels that way, but the trend is taking us that way,” Cupp said. “There are younger presidents and younger congressmen now.”
Cupp said many people know him as a small business owner — one who understands budgets and getting a business started in a difficult economy.
Cupp owns Cerberus Firearms.
“It’s not a business that has been around for 30 years. It is a business that has been around for three years,” Cupp said. “I got laid off. I could either go on unemployment or start a business that I knew. I’ve learned to reinvest and grow the business.”
Cupp said he is the only candidate who has two school-age children, one in Rowan-Salisbury School System.
The image of Rowan County is suffering right now due to lack of cooperation between the commissioners and the Rowan-Salisbury School System Board of Education and Salisbury City Council.
“These large corporations are going to do their homework. We need jobs here, and if you want to bring jobs here, you’re going to have to work to bring jobs here,” Cupp said. “If you don’t, they’re not going to come.”
In regard to economic development, signing a contract with companies locking them in to staying in Rowan County for three years would be advantageous, Cupp said.
Cupp said it is a shame Rowan County’s unemployment figures remained static while the state’s average fell.
“We have to have jobs here, but kids are going to have to make good grades,” Cupp said.
If people are expecting change and want to see different decisions made at the county level, Cupp said the voters have to elect three new people.
“If you are happy with it, it is up to you because you are the ones making the vote,” Cupp said. “Judging by the people I’ve talked to around the city and the county – they will vote.”
The former chairman of the Rowan County Republican Party, Greg Edds said he has a knack for bringing groups, organizations and individuals together who tend to fight.
Through his involvement in the county’s planning board, personnel commission, airport advisory board, economic development commission and Rowan County Chamber of Commerce, Edds said he understands economic development and job creation and can rally “a true team approach” to recruiting new jobs for the community.
Prospective employers are hesitant about locating to Rowan County because of “our struggling public schools.”
“Every year, our schools request increased funding for capital improvements and programming, but granting those requests is becoming increasingly difficult in our stagnant economy,” Edds said. “In the end, those tasked with growing our economy and attracting jobs desperately need the schools to get better, and those who are tasked with helping the schools get better desperately need us to grow our economy and attract jobs. Seems like we need each other.”
Edds said he is convinced Rowan County has an outdated economic development model, which is casting a wide recruiting net and hoping “to land something.”
“I would take a more focused approach by taking an inventory of our community’s strengths and determine what specific jobs and industries we could best compete for,” Edds said. “Then, we prepare our workforce for those jobs through deliberate partnerships with RCCC, Catawba and Livingstone colleges.”
In addition to streamlining local regulations to fast-track job-creating projects, Edds said he immediately would bring together a small team of the top business minds in the community to create an aggressive countywide strategy for jobs and economic development.
New faces on the board will challenge the current members in several areas, Edds said.
“They will certainly be focused and aggressive on our economic development, jobs and school improvement efforts,” Edds said. “The community is sending us the clear message that, while they don’t expect us to agree on everything, they do expect us to be respectful and kind and to represent our community well.”
New board members will bring a fresh perspective and will have little patience for getting bogged down with minor issues, Edds said.
“Rowan County is at a critical point, and I predict the new board members will take their positions with a heightened sense of urgency,” Edds said.
Jim Greene said he is not a politician, but rather a public servant.
With an extensive business background and experience on the Economic Development Commission, Greene said his ability to form business relationships and balance budgets in order to serve the citizens of Rowan County puts him above the rest of the candidates.
“Working with the EDC, I’ve learned what is needed to help the EDC recruit additional businesses to the area. There are new ideas, like bringing a private money partnership with the EDC to help businesses,” Greene said. “That is something that is not encouraged at this time.”
The school system is a big asset for the recruitment of jobs, Greene said, but that only will happen if 21st-century schools can produce 21st-century workers.
Counties surrounding Rowan have been successful in keeping taxes low, Greene said, and “it isn’t rocket science” when it comes to expanding the tax base by bringing in new businesses.
“I’m a big advocate for improving our educational system, but one of the things we need to understand is that Rowan County is located in a wonderful place for economic development,” Greene said. “We have assets of roads, water and honest, hardworking people. We should not be in the lower echelon of the students we put out.”
Rowan County needs leaders who are optimistic and who have vision, Greene said.
If people are looking for change in the direction commissioners have been going, there needs to be three new faces that have similar ideas, Greene said.
“We need to work together for the good of all Rowan citizens,” Greene said.
The only candidate to have experience as a state legislator, Judy Klusman said she has a deep, working knowledge of how all the levels of government interact, from the municipalities to the county, state and federal bodies.
The county needs to lobby the N.C. General Assembly as well as Congress for resources that are needed to bring jobs, Klusman said.
“Once we expand the tax base, we can get additional funds to improve education and then address the issue of poverty and bringing higher-paying jobs to Rowan County,” Klusman said.
Klusman said she has experience “communicating, cooperating and collaborating” as well as developing positive relationships to bring communities together.
“You can’t be pulling away from your partner. You need to be going together with them, because that is the only way to have success,” Klusman said.
Combatting poverty is not just about addressing food shortages but housing issues as well, Klusman said.
“As far as plans for improvement, we need to use the tools and resources we have to bring businesses to our community,” Klusman said. “We have the ability to support businesses who want to locate and build here. We have an education system that wants to be the best in the state.”
South Carolina and counties adjacent to Rowan have been doing a better job of working on attracting businesses and improving their school systems, thus attracting teachers, Klusman said.
“We need to look at what other states and communities are doing to put a strategic plan in motion that will be laid out between all the partners in Rowan – all the municipalities, the school system and the commission,” Klusman said. “The commission has closed itself off. They don’t do a yearly planning session with the department heads anymore. I’m a retired businesswoman, and I know you cannot build a wonderful future for people if we all don’t get together.”
This election is all about the voters turning out to register and go to the polls, Klusman said.
“If they don’t vote, they cannot complain,” Klusman said.
As a deputy and manager of the county’s fair, Johnny Love is a man of few words.
Love believes there is a simple solution to most problems.
“I’m straightforward and to the point. I am a problem-solver and believe that there is a simple solution to most problems,” Love said.
Unemployment in Rowan County needs to be addressed, Love said, which relates to reforming the local education system and bringing more businesses in.
Love said he is tired of the bickering between county government and municipalities in Rowan County.
The relationships need to be repaired in the county, specifically between commissioners and both the school board and city council.
County and school employees take the brunt of “every economic downfall” that comes, Love said.
“Every time we turn around they tell us there is no money for raises and our insurance goes up,” Love said. “It is time for that to stop. Rowan County loses valuable employees to other counties. We spend the money to train them, and we need to keep them here. The service is good now, but it can be great.”
Love said he doesn’t believe in standing up to sway the vote of some people in order to make them feel “warm and fuzzy.”
“It’s about making Rowan County the best it can be and having everybody proud of where they live,” Love said.
The skills needed to have a successful business career in the pharmaceutical industry are the same skills David Roueche said would serve him well as a county commissioner.
Those qualities, Roueche said, include strong decision-making, negotiating, management and budgetary skills.
“I have a long and deep general investment in Rowan County that helps me understand the cultural differences that exist in the county,” Roueche said. “I’m conservatively cautious, and I’m aggressive and confident in my process to embrace risk-taking and change. We need change, and it takes risk.”
In his business experience, Roueche said he has planned for budgets, set and achieved goals and handled personnel even through downsizing.
Rowan County needs a leader who supports open communication, Roueche said.
“We have to become a leader in quality business recruitment. We cannot just sit back and philosophy about it,” Roueche said. “We have to think nationally and globally and entice industry to locate here.”
Government officials lead by example and positive actions, Roueche said, and negative actions translate to bad leadership.
The Rowan County Board of Commissioners is going through an identity crisis, Roueche said.
“There is not a standing, positive identity that is strong and confident. I have a proven track record, and it is all about looking for ways to improve,” Roueche said.
The upcoming primary is going to be a struggle as the vote is diluted due to so many candidates running, Roueche said.
“This election will awaken the complacent community of voters. The numbers are going to be bunched together, but there will be definite winners,” Roueche said.
Roueche said he thinks there are going to be three new faces joining the Rowan County Board of Commissioners because the “wave of change is too strong.”
“We have to utilize our county employees. Why can’t we find the money to pay the county employees,” Roueche said. “If taxes have to be raised, I’d much rather spend it on services and the county employees as opposed to a mall tax.”
It costs money to grow, Roueche said.
“We’re planning for yesterday, and we’re spending money to stay even today,” Roueche said. “We can’t do that anymore.”
Rowan County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jim Sides is making his fourth bid this year.
Sides considers himself a realist.
“I don’t have a six-step plan to fix all the problems in Rowan County. I don’t have the same beliefs some of them do,” Sides said. “I’ve been here long enough to know these issues were here before I got elected.”
There is a lot of good in Rowan County, Sides said, and the county has managed to be very successful “even in the worst economy anybody living has ever seen.”
Candidates will find out what it is like to be a county commissioner “when they get here,” Sides said.
“You can have the best ideas in the world and some of the most lofty goals in the world,” Sides said.
Sides said his 12 years of experience as a commissioner make him stand out.
County commissioners receive all of the blame and never any of the glory, Sides said.
“If we can jointly work with the (school board) and resolve an issue they have with funding – I’m willing to do that. It’s the same with Salisbury,” Sides said. “On some issues, it’s not going to be possible. Nobody talks about who starts the fight.”
Sides said he works for all the citizens of Rowan County — including the ones who don’t like him — to keep taxes low and government off of their backs.
“I don’t represent any special interest group. If there are 31,000 citizens who want us to do something for them, that is not what I’m going to do,” Sides said. “The city of Salisbury is a special interest group.”
The only special interest group Sides said he represents is the community of 138,000 citizens making up Rowan County.
Sides also is ardently opposed to giving incentives to companies.
“I’m not going to give away property and money. It’s not my mission as a commissioner,” Sides said. “We make it convenient for them to come here and concentrate on educating a workforce so they are competent to perform the work for the companies.”
Sides said there is a faction of people running for one reason.
“It’s not about being a good commissioner. They want to get me out. There is a group of people running to get me out of office,” Sides said.
Having voted on 11 budgets as a commissioner, Sides said he never voted for a tax increase.
“I’ve been part of the responsible government this county has had for a number of years,” Sides said. “We saw the writing on the wall before the recession and had to consolidate departments and let people go in order to be fiscally responsible.”