Four vie for two spots on Rowan County Board of Commissioners
By Josh Bergeron
SALISBURY — As incumbents campaign on their record, challengers in the 2016 county commissioners race have other ideas about how to improve Rowan.
The race features Republican incumbents Mike Caskey and Craig Pierce. Challengers are Democrat Veleria Levy and Libertarian Mark Lyerly. On Nov. 8, voters will decide which two candidates should receive a four-year term.
From the start of their re-election bids, Caskey and Pierce have campaigned on their records — saying they hope to complete ongoing projects and keep the current positive momentum going.
Pierce has specifically focused on completing the county’s efforts to extend water and sewer lines into rural areas for economic development. In a recent interview, Caskey told the Salisbury Post that commissioners’ efforts over the past four years have left Rowan County better off than when he and Pierce took office. Both incumbents have mentioned a long list of projects they’ve accomplished since 2012 — from education to the animal shelter.
Despite optimism from incumbents, Levy and Lyerly have their own ideas.
Levy admits that the Rowan County Board of Commissioners has improved since the 2014 election. Still, she accuses incumbent commissioners of only catering to a select few and encourages commissioners to “think outside of the box.”
Lyerly says he’s a “better alternative” to incumbent commissioners. He agrees with incumbent commissioners about a limited number of areas. On topics such as the prayer lawsuit and the purchase of the former Salisbury Mall, however, he disagrees with incumbents.
An Enochville resident and Charlotte police officer, Caskey is nearing the end of his first term in office. He has also served on the Rowan County Planning Board and Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education. In the March Republican primary election, he finished first out of three candidates.
Caskey says he believes the quality of life in Rowan County has improved since he was elected in 2012.
“I think that over the last four years, we’ve made a lot of significant strides in a number of areas,” Caskey said in a recent interview with the Salisbury Post.
His list includes items like committing tens of millions to the public school system, reducing the shifts of EMS workers from 24 to 12 hours and expanding the county’s Veteran Services Department. The most important accomplishment, Caskey says, is commissioners’ economic development efforts. He likens it to turning a big ship around.
“You just can’t turn it on a dime,” he said. “It takes a little time to get it back in the right direction.”
Now, commissioners are headed in the right direction, he said.
Among incumbent commissioners, Caskey is unique for his relatively reserved style and focus on issues related to public safety.
Caskey has supported the county’s prayer lawsuit since its start. He questions what might happen if commissioners weren’t allowed to use words such as Jesus in prayers at the start of meetings.
“If you’re going to let people say they’re offended by certain things and it goes away, what’s the next word?” Caksey asked.
He says the county’s purchase of West End Plaza — the former Salisbury Mall — is a more cost effective option than building new county offices.
A Kannapolis resident and account executive for Med Express/Avita Pharmacy in Salisbury, Levy’s 2016 bid for county commissioner is her first shot at publicly elected office. However, she has been heavily involved in local and state politics for the Democratic Party.
The areas she finds most important include the usual suspects — education and economic development. She also sees improving public safety as a top priority.
“Electing me to the Board of Commissioners is electing someone who is responsive to the needs of all citizens and not just a select few that check the box,” she said. “To improve the county, we have to think outside of the box.”
On economic development, Levy says commissioners should recruit businesses that specifically match with degrees offered at local colleges.
Her proposals related to public safety are notably different than other candidates. On her website, she proposes that all new sheriff’s deputies should be subjected to a psychological test to ensure they are fit for the position. The test would eliminate potential candidates with “anger management issues or biases such as racism and homophobia.”
If successful, Levy notes that she would be the first black female elected to the Rowan County Board of Commissioners.
When asked about current issues facing the county, Levy says the board should place more than county offices at the West End Plaza. During a recent candidates’ forum, she said local colleges should use the space for entrepreneurship programs. It could also be used for children’s activities, she said.
Levy says she disagrees with the commissioners’ federal prayer lawsuit. She called the lawsuit a waste of time and money. However, the commissioners are being represented in court at no cost.
Lyerly lives near China Grove and works as a quality control inspector for Mueller Systems near Cleveland. Like Levy, he could also make history if elected to the Rowan County Board of Commissioners. He would be the first Libertarian ever elected to the county’s governing board.
In his bid for elected office, Lyerly says he hopes to make Rowan County a better place for his children. Like others, Lyerly sees economic development as the most important issue, and he’s got a lengthy list of ideas commissioners could pursue if he secures a spot on the board.
One of his unique ideas would be prominently promoting the fact that Rowan County sits within Charlotte’s foreign trade zone, which allows companies to export goods duty free. By altering its marketing tactics, Lyerly says Rowan County could attract businesses it hasn’t seen interest from before.
Another item on his list of ideas: Rowan and Davidson counties should partner with one another to create a recreational area at the old Color-tex site, which is located between U.S. 29 and the Yadkin River at the Rowan-Davidson line.
Lyerly was a member of the La Resistance political group in 2014 and opposed the purchase of the former Salisbury Mall — now West End Plaza. It will end up being “a money pit,” he said during a recent interview.
Lyerly also is opposed to continuing the county’s prayer lawsuit. Commissioners should have chosen to have a moment of silence at the start of meetings and attempted to avoid the lawsuit entirely, Lyerly said.
A business owner who lives near the Rowan-Davie line, Pierce is among the most outspoken members of the Board of Commissioners. He has also served on the county’s planning board and airport advisory board.
Pierce says he’s tried to tackle issues where “the can has been kicked down the road.”
“I have tried to tackle things that, in my opinion, have been festering for a long time,” he said.
Among incumbent commissioners, Pierce is unique for his focus on animal shelter issues. He also proposed the county’s current effort to build a water and sewer system — one of the more expensive projects Rowan County has committed to completing. However, commissioners plan to complete the system as need exists rather than all at once.
At times, he has been the target of criticism for controversial comments. Pierce contends that he wasn’t a politician when he entered office and won’t be one when he leaves.
When asked about issues facing county commissioners, Pierce said buying the former mall was the most cost-effective option for providing county departments with office space. He also says that surrounding property values would have declined if commissioners hadn’t purchased the property.
Asked about the prayer lawsuit, Pierce said the county’s options were either to defend its policy or automatically lose.
“At that point, we’ve got no recourse but to defend ourselves,” he said. “It’s not like we went out looking for a fight.”
Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.
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