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In commission race, three seek change, others don’t

By Andie Foley
andie.foley@salisburypost.com

This year, the Republican primary in the Rowan County Commissioners race is full of familiar faces.

All except one, that is. Of six, five campaigning are either serving or have served on the board before.

This year’s race features incumbents Greg Edds, Jim Greene and Judy Klusman. Familiar challengers are Craig Pierce, currently serving, and Jim Sides, who lost in the primary in 2014.

Edds and Greene are chair and vice-chair, respectively. Pierce has served as vice-chair, and Sides was acting chair during the 2014 election.

Our one Republican newcomer is Michael Julian, a lifelong Rowan County resident and graduate of East Rowan and Catawba College.

Incumbent candidates have touted the strength of the current board despite Pierce’s unprecedented decision to run for one of their seats.

Pierce? Well, he isn’t so sure.

“It’s been a difficult last three years because I don’t have the same philosophy as part of my board does,” he said, “but I haven’t let that stop me from improving this county.”

Will the board’s composition change? With two Democratic challengers this year, we won’t know until November.

But, Republican primary results could show us who we won’t be seeing again if incumbents lose.

Early voting for the primary starts on Thursday, and each Republican primary candidate is campaigning on a number of principles in hopes to make the general ballot.

From proven track records and systems to a focus on all, here’s what they had to say.

Greg Edds

Along the campaign trail, Edds has continually emphasized his strength to create systems, frameworks and processes that produce results.

“I try to bring vision to the county and bring people together around shared values and goals,” he said. “… I’ve worked hard to build a framework for continuous improvement and put processes in place that will help bring repeatable, sustained progress and growth for our future.”

This framework is evidenced in his priorities for the commission in the next two years: an itemized list of sixteen items with common through lines.

His list included steps to both recruit businesses and train the workforce to fill incoming positions.

Recruiting businesses included continued work with the Rowan Economic Development Commission, he said. He wants more industrial land in inventory and to find more private-sector developers to invest in new buildings and infrastructure.

“The more sites we have and the more buildings we have, the more visits we get,” said Edds.

Edds also emphasized partnerships with the school system and private sector, creating trade schools and “effective, relevant and in-demand workforce development training.”

His hope is that the county will earn a ‘Certified Work-Ready Community’ designation, he said.

“In 2014, the citizens were very clear what they wanted,” he said. “They wanted to set a new tone and a positive new direction for Rowan County. That’s what I’ve worked to do … and that’s what I’ll continue to do.”

Jim Greene

Jim Greene, in speaking about his plans for Rowan, voiced a passion for the underserved, outlying municipalities.

He’s championed a library for the county’s western end and has visions for a park or recreational facility to the south.

He also wants to keep Landis and China Grove at the forefront as development comes from the expansion of Interstate 85.

“This board, if it stays intact, has shown that it’s not going to spend $30 to $40 million without a plan,” said Greene, “We’ll continue the systematic development of that area with China Grove and Landis both at the forefront.”

Holistically, Greene said that big changes are coming to the county in light of the new interchange: five new housing developments are under constructions right now.

“We’ll have to see how that impacts us through new families, how it’s going to impact the school system and other areas of the county,” he said. “That’s something we haven’t had in ten years.”

And he emphasized continued, strategic investment for long-term economic development in the form of a new business park, as the county’s current business park is nearly at maximum capacity.

“We may not have any land for sale once that tract of land is sold,” Greene said. “It would be wise for us to start looking for property that we can develop and use to recruit businesses.”

Mike Julian

This year’s newcomer, Julian has campaigned on the promise that he’s looking out for the needs of all.

This includes those outlying municipalities whose leaders say they feel like redheaded stepchildren, he said.

“I want what is best for the good of all citizens of our county,” he said. “I don’t care if you are from Cleveland or Gold Hill, Landis or East Spencer, Salisbury or anywhere in between, I am your commissioner.”

In looking out for all citizens, Julian stressed a need to use the former Salisbury Mall, now West End Plaza, to its fullest potential. He also said the expansion of water and sewer throughout the county at large would be necessary for growth.

“Some say we would do it if we could afford it, but we can’t afford not to do it,” he said.

Asking for citizens’ votes, Julian cited 20 years of volunteerism within the county: he’s read with students in elementary school and mentored those in high school. He said his work with various organizations has helped him see things that need to change.

“I see a need to try and help our county progress and our county to grow. Positive leadership is what we need,” he said. “… I want what is best for our students and families of Rowan.”

Judy Klusman 

For Klusman, her priorities on the Board of Commissioners complement her chosen profession as a Lutheran minister: she’s all about people.

She has a passion for working to improve both the health and education of the Rowan County community.

She’s working with the Health Department and law enforcement to address the opioid crisis, to ensure children receive dental care and to promote early literacy.

“I am a very big proponent of children being able to read very early in life,” she said. “… Without reading skills, the world just passes you by.”

Klusman said the county has been making strides in recent years to improve, increasing wages of teachers and county employees.

“We were lagging behind before and losing folks,” she said, then praised the county’s ability to make these improvements without raising taxes.

“It takes teamwork and I think that’s important for people to know that I work together with this team,” she said.

Klusman’s work impacts those of every socioeconomic and cultural background, and she said pointedly: if re-elected, she won’t focus on the needs of only one group.

“We don’t just represent the people who voted for us,” said Klusman. “We represent everyone. Everyone is welcome to call and make suggestions and point out things that need to be fixed.”

Craig Pierce

Pierce said that his priority is making sure that the needs of the citizens are met.

“When I joined the Republican Party I made a commitment to everybody … to do what I could do to foster the party,” he said. “I think I’ve done that. I’ve done that on the commission also.”

Currently, Pierce said the biggest need he sees is water and sewer expansion into the southern end of the county, an initiative he said he’s pushed for since knowing the new interchange was coming to Rowan.

“I knew this would be shot in the arm to be able to have water and sewer in southern and eastern parts of county,” he said.

He said that his experience in construction made him confident that the area hadn’t and wouldn’t develop due to the costly logistics of bringing water and septic to these areas.

“You have to drill such a deep well to get water, that prevented builders from being able to build,” he said.

He said moving the water and sewer project forward hasn’t been easy with the current board composition.

“We all have a different approach,” he said. “ … There’s no consistency in how we want to accomplish making this a better place.”

Pierce’s earlier-than-necessary campaign rests on this project: he said this project is going to need more than two years to be completed, but he wants to see it through to the end.

Jim Sides

Jim Sides has been on and off the board since the 1980s, and said he’s always had the same three priorities: fewer taxes, less government and less control.

He said like some who are called to be preachers, teachers or policemen, he’s been drawn to the county commissioners in the same way.

“Serving is a ministry for me. … I just feel like this is my calling,” he said. “It’s been my lifelong dream. Not a lot of people can say that.”

Sides said he prioritized property rights and ending a quarter cent sales tax enacted in 2004.

The citizens should have control of their own property, said Sides, and the county was now in a place to share benefits of growth with its residents.

“I think it’s time to give taxpayers a tax cut,” he said. “… The county should give back to citizens now that it’s taking in additional revenue.”

Moreover, Sides said he felt that tax incentives for businesses were “evil.” It allows the government to choose which businesses succeed if not available to all, he said.

“I love Rowan County and I want the very best possible life for all of our citizens,” he said.

If elected, Sides said he would continue operating as he’s had in the past: with transparency and open doors.

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