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Article 15

By ERIC FRAZIER
The Dispatch
November 6, 2002
 

A Democrat will join the Davidson County Board of Commissioners for the first time in 12 years as Max Walser was the leading vote-getter in the race for the four open seats.
Walser received 22,924 votes for 14 percent. Republicans took the next three places: Sam Watford came in second with 22,820 votes, followed by Don Truell with 22,444 votes, both at 14 percent and incumbent Cindy Akins with 21,635 for 13 percent.

Incumbent Republican Rick Lanier will be leaving the board after coming in fifth with 21,385 votes for 13 percent.

When asked what factors led voters to make him their top choice, Walser, 62, said, “I think my name recognition, and having been superintendent of the schools, and having a reasonably good reputation in that role for having helped build a good school system.”

Walser added, “I have worked hard. I had somebody at every poll today. I think my organizational skills helped.

“I hope I can help build consensus. This county does not need bitter, partisan arguments. I’ll do my part, and I’ll go beyond halfway.”

Walser has consistently pledged to work for consensus with the Republican members of the board of commissioners.

At about 11:15 p.m., Walser left the Davidson County Fairgrounds where the Democratic hopefuls had rallied, and drove to the J. Smith Young YMCA to congratulate the two Republicans there who will join him on the board.

While shaking hands, Walser and Watford acknowledged that the final vote canvass could conceivably reverse their ranking with only 104 votes between them.

In an interview afterward, Watford called Walser “a sharp guy” and said he was looking forward to working with him.

Walser ran the first successful Democratic campaign for commissioner since 1986. The retired former superintendent of the Davidson County Schools was born in the Reeds community, and now lives on Arnold Road in the northern part of the county. On the issue of taxes, Walser has said that he does not think county residents, particularly seniors, can afford a rate increase. To fund needed services, Walser emphasized economic development throughout his campaign, and promised to work for more funding for education in terms of operating expenses, not just bricks and mortar.

His 12-year tenure as county schools superintendent, with well more than 2,000 employees, appears to have provided the substantial countywide base of support need for his successful candidacy. Walser not only placed first in total votes, he placed first in 19 precincts and also in the absentee voting.

In addition to his experience as superintendent, Walser chaired the Piedmont Triad Educational Consortium, has held leadership positions in his church, led eight mission trips to Central America, and served as a director on the boards of numerous local, regional and state organizations.

Asked what he thought the voters’ message was, Watford, 49, a resident of the east Davidson area, answered, “Change, since the top three vote-getters are not incumbents.”

Watford attributed his win to good organization. “I’d like to thank a lot of people who worked hard. Next to the sheriff’s organization, we put together the best organization on the Republican side.

“Getting here is the easy part. Living up to voters’ expectations, as well as my own, is the hard part,” Watford added.

Watford campaigned on the proposition that “less tax is good government and less government is better government.” He guaranteed that he will not raise taxes. Watford questioned whether incumbents were “playing politics with your money” by first cutting trash and recycling box site hours over the summer then reinstating the original schedule shortly before the election. He also questioned the vote to implement an additional one-half cent local option sales tax Dec. 1, just before the holiday season.

This was Watford’s first run for elective office. He has been active in several civic organizations in Thomasville, and he serves on the Davidson County Planning and Zoning Board. Watford owns a grading and utilities construction business.

Asked what he thought voters saw in his candidacy, Truell, 65, said, “I think the fact that I was sincere was what they recognized. That’s what I’ve always done.”

Truell also credited the strong Republican organization. “They did this for me. They told me where to go campaign, and I followed their advice. There is not a better chairman than David Faust.”

Truell believes that some of the Democratic attacks may have backfired. “I did not get down in the mud. I would not do it. I will not criticize people in public,” Truell said.

“I think I got a lot of senior citizens’ votes. I like to stop the car and sit on the front porch with them.”

Truell made property taxes and their impact on senior citizens the centerpiece of his campaign message. Truell has advocated a department-by-department review of wages and expenses, citing for example the disparity between salaries of Davidson County deputies and law enforcement openings in nearby cities and counties as the cause of high turnover in the sheriff’s office.

Truell, retired chief of police for the City of Thomasville, campaigned with Sheriff Gerald Hege but spoke openly of his discomfort with partisan politics and avoided criticizing his opponents during the race. With prior experience as both a councilman and mayor of Thomasville, Truell said he has served on as many as nine different area boards during his retirement. He credits his involvement with those boards, particularly the Davidson County Department of Senior Services, as the catalyst for his decision to enter the race.

For Akins, it was back to work at her regular job and on the board of commissioners. Reached for comment this morning at her administrative job, Akins said, “Today, I’m tired, but I’m ready to go for four more years. I’ve got three meetings today.”

Asked if she was surprised by any of the results, Akins replied, “Nothing surprises me anymore in elections. I am sorry we lost Ricky (Lanier).”

With three seats changing on the board, Akins said, “Naturally, there will be a learning process,” but she added, “These guys carry some experience in with them. Everybody has an idea of how it works.” She said she is hoping for a smooth transition.

Akins, in the campaign, said repeatedly, “I have never voted for a tax increase, and I never will.” Akins was not present for the vote on the one-half-cent local option sales tax increase due to the death of her mother. The 38-year-old resident of the Pilot community has long been a staunch advocate of individual property rights and an opponent of involuntary annexation. She also co-founded the Good Neighbors Association to lobby for changes to the state annexation laws.

First elected to office in 1998, Akins was also elected by her fellow commissioners as vice chairwoman. She serves on the N.C. Association of County Commissioners legislative goals committee and is the board’s representative to the Piedmont Triad Rural Planning Organization. Akins is employed with Lebanon United Methodist Church in High Point as an administrative assistant, and she also operates her own business consulting firm.

Lanier, 50, placed first in seven precincts compared to Akins first-place finish in only two precincts, but that strong localized support was too little to achieve a spot among the top four. That was also more than the six first-place precincts Truell and Watford each achieved.

In his campaign, Lanier emphasized his strong religious beliefs and conservative values, along with his business experience and four years of service on the board. On the tax issue, Lanier pointed to his work on the last budget, which he said was “tweaked in a couple of places and passed without a tax increase.” Lanier’s priorities for another term were the same as those he outlined in 1998: economic development, education and law enforcement.

In his first term, the Tyro resident worked on the comprehensive land use plan and the sewer study committee and was board liaison to the county and city school systems, sheriff’s office and board of health. Lanier owns and operates a food distribution business and is a real estate developer and builder. He has also held leadership positions in his church and co-founded a church. He could not be reached for comment this morning.

Rounding out the results were Democrats Loretta Martin with 17,513 votes, Watson Gregg with 15,806 votes, Charles Kennedy Jr. with 15,043 votes and Libertarian Steve Nelson with 3,525 votes.

Voter turnout, based upon the unofficial Tuesday night tallies of votes cast in the hotly contested sheriff’s race, appears to have been about 49 percent. That was lower than predicted by election officials, probably a result of the steady rain all day Tuesday.

The official vote canvass will be conducted by the Board of Elections Friday at 11 a.m.

Eric Frazier can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 226, or at eric.frazier@the-dispatch.com.

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