Three Republican candidates for the Lee County Board of Commissioners have circulated a fundraising letter – sent with the county’s logo at the top – claiming that “strategic planning for economic growth has been virtually non-existent” and “efforts to attract new business have been erratic.”
It’s unclear to how many people the letter from Republican candidates Bill Carver, Paula Fine-Mbuangi and Sandra Jones was sent. It bears a disclosure indicating it was paid for by their respective campaigns.
But the central claim – that efforts at economic development have lacked strategic cohesion – appears to be at odds with both documents guiding county economic development policy and recent investments and job creation by companies locating or expanding in Lee County. The county has since 2013 followed an official strategic plan which was adopted that year by a GOP-led board that included then Commissioner Jim Womack, who is now chairman of the Lee County Republican Party.
The document provided the foundation of the county’s partnership with the Sanford Area Growth Alliance, which was originally formed as the Sanford Lee County Partnership for Prosperity in the wake of the dissolution of the old Lee County Economic Development Corporation.
And proponents of SAGA and its work point to the multiple announcements of new jobs and tax base investment, particularly from four major companies – Pfizer, Audentes, Bharat Forge, and Through6 – since mid 2019.
“I don’t know how they can say that,” said Kirk Bradley, a member and immediate past chairman of SAGA’s board of directors. “SAGA has a very robust plan of work that’s resulted in 1,500 jobs and $800 million in tax base investment since August of 2019. I think that’s good, specific evidence of a good strategic plan and organization and effectiveness in the marketplace.”
The Rant reached out to Carver, Fine-Mbuangi and Jones for comment. Carver responded with an email which was signed by all three candidates. He later confirmed the answer was approved by all three candidates.
Carver said he, Fine-Mbuangi and Jones were familiar with the strategic plan, but called it a “starting point for addressing strategic land use planning, infrastructure planning, academic growth, and other vitally important areas needing development.”
“The plan lacked specific goals and objectives for most aspects of growth and development expecting that review and implementation would follow,” he wrote. “However, the commissioners since 2013 have not pursued the plan and now we need forward-looking planning for business growth in this county.”
Carver also defended the use of the county’s logo and said he didn’t think it appeared to be an official county document.
“The logo on our letter represents Lee County and all of our citizens,” he said. “We are citizens seeking to improve the county governance. Nothing in the letter suggests we are communicating or representing official county authority.”
Jeni Harris, Lee County’s elections director, said her office had been made aware of the letter and sent it to the North Carolina State Board of Elections, who determined that use of the county’s logo didn’t constitute any kind of campaign finance violation.
“The state said they have no power over it,” she said. “That is something the county will need to address.”
Carver, Fine-Mbuangi and Jones are competing against Democrats Amy Dalrymple, the board’s chair, Cameron Sharpe and Mark Lovick for three at large seats on the board.