In March and April, The Rant Monthly sent questions to candidates in contested primaries. With early voting under way as of Thursday, we’re publishing them online. NOTE: Answers are submitted by the candidates and are presented in this publication unedited, aside from paragraph breaks.
LEE COUNTY SHERIFF (R): The race for sheriff of Lee County will be contested in both the general election and the Republican primary, as Tim Smith filed to face incumbent interim Sheriff Brian Estes. The winner will face Democrat Carlton Lyles.
Rant: Introduce yourself and share what skills and qualifications you believe prepare you to be the Republican nominee for Lee County Sheriff.
Brian Estes: My name is Brian Estes and I’m a Christian, Conservative, and Republican. I am a lifelong resident of Lee County, where I reside with my wife Ashley and son Corbin. Over the last 20 years I have worked at the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and have served as a Patrol Deputy, Domestic Violence Investigator, Criminal Investigator, Narcotic Agent, TFO/Homeland Security, Captain of Professional Standards, and now as your Sheriff. As the Sheriff, I will continue to protect the Constitutional rights of all citizens to liberty, equality, and justice. My badge not only identifies me as the Sheriff, it also represents the oath of office, serving as a constant reminder of the values and principles I hold very dearly. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice. I am the first Lee County Deputy in the history of the Sheriff’s Office to be accepted and to attend the FBI National Academy. I am a General and Specialized Physical Fitness Instructor and I enjoy teaching in the Basic Law Enforcement Training Program. I have the endorsements of Sheriff Billy Bryant and Sheriff Tracy Carter. I am the only certified Law Enforcement Officer running to be your Sheriff. I feel that my training and experience best qualify me for the opportunity to ask you for your vote to be your Sheriff.
Tim Smith: I will keep this short and sweet. My name is Tim L. Smith and I’m a candidate for Lee County Sheriff. I am a former Lee County Deputy, and I hold a Master’s degree in Philosophy, specializing in political theory and ethics. I am a published author, and have written formatively on the relationship between American law enforcement and our federal Constitution.
Rant: What do you see as the biggest threat to public safety in Lee County and how will you leverage the assets of the sheriff’s office to confront it?
Estes: The biggest threat that I see on a daily basis, that has somehow affected every family in Lee County, is associated with illegal drugs. I have personally witnessed the effect of overdoses and addiction destroying families. I will do everything in my ability to ensure justice is brought for the friends, family, and loved ones that are also affected. In addition to our Narcotic’s Investigators, I plan to have an Investigator that solely focuses on overdose cases and investigates the people responsible for the sale of poison to our children. As Sheriff, I am also implementing programs in our Detention Center that will give people a chance to start recovering and help them with mental health issues while incarcerated, to hopefully give them a sense of direction when released. Secondly, Lee County needs to be kept safe from criminals that travel from city to city to destroy towns other than the one they call home. The safety and security of Lee County and all of its people and property are paramount. As your Sheriff, I will guarantee that not only my staff, but myself as well, will be on the front lines to ensure Lee County is served with Professional, Accountable, and Effective Law Enforcement.
Smith: The biggest threat I see to public safety is a rise in political agendas that work against America’s fundamental, and foundational principles. Some examples of these agendas are: restrictions upon your speech, the centralizing of government, intrusion of your privacy, the financial exploitation of your property and wealth, the arbitrary restraints on your right to be armed, etc. I would leverage the assets of the sheriff’s office to confront this threat by taking my oath to uphold and defend our constitution very seriously. I just love the innovative proposition that Madison fortified in our constitution; that law should, and must, be limited to the rights of the people.
Rant: Although there is an interim sheriff finishing out Tracy Carter’s unexpired term, the winner of the general election will be a newcomer after nearly 16 years under Carter. How will you interface with the community in a way that introduces yourself and builds public trust?
Estes I am very fortunate to have been a part of the Sheriff’s Office during Sheriff Carter’s tenure. I have been mentored by Sheriff Carter and witnessed the amazing work that he has done for the community of Lee County. I will continue to lead from the front and to improve our office moving forward. Over the last 20 years, I have developed relationships and partnerships with the citizens by being involved with community events, fundraisers for those in need, and educating our children to make good decisions. I am very blessed to be serving as your Sheriff for the remainder of this term. I will continue to be everyone’s Sheriff and be available to the community, as Sheriff Carter always was. I have an open-door policy to the citizens of Lee County and the employees of the Sheriff’s Office. Transparency is key to trust in any relationship. My staff is very important to me and I will ensure that the citizens receive top level professional Law Enforcement. I am 100 percent invested in Lee County and the future of the Sheriff’s Office, and with your support, I will be for many years to come.
Smith: I believe the best way to build public trust in our communities is to improve the relationship between the people and law enforcement. Law enforcement officers are servants of the people and our first line of defense. A strong, positive relationship between the people and law enforcement is essential to securing our American principles, and way of life. Moreover, a Sheriff must, sincerely, and continuously, go after those people who criminally cause harm to others and/or to another’s property, no matter who they are in society.
For greater depth and detail in the stance I take, who I am, my background, what a Sheriff’s job is, and local issues I aspire to tackle, if elected, please take some time to visit www.Tim4Sheriff.com.
Rant: What actions will your office take to ensure a harmonious working relationship with other law enforcement agencies working in Lee County like the Sanford Police Department, the Broadway Police Department, the North Carolina Highway Patrol?
Estes: It is very important for Law Enforcement Agencies to work together. The Lee County Sheriff’s Office has a great working relationship with all Agencies in Lee County. I feel that the leaders from each Agency should have an open line of communication as well as the Officers they manage. This allows us to share information, exchange ideas, and work together for the same common goal and purpose.
I support the mutual aid agreements that currently exist with all Agencies located within Lee County which allows us to provide services when needed from each other from anything from a traffic stop to a murder investigation.
In certain calls for service if a Deputy needs help, other local Agencies might have a faster response time. I have personally had the Sanford Police Department, the North Carolina Highway Patrol, and the Broadway Police Department assist me in different situations that helped lead to a positive outcome.
I will continue to work with any Agency to provide the best service to the citizens of Lee County.
Smith: I believe that to ensure a harmonious, working relationship with other law enforcement agencies within Lee County is to simply let them do their jobs. People living within city limits pay extra taxes so that the city can provide law enforcement services. It would, therefore, not be prudent for the sheriff to exercise basic enforcement within the cities, for this reason. If the Sheriff were to exercise basic law enforcement within a municipality, it should generally relate to necessary circumstances. For example, in 2009, the Sheriff of Cumberland County took over all law enforcement responsibilities in the City of Spring Lake because the Spring Lake police department was temporarily stripped of its police powers, due to corruption. This is, in part, why the sheriff is elected, and why a sheriff occupies an office, and not a department. While the sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer in the county, law and order in the county is a communal enterprise, and it takes all of us.
Rant: How do you view the balance between aggressively pursuing criminal investigations and protecting the rights of individuals?
Estes: As your Sheriff I will continue to protect the rights of all citizens of Lee County. The Constitution, State Law, and Policies clearly define the standard that will ensure transparency and due diligence.
First and foremost, protecting the rights of ALL citizens is paramount. It is important to remember that each person on both the right and wrong side of the law has their individual rights and it is my responsibility to ensure that everyone is protected.
I have experience in conducting long term investigations that have been prosecuted in both State and Federal Courts. I have completed the Police Law Institute training course on Arrest, Search, and Investigation. I have attended and completed Constitutional Law training at the Federal Bureau of Investigations.
Training has a significant impact on all aspects of Law Enforcement. I take training very seriously and have been teaching Officers the fundamentals of Law Enforcement since 2007. Continued training for Deputies on how to properly do their jobs while ensuring Law and Order is a priority.
Part of any criminal investigation requires dedication and persistence to ensure that no leaf is left unturned. The goal of all criminal investigations is to bring justice for victims and the accountability of perpetrators.
Smith: Well, of course, “aggressively pursuing” will ultimately come down to individual cases and the circumstances attached. But, overall, I view the balancing of rights with enforcement upon some fundamental precepts. First, what does the National Sheriffs’ Association say? They stipulate that, “A sheriff should always perform his or her duties in accordance with the Constitution of the United States as interpreted by the United States Supreme Court.” Second, what has the US Supreme Court interpreted? In Printz vs. US (1997), the court ruled in favor of sheriffs that refused to enforce a federal gun ban. Quoting Madison, the court ruled, “The local or municipal authorities form distinct and independent portions of the supremacy, are no more subject, within their respective spheres, to the general authority than the general authority is subject to them, within its own sphere.” The court continued, “Chief law enforcement officers may voluntarily continue to participate.” A recent US Supreme Court case example is South Bay United Pentecostal Church vs. Gavin Newson, (2021). The court ruled that a pandemic was not argument enough to enforce a ban on religious assembly, and is a violation of the 1st Amendment. Third precept, what does Thomas Jefferson say? “Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will, within the limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’; because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual.” Law must be limited to the rights of the people. This is what makes America so exceptional, and must be the foundation of how a sheriff balances rights with enforcement.
SANFORD MAYOR (D): Shortly after Sanford Mayor Chet Mann announced in February that he won’t seek a third term in this year’s municipal election, two members of the city council announced bids for the office — setting up a Democratic primary on May 17. Ward 1 Councilman Sam Gaskins and Ward 5 Councilwoman Rebecca Wyhof Salmon each announced that they would seek the office of mayor. No Republican filed for the seat.
Rant: Introduce yourself and share what skills and qualifications you believe prepare you to be the next mayor of Sanford.
Sam Gaskins: I worked 30 years as an industrial scientist and a technology manager with RCA and Pfizer, where for many years, I was responsible for multimillion-dollar budgets.
I retired from industry and moved to academia, where I spent 18 years as a chemistry professor including chemical technology and biotechnology.
In December 2009, I began representing the City Council at the Economic Development Corporation meetings. I was instrumental in transitioning from the EDC to the Sanford Area Growth Alliance, and I have served on the SAGA Board of Directors since its inception.
In 2013, I garnered the four votes on Council necessary to clean up the construction dump behind the Chatham Street businesses and the Buggy Company to convert the dump to an aesthetically pleasing parking lot with Sanford’s first excursion into public art. At a cost of $400,000, it took some effort to muster those four votes.
Also in 2013, I championed the bond referenda, especially for the Streetscape Project as a follow-up to the Chatham Street Parking Lot and as a means to attract new businesses to Downtown Sanford.
I have a track record of community service. An extensive list may be found on my website: www.SamGaskins.com.
I work, I make things happen, and I am a proven leader in industry, in academia, in community service, and in city government.
Rebecca Wyhof Salmon: I have been a member of the City Council since 2011 including two years as Mayor Pro Tem. During my tenure, I have served as a Board Member and Chair of the seven-county Triangle J Council of Governments, as a Director of Foreign Trade Zone #93, and as a Gubernatorial appointment to the NC Oil and Gas Commission. I hold a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from UNC-CH and have over 25 years of diverse public and private sector work experience.
During my time on the Council, I have been a champion of the positive and successful ‘Open for Business’ agenda. I have always sought to be a problem solver and a coalition builder and have built productive, respectful working relationships with a wide spectrum of stakeholders because I truly believe that building a community is a team effort. I look forward to working with our partners to build on this foundation as we chart the future for our dynamic city.
As Sanford looks forward to its next chapter, I feel I have the right experience, acumen, positive energy, and temperament to serve our community well as Mayor.
Rant: Both of you referenced outgoing Mayor Chet Mann’s “Open for Business” agenda when you announced your candidacies. That being said, Mann said he believed the items on that agenda had been completed. What does “Open for Business” mean to you, and how do you propose to carry it forward as mayor?
Gaskins: Mayor Mann is correct in that the specific items on his agenda have been accomplished. For example, we have certainly promoted water supply as a unique asset, we have a visual and performance art district, and we have an East Sanford development program.
We cannot simply say that we have accomplished our immediate goals and assume that we are finished. We are in a dynamic situation. We must continue to attract new industry, to retain industry, and replace businesses that do move or fail. We must continue to upgrade the quality of jobs available and our workforce. Higher paying jobs will improve the quality of life for all Sanford residents. If we do not continue our efforts to attract these companies and the higher-paying jobs, someone else will.
I have completed a detailed program of work, which is available upon request.
Wyhof Salmon: ‘Open for Business’ has become a mindset that the elected city leadership now incorporates into its agenda setting and decision making. The core tenets of job creation, quality of place, tourism and community pride are never finished – the strategies will evolve over time as the community changes, but in order to keep moving forward in a positive direction, city leaders will need to keep focused on progress in these core areas.
As Mayor, I plan to keep strong relationships with our key community partners at the Sanford Area Growth Alliance, Lee County, the School Board and Central Carolina Community College. We will also be increasingly building wider cooperative partnerships as we become a regional provider of water and wastewater services and look towards bringing commuter rail to Sanford to connect our growing industrial and biotech base to the Triangle. My experiences working with our regional partners through the Triangle J Council of Governments will be an asset as we move forward on these community defining endeavors that will keep us ‘Open for Business’ in the years to come.
Rant: How do you propose to address challenges brought by continued growth and annexation, both in terms of areas the mayor and the city council can control (police, fire, infrastructure) and those which are handled by other policymakers (schools)?
Gaskins: My background in industry and engineering, including the startups of new facilities for both RCA and Pfizer, has provided me with an understanding of aspects of expanding infrastructure, especially in areas such as water and waste treatment. Sanford has an outstanding staff, which has set in motion plans for expansions in both water and waste treatment. Likewise, we are actively working on a fourth fire station with plans for a fifth station to follow. We increased the salaries in the police department to remain competitive with neighboring communities, and our police department has been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. I expect to have the SFD similarly accredited.
Increasing the percentage of our industrial tax base has provided and will provide the funds necessary to cover the costs of police, fire, infrastructure, and schools. We are already seeing those results with Lee County’s being able to fund the new sports facility with the revenue generated by the Pfizer expansion for gene therapy. Commercial properties have a much higher tax value than residential properties. Commercial properties do not have school children.
Wyhof Salmon: The city can best address these challenges in two ways. First, I will work with the Council to create policies that encourage infill development into areas that already have access to existing infrastructure. This will allow for the most efficient delivery of services. Second, we can continue to be proactive in our planning for growth. We are working to complete overhauls of our both our residential and commercial codes to streamline the process and provide clear rules and expectations for future development. We are in the design phase of a new fire station and planning to expand our water treatment plant in expectation of future industrial and residential growth. By taking a regional approach and bringing in partner communities into the expansion, Sanford will be the beneficiary of substantial cost savings through economies of scale in construction and operation.
Key to the community’s overall success will be continued communication with other policymakers. The expected growth of announced jobs and approved residential developments will not come overnight. As Mayor, working together with these stakeholders, we can make sure we are prepared for where and when the growth is coming for schools and other needed infrastructure.
Rant: It’s been reported that thanks to Sanford’s role in the VinFast deal, the city will receive millions of dollars over the next 50 years, all of it going to the unrestricted general fund. Do you have any proposals for the use of this revenue?
Gaskins: When we learned the costs would be $4,000,000 more than expected to construct the waste treatment line and Chatham County could not shoulder the additional burden, our staff brought back a proposal to receive the full 20% of Chatham County’s net property tax over 20 years. Realizing it could take years to land a company and even more years worth of incentives, I suggested we negotiate for 50 years, to which Chatham agreed. We may expect about $50,000 in the first year, $175,000 in the second, and about $250,000 in the third. Revenues do not exceed $100,000,000 until year eleven. The total for the first 20 years would be $22,500,000. The following 30 years will be a windfall for Sanford taxpayers.
Most of the revenues that will be realized within the first four years will come from Companies serving the VinFast facility that will unlikely be eligible for incentives as they will be expected to operate within 50 miles of the TIP site. Incentives are only allowed when competing with other states. Any connections to Sanford’s WWTF will bring the full 20%.
I would recommend using these revenues for property tax reductions and projects currently being planned, such as greenways, parks, street repairs, downtown parking, sidewalks, streetscape expansion, underground utilities, flexible public transit to help employees go to work, increase street lighting, modernize our police force, add two new fire stations, support low-cost housing initiatives, and promote beautification projects with murals, sculptures, etc.
Wyhof Salmon: This revenue, which stems from 20% of the Chatham County property taxes from development off the sewer line, is the direct result of the creative and forward-thinking approach we have taken to secure Sanford’s position as the region grows. Because this revenue source is finite it will be important to use the funds to move our community forward, not just roll them into the operating expenses only to find gaping holes in future budgets.
I would like to see the money used first to off-set some inevitable infrastructure costs that will result from the coming growth and development. We need to make sure our roads and other public services keep pace with the demands of increased population and usage. Second, I would like to see this revenue used for quality-of-life projects that will make an impact across our community. Expanding our parks, funding the arts, and providing activities for our youth will benefit all our residents. Quality of life projects improve our economic development prospects, preserve our community character, and promote tourism and community pride.
Rant: What are one or two priorities the council has yet to focus on that you would champion for Sanford going forward?
Gaskins: In both Sanford and Jonesboro, we need to consolidate the downtown areas and make them more walkable. We need to develop a safe way to cross Horner Boulevard and redevelop Carthage and Wicker similar to our first Streetscape project. The same applies to Lee Avenue and the Kendale area. Increase lighting, parking, and police presence if necessary to create vital, bustling downtowns.
We need to assist Brick Capital Community Development Corporation and other entities to create more workforce, transitional, and affordable housing. Brick Capital historically has created quality homes and provided counseling that successfully puts families in those homes. Brick Capital operates on very little capital, and it would be beneficial for Sanford to assist with some form of revolving fund so that their up-front costs can be met.
Wyhof Salmon: As part of the strategic direction for the City in the coming years there are two key priorities I plan to champion as Mayor.
First is the need for innovative public transportation in our community. With over 3300 new jobs coming just to Sanford and Lee County we need better ways for our residents to connect with both workforce development opportunities and to get to these new employers. I will champion our continued regional partnership to bring the S-Line commuter rail project to Sanford. I will work with our partners to explore micro-transit and multi-modal options to move folks around town and make the last-mile connection for people looking to commute to the Triangle by rail. Public transportation will be key as our community grows and we look for strategies to promote economic prosperity for our all residents.
Second, I will champion efforts to redevelop East Sanford. Building on our downtown revitalization, we will begin with a First Street initiative that will jumpstart improvements to this core area of Sanford. This focus on an East Sanford redevelopment plan will improve safety and walkability, increase our affordability housing stock and promote public-private partnerships to make lasting improvements to our community.
SANFORD CITY COUNCIL WARD 1 (D): With Gaskins vacating the Council’s Ward 1 seat, Democrats Ken Britton and Mark Akinosho lined up in the May primary — the winner will face Republican retired educator and businessman Blaine Sutton in the general election. Ward 1 is centered around west Sanford, including the entirety of the Westlake Downs, West Landing, Carbonton Heights and Owl’s Nest neighborhoods, as well as a large portion of Westlake Valley.
Rant: Introduce yourself and share what skills and qualifications you believe prepare you to be the Democratic nominee for Ward 1 Sanford City Council.
Mark Akinosho: Thank you, Rant, for allowing me to use your platform to answer these questions about balancing growth and development. My name is Reverend Mark Akinosho and I have been married to my wife, Caroline Akinosho, for almost 40 years! We are blessed with 4 successful adult children and a grandchild. I am an ordained minister of Southern Baptist Convention and have graduate education from Southeastern Baptist Seminary. I have been a Pastor in our community for over 25 years and a local small business owner for almost that long also. I have served the people of Lee County for two terms as an elected member of the School Board as the Chair and Vice Chair of that Board. I have also been in community leadership roles including: Lee County Planning Board, Sanford Housing Authority, City Board of Adjustment/Housing, and the Sanford Area Growth Alliance. Finally, I have also dedicated myself to non-profit and community service work and have served on the boards of: Reach Out Crisis Pregnancy Center (ROCPC) (20+ years of service), the local Salvation Army, the local North Carolina Community Foundation Board, and the board of True Bread Ministries.
Ken Britton I’m a proud husband to my lovely and talented wife Erin, and father to four wonderful kids (Grace, Hannah, Connor, & Kenny). Professionally, I will bring +20 years of global cross-functional and multi-industry experience and expertise. Civically, I will bring extensive experience including 8 years of service on the Sanford City Planning Board (which I currently Chair); County-appointed SAGA board member; CCH Governing Board Member; CCCC Foundation Board Member; past YMCA Board Member, and others. My diverse experience, perspectives, and deeply rooted passion for Sanford will allow me to excel as Ward 1’s next City Councilman.
Rant: How should the council balance growth and development with the additional needs with which they come (police, fire, water, etc.)?
Akinosho: This question is a discussion often had in different forums by concerned citizens, homeowners, and all people that love Lee County. How do I know this? Because I have had the privilege of serving on the Lee County Planning Board and get to see different types of development requests that are presented to the Board. This Board is an advisory board to elected officials, but it allows me to make the following observations:
1)A development that will compliment the existing homes and neighborhoods is important to all citizens;
2)Infrastructure upgrades to existing structures are necessary for moving forward
3)New schools, city facilities, parks, healthcare, and fire, police, and first responder facilities are all necessary parts of the infrastructure investment and should not be considered as distinct. It is critical that these areas of our infrastructure must grow as our city grows.
Britton: Communication across all municipal, county, and state entities and critical infrastructure teams are essential; especially as quickly as we are growing! In the past, we could get away with 5-10 year long-range capital and infrastructure planning cycles supplemented with annual City budget reviews, but with the magnitude of the residential and commercial projects that are coming, we will need more frequent touchpoints and potential revisions to ensure we’re not exceeding our existing infrastructure and emergency support capacities. As your council member, I would lean heavily on our extremely talented staff to determine if our current review and infrastructure investment thresholds are adequate and balance our tax revenues to avoid increases in property and sales tax on our current and new residents of Sanford.
Rant: The candidate who wins the general election for this seat will be new to the council. How will you, a rookie in a group of seven, go about ensuring your voice and the voice of your constituents will be heard on the council?
Akinosho: As a former Vice Chair and Chair of the School Board, I feel comfortable walking into a new board of elected officials, learning the ropes, and working together to get things done. To that end, I feel I have the necessary skills to deliver for my constituents, and all citizens, irrespective of party affiliations. I will thoroughly research and engage citizens in their feedback for every issue that is brought before the board. If I am fortunate to be elected, my voice will continue to be the vehicle for your collective voices, and I look forward to continuing in public service in this new way.
Britton: Team sports have always been a huge part of my life and I’ve extended many lessons learned being a part of a team into my professional and civic career. I see the City Council as a team where we all have the opportunity to bring our unique perspectives, experiences, and passion together for one common goal which is for Sanford to WIN. I look forward to being the rookie on the Sanford City Council, and I’m confident that with me on the team we will have a higher winning percentage!
Rant: It’s been reported that thanks to Sanford’s role in the VinFast deal, the city will receive millions of dollars over the next 50 years, all of it going to the unrestricted general fund. Do you have any proposals for the use of this revenue?
Akinosho: No response.
Britton: First, I just want to commend Mayor Mann, the City Council, and staff for their leadership and decision years ago to invest in our water and sewer treatment infrastructure. Those critical decisions have put Sanford in the position to leverage our abundant water source and treatment capacity as a strategic advantage for the City to deliver additional incremental revenue sources while at the same time using it as a critical economic development tool. Without knowing the exact amount of additional tax revenue the City will receive over the duration of the 50 year deal I won’t be able to provide specific proposals, but a few areas where I believe the funds would benefit include:
Increased funding to complete our parks master plans and greenways.
Ensuring our total compensation packages for ALL City employees are the most attractive and competitive in NC to ensure we’re attracting and retaining the best talent, and funding additional headcount where needed.
Hiring of a Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI) manager for the City to evaluate, implement, and manage the initiatives identified by the Sanford Equity Task Force.
Additional funding and resources to support and lift up our homeless populations, reduce drug and substance abuse, and domestic abuse victims.
Additional streetscape beautification and maintenance equipment to maintain.
Rant:What are one or two priorities the council has yet to focus on that you would champion for Sanford going forward?
Akinosho: No response.
Britton: As I alluded to above, two of the areas I would focus and champion during my service would be 1) the hiring of a Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI) manager for the City to evaluate, implement, and manage the DEI initiatives identified by the Sanford Equity Task Force, and 2) ensuring our total compensation packages for ALL City employees are the most attractive and competitive in NC to ensure we’re attracting and retaining the best talent, and funding additional headcount where needed.
LEE COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION (R): Four newcomers vie for three spots on the fall ballot in the Republican primary for the Lee County Board of Education. The top vote getters will face off against Democrats Walter Ferguson, Christine Hilliard and Pat McCracken in November.
Rant: Introduce yourself and share what skills and qualifications you believe prepare you to be one of the three Republican nominees for a seat on the Lee County Board of Education.
Eric Davidson: Greetings! My name is Eric Davidson. I was a candidate for School Board in the 2020 election. My wife, Debbie, and I have resided in Lee County for 36 years. I currently own EDJE Consulting Group, a small business serving clients as a consultant, coach, trainer, and speaker. I also have 15 years of experience as a secondary school teacher and as an administrator, 13 years as a high school coach, and six years as an athletic director. For the past eight years I have served as an adjunct instructor in the Curriculum Department of CCCC. I am a two-time graduate of Campbell University with a BA, summa cum laude, and a MA.
Chris Gaster: I am Chris Gaster. I am a native of Lee County. I am running for school board because I’m tired of Parents not having a voice for their children. I’m for quality teachers who are not promoting politically correct agendas in the classroom.
I’m for the unseen in the school system that makes it run. The custodians, clerks, assistant teachers, cafeteria staff, maintenance staff, etc. These good people are overlooked and underpaid.
I am qualified not by education or stature. But because God has placed it in my heart to be a voice for Him and a voice for parents. To communicate that in making decisions for families and their kids who go to school. If people want to know why I’m running, they can visit my social media page. Or show up in person to school board meetings, or watch online.
I’m not a politician or full of fluff. Im fed up with the sinful agendas that are removing innocence from our children, schools that promote an agenda,, rather than an education..
I’m an ordinary person who loves God, family and this country.
Alan Rummel: I’m Alan Rummel, a Lee County area resident for over 20yrs. I have two children in Lee County Schools so a well functioning school system is very personal to me. I’ve spent the last ~18yrs working in industry and bringing that background to the school board, which is composed mostly of people in or retired from academia, will bring much needed diversity of thought and experience.
Throughout my career I’ve been highly-trained to collect and analyze data to make improvement decisions and then track those changes to ensure they have the desired effect. This skillset is desperately needed on the board to bring continuous improvement to the school system and ensure responsible use of taxpayer dollars.
As a former assembly line worker and manager, and through my studies at ECU, I have a good understanding of how to improve work-life to help attract and retain the most talented employees possible. As a member of the board, I’ll bring that experience and focus to the school system to help usher in improvements that will be felt daily by school employees.
Kenna Wilson: In 1994, I came to Sanford, stayed, and raised my family. I am a wife and mom with two sons. Both attended Lee County Schools. I served as a special education teacher and administrator for over two decades in Lee County. I have two Master’s degrees, one in Special Education and the other in School Administration, and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership. I taught at J. Glenn Edwards, Tramway, and Floyd Knight and was an assistant principal at East Lee. I opened SanLee Middle as principal where we earned “Head of the Class” at the middle school level for three of the five years I was there. I mentored 8 aspiring principals, including the current principal of Lee County High School. I was principal of Lee County High School and Exceptional Children Director under the direction of our current superintendent. My experiences provide me with a unique perspective that will add value to our school board. I have seen “behind the curtain” in Lee County Schools. It’s time to have board members who work together to make our school district as strong as the hearts of our children, our families, and our educators. I have no tolerance for special interests and those with special interests in Sanford know it. The kind of honesty our district needs to become great is going to be uncomfortable for those in Sanford with special interests. It’s time for them to be uncomfortable. It is the right thing to do for all kids, families, and educators in our community. I have the skills, qualifications, and courage to do it.
Rant: Enrollment in Lee County’s public schools has not kept up with population growth. Why do you believe this is, and what, if anything should be done about it?
Davidson: I believe my previous and current experience as an educator and administrator, business owner, and as a substitute teacher in Lee County Schools since January 12th, provide me the skills and qualifications necessary to serve as a vital member of the Board of Education. I will be seeking student success through a cooperative effort among students, schools, and society. I will bring to the board a new voice and a new vision that puts students first and focuses on student achievement. Remember, “nothing changes if nothing changes.”
Gaster: 2 and 3.This two are simple. Poor leadership. Teaching agendas instead of education. Without proper management of anything, loose purse strings, and no accountability, a great ship can be sunk. We are taking on water now. Let’s start by fixing the system, then bail out the political nonsense to get this ship back afloat and sailing to academic greatness.
Rummel: Many parents who disagreed with lockdowns and mask mandates, or perhaps witnessed questionable educational topics during online learning in their homes, sought other options (private or homeschool) and have never returned their children to public schools. With regard to families new to the area, surely available school ranking data leads some to never send their kids to public school. Lee County Schools rank in the bottom half of the state currently and have been on a downward trend state-wide over the last 10yrs or so.
One clear way to repair confidence in public schools is to show parents that public schools can compete with the alternatives in performance. Transparency in programs and performance would be a big help by itself. Little information is currently shared with the public regarding spending, special programs, and effectiveness of said programs. I’ve met with some administrators and our schools are doing some AMAZING things to help our students, but most people have no idea about any of it because the board and central office don’t talk about it. As a member of the board, ensuring that our parents and community know the status of the school system and special programs will be a high priority.
Wilson: Lee County Schools is on their heels in regards to this issue. Conversations about the matter should have been had long ago. Communication from the school district leadership has been more like a public relations campaign than a real dialogue with families. Parents who have reached out to me want options. Who has reached out to our home school families? Has anyone in the district asked parents who leave for charter schools and private schools why they left?
There is a part of our community that has been ignored for years. The same old players on the school board and those behind them pulling the strings count on the rest of the community to stay in their place. Families are deeply concerned about school performance and hear no one talking about real solutions. They don’t feel heard. Many share examples of their kids not being given the same access to opportunities as others who are connected to power in Sanford.
Listening to the needs of all families is a great place to start in dealing with the issue. There are also ways to support home school families while still honoring their choice. Innovative programs to allow these families to access course offerings can be created. These programs exist in other districts. Choice is not negative for public schools. It is an opportunity to serve families who make a different choice than full time attendance in our schools. These are all of our children and we must work together to create a district that is responsive to all.
Rant: Test scores among Lee County students are flat, leading to concerns that employers and industries may experience difficulty in recruiting for jobs from our local workforce. What should the Board of Education be doing to address this?
Davidson: As a member of the Sanford Chamber of Commerce Education and Workforce Development Committee, I have a front row seat in discussions related to local workforce readiness in Lee County. During a recent Committee meeting, a representative from an existing Lee County company stated concern over the possibility of this company’s existing location and/or expansion efforts going elsewhere. The corporate office’s concern was the lack of a Lee County workforce to fill the company’s current need for increased production.
We must place an ever-increasing educational focus on helping students who don’t have a desire for a four-year college degree. Yes, there will always be a need for workers with advanced college degrees, but there is an equal, if not greater, need for workers who will be educated and trained for jobs in trades and in industries already present and others coming to Lee County.
We have a small window of opportunity, and Lee County Schools must address the learning loss created by the pandemic; student and teacher mental health needs; teacher, substitute teacher, school bus driver, cafeteria worker, custodian, and other support staff shortages, just to name a few of the challenges facing our next Lee County Board of Education.
Gaster: (See question 2)
Rummel: This question is built on incorrect/misleading information. Test scores among Lee County Students are down 30-50% on average in every subject and every grade since Covid struck, not flat. The scores were flat to down since the current superintendent was hired for the 2013-2014 school year through 2019 (as I noted during public comments in December). I shared some of the Covid lost-learning data at the March school board meeting and it was extremely concerning.
One of the board’s primary responsibilities is to hire and hold accountable a superintendent to manage the day to day business of the school system. High-level data from the last several years suggests that this oversight isn’t happening, or at least isn’t effective. As a member of the board, I can use my management and data analysis experience to bolster this oversight and ensure realistic goals are in place and monitored.
The board also needs to do a better job of communicating the state of the school system to the public. When state rankings show us as a lagging county, the board should step-up transparency to make clear where we stand and provide updates on the improvement plan. For more detailed information, check out my Youtube page (Rummel for School Board).
Wilson: I acknowledge standardized test scores are only one measure of success for a district, however, the pattern of little to no change across performance measures is significant. We have a school district where the same superintendent has been in place in spite of a pattern of flat test scores since he became superintendent. Every leader must assume accountability for outcomes under the direction of their leadership. As a leader in our community, when necessary, I have accepted accountability for shortcomings. All leaders know that is part of the job no matter what industry they serve. The time for our superintendent to be accountable for the performance of our district is long overdue. A primary responsibility of the Board of Education is to evaluate the superintendent. Simply, the Board of Education should address this by doing what every leader with integrity understands they must do. They need to thank Dr. Andy Bryan for his service to our community and start searching for a new superintendent to lead our district.
Rant: How important is it to you that the school board be elected on a partisan basis?
Davidson: I believe qualified candidates should be elected to serve as members of the Lee County Board of Education. I believe candidates should be able to devote the time and energy required to be an effective board member. Even though being a school board member is a part time job it requires a full-time commitment! In my opinion, a school board member must be an individual who can work with the other six members of the board regardless of party affiliation. We need school board members who are dedicated to ensuring all students in Lee County receive a sound, basic education. We also need members of the school board who will be responsive to the needs and concerns of parents, teachers, and our community. There are plenty of issues that can divide us,and when we allow political differences to be more important than the education of students it is the students who lose. The school board must be united in defining the most effective means and structure to educate students in the 21st century and committed to following that plan so students graduate with the best chance of achieving success in their chosen life path.
Gaster: Why is everything partison or non partison basis.
Thats what has everything messed up today. Man has believed in man and not Almighty God.
The voter should vote on who they belive would represent them the best and be a voice for them and a voice for God.
Not answering to a political agendas from one side or the other or any of that nonsense. How about we put God first and let Him sort it out.
Rummel: It’s not important to me personally but I can see the merits of the arguments on both sides regarding the school board being a partisan election. I’m doing my best to get my thoughts and opinions out to as many people as possible, regardless of political affiliation.
At the end of the day, a school board member should be making decisions that benefit the children first and foremost using all available information and viewpoints. Frankly, I don’t understand why this question keeps coming up when there are serious issues facing our school system right now that aren’t being addressed. Issues like the 30-50% drop in test scores for every subject and every grade level since the 2019-2020 school year, lack of transparency by the current board surrounding decisions they make, and a decade of steady decline in Lee County’s school system ranking in the state.
Wilson: Our school board election is partisan based on legislation and my opinion will not change that fact. Knowing how I feel about partisan school board elections is less important than knowing how much I value all children in our community. All voices regardless of party affiliation and including the voice of those with no party affiliation are essential. Can we begin to focus on what is important rather than wasting time discussing political partisanship? I know we can and I am ready.
Voters should know if elected I will bring openness and critical thinking to the governance of the school board. The success of our community depends on how committed we are to electing members who will have the courage to ask the hard questions, the promise to listen, and the integrity to act on behalf of all in our community and do so openly.
The days of “drawing lines in the sand” according to partisanship must come to an end if we are to move forward in our community. Those of us who are doing the work for all children and families are done listening to the narrative of division. We must move forward. Together we are stronger.
Rant: While there is currently capacity in the schools to accommodate some of the coming growth, sooner or later the board will again need to identify locations for one or more new schools. What is your view as to when or where those new schools should be built, and how will you work with county leadership on identifying the right time and location?
Davidson: “The Rant” has reported there will be 9,600 new places for families in our area to live in the very near future. Developers would not be making the investment required on their part unless there is a high level of confidence this many single-family homes and apartments will sell or rent. Therefore, the required addition of new schools is inevitable and because of the time needed to make the necessary arrangements and construction of the school buildings the school board, in conjunction with Lee County Government, must act quickly. This will take a coordinated effort of several key stakeholders. Regarding the placement of the schools, the locations of these new housing developments are a key indicator along with the anticipated commercial growth that follows housing growth. Commercial developers will use various proven means to determine the best locations for their stores and this will also provide the county and the school board direction regarding school placement. The best minds must be involved in these decisions because the continued economic growth of our area is dependent, in large part, on the quality of our school buildings and the education provided in these structures.
Gaster: The school system is already behind the ball. When it comes to infrastructure, counties need to have the abilty have the data on future growth and plan accordingly. This includes land for future expansion of the school system with strategic locations throughout the county.
From what I can tell, seems we are always trying to catch up. In the end it costs more and your less prepared.
All county officals and professionals should be able to come together with a detailed structured plan to propose to the voters. As the old saying goes, two sets of eyes are better than one. And one bird in the hand is better than two in the bush
Rummel: These decisions need to be data-driven and, since I don’t have the projected growth data, I can’t make a reasonable assessment of when or where schools should be built. One thing is for sure, this planning needs to start now, if it hasn’t already, so we’re not caught unprepared with an influx of students. As a school board member, I’d work with the appropriate county departments and officials to identify the total estimated population growth by year and understand the locations that growth will be centered around to determine the needs and proceed accordingly with capacity planning.
My previous experience as an assembly planner and specific experience in capacity planning fits very well into making these sorts of future plans. Understanding future demand is the essential first step. Then identifying resources needed to support that increased demand and available options to obtain those resources follows. Ensuring the school system has central office staff who are familiar with growth planning and execution is also important to manage the change well.
Wilson: Selecting when and where to build schools is one of the most important considerations of our community. Decisions will significantly impact our prosperity and way of life for decades to come. It is critical to have board members who will ensure ethical, efficient project planning with no interests outside of what is best for our children and their future. As a board member, I would work alongside county planners, officials, and community stakeholders to determine selection criteria based on projected needs.
Board members must have experience and understanding in maximizing resources while making certain any new school’s location, size, and shape will bring the most positive, long lasting educational opportunities to every child. It is important for voters to know, as the principal who opened SanLee Middle School, I have proven experience in planning and opening a newly constructed school. I will be the experienced voice at the table during project planning that will make certain every child is in mind during decision-making. I also view maintaining existing schools as safe, engaging learning environments as important to being responsive to a growing county. Careful planning and using resources wisely will be a priority for me in regards to aging school facilities. Revitalizing neighborhood schools cannot be overlooked as we face a growing district.
STATE SENATE (R): Three candidates are vying for the Republican nomination for the North Carolina Senate’s 12th District, which covers Lee, Harnett and part of Sampson County. Incumbent Republican Jim Burgin will face David Buboltz and Ernie Watson. The winner of the primary will face Democrat Richard Chapman in November.
Rant: Introduce yourself and share what skills and qualifications you believe prepare you to be the Republican nominee for state Senate District 12.
David Buboltz: I am a Christian, a husband, and father of four (one in the womb). I am an engineer, a business owner, and an 11-year Army officer in the North Carolina National Guard, all by the grace of God.
Running a business has showed me the struggles and triumphs of small business America. I saw firsthand how the lockdowns and mandates threatened to destroy the middle class. As an Army Officer, I took an oath to support and defend our constitution. We watched as our children were masked and our churches were shut down, a clear violation of our rights. We can never allow this to happen again. As a father I’ve seen the precious blessings that children bring and I am horrified that one quarter of our children are murdered in the womb, the most dangerous place in America. There is a genocide among the most innocent of us that must be taken seriously. We must abolish, not regulate, killing children in the womb.
We need repentance, turning to God, and a reliance on Him. We can change the course of this state but must act soon. The time to stand is now.
Jim Burgin: No response.
Ernie Watson: Goal-oriented professional with over twenty years of experience in leading and managing high profile projects resulting in immediate global impact. Able to navigate through strategic analysis, organizational development, and tactical execution to provide resolution and innovation to any situation. Adept at harmonizing operational, financial, personnel, and regulatory constraints when managing programs. Interoperability ambassador with unparalleled experience in dynamic environments. Excellent communication, organizational and interpersonal skills honed through multi-service and multi-national relations. Skillfully able to detect and analyze emerging requirements then identify and evaluate courses of action for broad-spectrum and innovative success.
Rant: The first part of 2021 saw a protracted court battle over the legislative and congressional maps for North Carolina. Are you satisfied with the current system in which the party in power draws these maps, or should districts be created by an independent commission of some type?
Buboltz: First, I think it’s important to recognize that there is no such thing as a truly independent commission. We cannot be fooled by the words “independent commission” just because that is what is claimed. People have opinions, leanings, and causes they believe in, which colors how they act and view the world. There is an agenda and there is a lot at stake. The reality of this is that there is no true neutrality, only feigned neutrality, and we must be cautious of that.
Secondly, having independent commissions weakens accountability to the voters. Shifting important matters such as redistricting to an unelected bureaucracy only insulates elected officials who otherwise could be held accountable for their actions. We have seen how unelected officials in the ATF, EPA, Department of Education, etc. have created rules and interpreted laws that they have no authority to do so. This is a large part of the swamp we see today, and we must keep our government as close to the people as possible.
Although there is no silver bullet, moving legislative and congressional redistricting further from accountability to the voters is not the path forward for a representative government.
Burgin: No response.
Watson: I believe an independent committee who’s responsibility is devoid of partisan needs and thus fulfills the needs of the geographical location and consideration of the residents & variables therein, would provide a clearer depiction of what district boundaries should be considered.
Rant: What is the first piece of legislation you would introduce and how specifically would it benefit Lee County?
Buboltz: The first piece of legislation I would introduce would be a bill of total abolition of abortion. Killing children is the leading cause of death in this state. 1 in 4 children are murdered before in the womb, the most dangerous place in America. It is a genocide. For 49 years, the republican pro-life strategy has been to regulate our way out of this. That is not what God says. I am here to abolish, not regulate, the killing of children.
Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself. How would you want people to act on your behalf if you were scheduled to be burned alive or have your skull crushed and sucked through a vacuum hose tomorrow? We must take this seriously. God hears every drop of spilt blood. We need repentance as a State for what we have done and what we have allowed to transpire.
The good news is that God is incredibly merciful. I know a God who forgives and restores murders, but it requires true repentance and laying of that on the cross. There is no condemnation in Christ. I believe that if we just focus on what God says, that if we rely on providence rather than pragmatism, abortion will be abolished in North Carolina.
Burgin: No response.
Watson: I would work with my constituents, other senators, and any important committees to find out exactly what district 12 and North Carolina need in order to start drafting specific legislation. I would want to focus the scope on the economy and veterans’ issues.
Rant: What legislative committees would you seek appointment to, given your areas of legislative interest, and how would your presence on those committees benefit your constituents?
David Buboltz: First, I would seek appointment on a judiciary committee. Abortion is murder not healthcare, so it is the criminal code that must be amended. It is also a good committee to make North Carolina a constitutional, permitless, concealed carry state. 25 states have constitutional concealed carry, and there is no reason why North Carolina shouldn’t be one of them. We need stop playing defense with the 2A and must gain ground on our right to keep and bear arms. We can find ways to protect items such as North Carolina made suppressors not manufactured through interstate commerce.
Being on the education committee would allow me to better protect our children from CRT, cultural Marxism, and godless indoctrination in the public school system. We have to give parents more school choice in the education of their own children. I think this is best done by bringing the free market into the education system. Money needs to follow the child, with the parents deciding where the child goes, whether that be public, private, or homeschool.
Another committee I would seek is healthcare. It was not right how our republican controlled senate handled the lockdowns, mandates, and the vaccine coercion. They shut down our churches, and we can never let that happen again.
Burgin: No response.
Watson: HOMELAND SECURITY, MILITARY, AND VETERANS AFFAIRS COMMERCE AND INSURANCE
Its becoming more and more evident, how quickly the Republican party in this county wants to strip my and my family’s rights away, under the guise of a religion I dont follow. Violating MY constitutional rights. But hey, its fine to do that right? As long as their not infringing on their own rights? Absolute hypocrisy at its worst.
It’s too bad you can require a minimum IQ score to run for office.