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GOP candidates make pitch

The Dispatch
Faced with the opportunity to set themselves apart before the May primary, many Republican candidates ended up striking similar points at a forum in Abbots Creek Thursday night.

Candidates made two-minute opening remarks and were then asked to leave the room so they could be brought in one at a time to answer the same two-part question: If elected, what are the three greatest challenges you will face in your position, and what will you do to resolve them?

Several candidates did not attend the forum, including commissioner candidate Linda Dublin and sheriff candidate Keith Hege Jr. Another sheriff candidate, Wayne Littleton, left after his opening remarks.

County commissioner

Among commissioner candidates, challenges ahead were generally limited to some variation on the tax rate, school construction and economic development.

Incumbent Don Truell was the first to speak on the question-and-answer portion and set the tone for the six candidates to follow, addressing those exact three key issues.

"It's almost generic now, it's got to be done," he said, referring to tax, school and work force issues. "We're going to continue to do what we've been doing. We've got to continue with economic development ... we've got to push the schools ... we've got to hold the tax rate, and I think we can do all of these things."

Soon after Truell described the necessity of economic development incentives, newcomer Eric Osborne said the county should take a different approach. Three of his platform issues include job recruitment, an increased focus on tourism and retooling higher education offerings for jobs that will boost the local economy.

"Instead of giving incentives, we need to show companies this is the place to be," he said. "We need to sell the county."

Incumbent Sam Watford answered the two questions in the quickest possible way, saying the biggest challenges for the next term would be "anything having to do with money." In particular, he mentioned funding the Medicaid program, which in North Carolina is the burden of individual counties, paying down the school bond referendum and ensuring every school in the county is attached to the sewer system by 2010. He promised smart budgeting and his construction experience would help him tackle the issues.

Kenny Moore, another commissioner candidate, focused on beating back "uncontrolled sprawl," which may be of particular interest to county residents who live near county borders. Spring Hill United Methodist Church, where the forum took place, is virtually surrounded by voluntarily annexed High Point territory.

Moore aims to "transform" the local economy with "homegrown" and "startup" businesses and balance the county budget.

The county "balances too many things on the burden of property taxes," he said.

Larry Allen was the first to speak up on retaining law enforcement officers, something even the sheriff candidates did not talk about. He argued Forsyth and Guilford counties were robbing Davidson of their officers because of better pay. He also addressed the tax rate, a popular topic at the forum and in the campaign.

"We need to keep the taxes down, maybe even lower them a little bit," he said. "I know that may be easier said than done."

He closed by saying he would try to keep a conservative attitude on the board.

As Cindy Akins seeks her third term, she wants to "balance the budget without a tax rate increase, build schools without a construction mess ... and provide the best services to members of the county," she said. "If you do not get the best, we expect to hear from you."

She also pointed out that by "construction mess" she meant the right construction firm should be hired because not all construction teams are capable of building schools. Economic development, job recruitment and quality education are also top priorities of hers, she said.

The final candidate, Billy Joe Kepley, cited his previous experience on the board while outlining his three challenges. School construction would be the biggest challenge, he said, followed by paying for the schools and finding a way to bring more money into the county.

Unlike most counties, Kepley would decide the tax rate before making the budget, he said, adding tourism and small businesses can also help the economy.

"Government does very little for small businesses," he said. "I would like to bring in some programs that promote our small businesses."


In the sheriff's race, issues were a bit more varied, although fighting the presence of drugs in the county was a prominent issue.

Lee Trotter said the sheriff's office is "on one side of the fence and the people are on the other side." The office needs to become more accessible, but "it's not going to be easy," he said.

Trotter also plans to tackle drugs and gang problems in school and to work with agencies in other counties and states.

"If we don't work together, we're all going to be in trouble," he said.

Although Littleton had left after his opening remarks, he did promise to fight drugs and gang activity and cited his experience with the Lexington Police Department from 1968 to 1973 to illustrate that he has the experience needed to be sheriff. In a somewhat unorthodox gesture, Littleton closed by paying homage to the current sheriff.

"I want to congratulate Sheriff (David) Grice," he said. "I don't think 20 months is enough (time in the position)."

Jo Hall, the former sheriff's office administrative secretary turned candidate, pledged to "get the sheriff's office back to a family-oriented office.

"There are people in that office that don't even trust each other, and that's not right," she added.

Other important issues for Hall include working closely with the courthouse and clerk of court's office and making the office a "friendly place" where the public can bring its concerns.

Terry Price said the office needs to refocus on "building the trust of the community and the trust of the people." The comment was a reference to the former Sheriff Gerald Hege's reign, he said.

Price also plans to do an evaluation of each department in the office to "put the right people in the right places to get the job done," he said.

Technology will also play a large part in fighting crime under his administration, he added.

Sheriff Grice was the last candidate to speak and quickly outlined his goals: drugs, personnel and the jail.

The office has been on a "continual" study of the jail and will look into needed improvements, but overcrowding is forcing the sheriff to seek more space.

In terms of illegal substances, he promised to be "proactive" about recovering drugs, citing the success of the Interstate Criminal Enforcement Team and a staff of five officers that constantly works on drug seizures and removal.

Personnel training has been ongoing in the office, Grice said, but "there's only so much training we can do. Last year we spent $56,000 on training."

Register of deeds

The register of deeds race has been focused on updating the technology of the office, and that theme continued at the forum.

Kenneth "Stump" Cavender did not mention the Web site as an issue during the forum but has done so in the past. His largest challenge, he said, would be to learn the duties of the job and learn the personalities of other employees in the office.

"I own a small business, so I have plenty of time to work with the current register of deeds and make a smooth transition," he said.

Michael Horne, a sheriff's deputy for five different sheriffs, is also seeking the register of deeds post and claims he has the most experience for the job, having worked with the office as a deputy.

An updated and expanded Web site, a more noticeable presence of the office and cleaning up any past mistakes would be Horne's top priorities, he said.

The job requires good investigation skills, he said, "and as a sheriff's deputy for 18 years, that's what I've done. Through better professional standards, it can only get better."

David Rickard, the former GOP chairman now seeking the register of deeds seat, mentioned technology updates as a top priority in his opening statements, saying he would "automate all aspects" of the office.

Other challenges for Rickard included getting to know the personnel, reviewing accounting matters and the learning curve of the job.

"I believe my strong leadership skills will help in all three areas," he said.

Clerk of court

Incumbent Brian Shipwash will face off against Ted Furlipa before taking on the Democrat candidate, Teresa Ogden Lowe, in November.

The two-term clerk wants to focus on better access to the courthouse, both figuratively and literally, making it easier to complete legal documents and for disabled citizens to get into the building. He also wants to improve security in the building, something he has been pushing for since 1999, he said.

Customer service is an important platform, Shipwash said. "The only way you can be blessed is to be a blessing to someone else."

Furlipa, a transplant from Idaho, said in his opening statement that he sought to be "even more efficient" than Shipwash, but said in the second half of the night that it would be challenging.

"I'll be looking at the current system and how to make improvements," he said. "Everything can be improved upon."

Other pressing issues for Furlipa include forming a good relationship with citizens and building relationships with the court system and the law enforcement agencies.

Judicial races

Superior Court candidate Robert Spaugh and District Court candidate Carlton Terry attended but do not face Republican opposition. Because the judicial races are nonpartisan, the two men stressed that voters needed to know their names.

Spaugh reiterated if a liberal judge is elected, judicial activism could ensue.

Terry said he would take a hard line on criminals because when judges are soft on crime, these people commit more crimes.

"Nothing gets done to them, they don't get spanked hard enough," he said. "I want to put them in prison."

Voting for the party primaries is May 2, although anyone who registered for early voting can do so between April 13 and 29.

Robert Cooper can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 235 or at robert.cooper@the-dispatch.com.

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