GOP commissioner candidates square off at forum
The eight Republicans vying for three seats on the Rowan County Board of Commissioners sat in the current commissioners’ chairs Wednesday for a forum sponsored by the Rowan Municipal Association.
Candidates each had a chance to deliver opening and closing statements, as well as answer groups of questions, two of which related to economic development and education while the other two focused on addressing the county’s relationship with municipalities.
The two Republicans going head-to-head for the N.C. House District 77 seat — incumbent N.C. Rep. Harry Warren and Rowan County Commissioner Chad Mitchell — also were invited to speak.
Mitchell was present, but Warren was unable to attend due to scheduling conflicts.
Jim Sides, chairman of the commission, said major growth for the county is going to come down to developing the Interstate 85, U.S. 70, U.S. 52 and U.S. 601 corridors.
“We need growth in Rowan County because we need jobs. I’m not one of those guys that is in favor of appointing another committee of 40 businessmen in Rowan County to tell us what we need,” Sides said. “You have a representative form of government and you elected five commissioners to make decisions for you.”
Commissioners support the Rowan County Economic Development Commission, the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce, the tourism development authority and the metropolitan planning organization.
“We have a land use plan in place that identifies those areas of the type of growth we would like to see, but I don’t see it is the commissioners’ job to say a Sam’s should go here and a Walmart should go there,” Sides said. “Those things will come based on other economic factors.”
Sides said he will not work with any special interest group, but he will work with all groups to see the county’s taxpayers are protected.
Jobs will come if education is better, he said. “We’ve spent more money this year on education than we have ever spent in Rowan County, but where are the results,” he asked.
Candidate David Roueche said the county has many assets and has experienced many successes.
“We need to use the existing infrastructure, and we need to work with the various municipalities that touch this corridor so that we can have a developmental plan that we can use in conjunction with the economic development, the Chamber and all the businesses in the county,” Roueche said. “This has to be a joint effort. You can’t singly say ‘This is what we need.’ ”
Joint cooperation, ideas and vision are needed from all of the county’s entities to spur growth and development, Roueche said.
Everybody wants to provide a good education for students, Roueche said.
“You can relate education to growth. You can relate education to all the positive cultural things in the county,” Roueche said. “You only have so many tax dollars to use. The (school board) is responsible for using those tax dollars to the best of their abilities.”
Revenues need to be increased to support educational needs, Roueche said.
“It’s incumbent that a strong business environment is in place to help drive these values and these goals,” Roueche said.
Candidate Johnny Love said the county needs to make it easier for industry to relocate here. The county needs to “let them come,” Love said.
“Let’s put a package together for each municipality (so) people can walk in, see what they need to do and have a friendly conversation to make it happen,” Love said. “Until it comes around, nobody is going to come to Rowan County. We’ve seen it. We haven’t had any growth. Cleveland County has no corridors, no air and no rail. They are ahead of us right now in economic growth.”
The county needs leaders willing to talk, work and offer incentives, he said.
Dr. Lynn Moody, superintendent of the Rowan-Salisbury School System, can do her job if the county supports her, Love said.
“We’re going to have to quit saying ‘This is my money and I’m not going to give it to you until you do it the way I want you to do it,’ ” Love said. “The school budget is the school budget. If they get it and spend it wrong and come back — that’s when we start arguing with them (as opposed to) off the start. Let’s support our schools, teachers and get behind the new superintendent.”
Candidate Judy Klusman, a former Wisconsin state legislator, said it takes collaboration for developing an economic development planning process.
“We have even more economic development tools. We have the interstate highways that are already there. They make a triangle, and we’re in the middle of it,” Klusman said. “We have plentiful water. People don’t talk about that around here very much.”
The county has a valuable airport, Klusman said, and the best economic move that can be made is extending the airport’s runway.
Klusman said, “I think we are right on the cusp of being able to lead a county of excellence.”
The school system needs more support, Klusman said. “Instead of raising taxes for the mall, or the West End development, I truly believe we should be putting that money into our people,” Klusman said. “Our teachers are paid $10,000 less a year compared to (teachers in) South Carolina and Virginia.”
Candidate Greg Edds, former chairman of the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce, said he intends to secure a room at a local restaurant on a monthly basis come January for one purpose — strengthening relationships between the county commission, school board, city council and every one of the county’s municipalities.
“We need some wins. We need some victories in this community to begin bringing ourselves together,” Edds said. “Our relationships are what we seem to be lacking.”
Edds said he understands there is a “natural rub” between counties and cities.
“I understand that. I understand we have different views on different issues,” Edds said. “There are things that are demons in our community that are killing us and hurting us that we can certainly identify together and begin to plan together on how to tackle those.”
Those issues include education, crime, joblessness and poverty, Edds said.
“Certainly, these are things that we can (gather to) hold hands together and say ‘We will tackle these once and for all,’ ” Edds said.
Candidate Joe Coladarci said the county’s fire departments work in mutual agreement with each other. In regard to fostering communication between communities, Coladarci said the biggest conflict is between the county and the city.
“I don’t hear a lot of conflicts with the other municipalities, and I’ve been pretty active,” Coladarci said. “I’m wondering, from an intractability standpoint — here we have a county commission that has turned over in the last 20 years a countless number of times, but we’ve had a pretty static group of council members here in the (city). I’m trying to figure out who is the intractable group.”
Those are questions “most people” don’t want to ask, Coladarci said, and most people assume it is the county’s fault.
Coladarci doesn’t agree.
“These are good, hardworking men — every single one of them,” Coladarci said. “The question becomes how do the rest of the communities work with the county. I think that is all part of communication and asking questions of each other.”
Candidate Brandon Cupp said not all communities are going to see eye-to-eye on every issue. “I view it as the vacuum cleaner salesman who shows up at my house at 5 p.m. when it is time to sit down and eat,” Cupp said. “If I slam the door in his face, he’s not going to come back. These other municipalities are going to be the same way.”
If the county is not willing to work with the other municipalities, they will slam their doors on the county in return.
No growth will come due to a lack of open communication, Cupp said.
“That’s not what we need,” Cupp said.
Cupp said first responders regularly work together throughout the county.
“We are all citizens of Rowan County. We all pay taxes here,” Cupp said. “Whether you live in the city or live in the county, you deserve the same services.”
Cupp said he knows how important cooperating police, fire, emergency medical service and rescue squad personnel are.
Candidate Jim Greene said creating a working relationship between the municipalities is “not rocket science.”
“It’s like creating a relationship with family members and anything else,” Greene said. “To create relationships, you have to have conversation.”
A perception exists that the further a person gets away from the city, the less service he or she receives.
“I don’t think that is the way it will be. I don’t think that is the way it should be. I’m not saying that is the way it is now, but that is the perception a lot of people have,” Greene said.
“The new communications building that the commissioners built with the collaboration of the city is something that is an example of what we need for the whole county,” he said.
On the Rowan County Economic Development Commission, Greene said he and his fellow board members work collaboratively with each municipality.
There are no problems in regard to having a working relationship with the other municipalities, Greene said.
“If you have that ability and take the time to sit down and talk to people, we can work these things out,” Greene said.
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