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Candidates answers students' questions at NDHS forum

By Deneesha Edwards
The Dispatch

Published: Monday, October 18, 2010 at 11:43 p.m.

Candidates running for offices in the upcoming November election had the chance to respond to questions Monday evening asked by North Davidson High School students.

The school's chapter of the Junior State of America club hosted a forum in the auditorium where more than 50 students and community members attended.

“We decided we wanted to do a forum,” said senior Maggie Thomasson, president of the club. “Why not pose the questions we wanted to know? So many young people can vote and don't understand they have a say in what's going on. We want them to get excited about voting,”

Ten candidates filled the stage to share their reasons why residents should vote for them in the Nov. 2 General Election. Candidates attending the forum are running for the Davidson County Board of Education, Davidson County Board of Commissioners and Davidson County Sheriff offices.

Candidates were given the opportunity to introduce themselves and explain why they decided to run before answering questions prepared by students and staff members at the high school.

“We wanted to bring the process here for our children to understand how important the election is,” said Lori Redmond, faculty advisor of the club and a teacher at NDHS. “Through the North Carolina civics curriculum they talk about government. We're hoping to bring out the community.”

School board candidates in attendance included incumbent Carol Crouse and newcomer Chris Hackett. Kenny Meredith, another incumbent, and Jeannie M. Leonard were both unable to attend. Questions posed to the pair dealt with justifying why the graduation project was still required by the system although the state doesn't require it.

Crouse said the project provides real-work experience that incorporates the state's curriculum course of study because students have to write term papers and hold presentations in front of others. She said a committee has reviewed the concerns students and parents had about the project.

“These are all components needed to live and work in the world,” she said. “This gives them the opportunity to stand before a group and speak and learn to make presentations.”

Hackett said he was against the project. He understood that technology is needed for students, but suggested getting the community more involved in deciding if students should have to complete a project.

“Seniors have enough on them with trying to get out of school,” he said. “Parents have to be willing to help. I'd like to see some kind of vote to see what the community would like to do about it. If I'm in that position I will do what the majority wants.”

Each candidate was also asked to explain what they thought a school board member's most important duty is.
Crouse said the safety of each and every student and staff in the system is the most important. She also said implementing policies and looking forward to see what could be done to better prepare students for the future was also important.

Hackett said he would be an ambassador for parents, students and staff, while also making himself available to talk anytime.

Six of the eight candidates running for the four open seats on the commissioners board were in attendance. Incumbents Don Truell, Billy Joe Kepley and Sam Watford, all Republicans were joined by fellow GOP candidate Todd Yates and Democratic challengers Jason Hedrick and Jeff Switzer. Democratic candidates Ronald Swicegood and Kevin Williams were not in attendance.

Questions proposed to commissioner candidates were about community problems relating to jobs, the unemployment rate and their thoughts on incentives to attract new businesses. Commissioners were also asked how they would encourage young people to return to the county after they graduate from college.

Hedrick said the county needs more jobs and also suggested getting small businesses the help they need to be successful. He also said the town needs to have retail, entertainment and restaurant growth.

“We need to look for new businesses that are up and coming,” he said. “Look for the next best thing.”

Switzer said the county needed to give a reason for the young people to return, He suggested developing parks, recreation and other things for them to do. He believes there's a lot of jobs here involving technology and health care, just to name a few.

“We can do what we need to do,” Switzer said. “Davidson County is a strong community. I hate incentives. If we have to play it, we have to play it better than everybody else.”

Kepley said there are jobs here and students need to find a service that is in demand to go to school for. He said they might have to search a little bit to find a job, but he said the biggest attraction is still the county's quality of life.

“We'll never roll over and play dead,” he said. “We're going to defend and survive.”

Truell said to get students to come back, there's going to have to be lots of things addressed including retraining the people that are already here for future jobs. That will lead to attracting businesses here because residents will be ready for them.

“I don't care for incentives, it's part of the game,” he said. “We have to be a big player to attract.”

Watford also thought there are plenty of opportunities for somebody to leave and return after getting a postsecondary education.

There's always something here for you to do,” he said.

Yates said the county has not changed a lot within the last 15 years and suggested developing ways to improve the quality of life.

“We've got to have incentives right now to lure some businesses,” he said. “We have the lowest tax rate, we need to keep them. I'm against incentives.”

Both Grice, Republican incumbent seeking another term as sheriff and his opponent, Tommy Evans Jr., a Democrat, answered law enforcement questions including one on how would they deal with substance abuse by teenagers in the community.

Evans responded that beyond the school system, he would ensure there would be School Resource Officers present in the community and he would continue with the D.A.R.E. programs. He also suggested cutting off the source of supply.
“Awareness, recognition and intervention,” he said. “It starts with groups, friends and family. Early recognition means everything.”

Grice, pointing to the death of a North Davidson High School student in August and the subsequent charge of a young man in the girl's murder, said that is what happens when people don't follow the law. He stressed he would continue with D.A.R.E. programs, stress the importance of the Crimestoppers tip line and staff SROs at the schools.
“We have to educate young people and adults,” he said.

Another question posed asked about diversity and language barriers as the community grows.

Evans said he didn't think Americans should have to adapt or become another culture because of the cultural changes.
“I don't mind opening doors if that's needed,” he said.

Grice said the deputies are dealing with the language barrier by hiring Hispanic deputies, when available. He has also sent officers to training and the sheriff's office has interpreters available.

“We can't change our entire county,” he said. “We can see what we can do to assist them. We have to deal with it as best as we can.”

The Junior State of America is a nationwide, nonprofit, nonpartisan political organization for high school students to engage in political issues that challenge the nation. Thomason told the crowd the Junior State of America club is filled with students who are interested in politics, government and debate. She realizes there have been forums all over the town that went well, but there needed to be one that involved the students.

“This is so we'll know what's going on, we get to hear it straight from them,” she said.

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