DOBSON — The second half of Thursday’s candidate forum at Surry Central High got a little more personal.
The five people seeking the mount airy district seat on the county board of commissioners started off answering the same five questions, but the final two were targeted to each man.
With a 45-second timer, the candidates struggled at times to get their thoughts across quickly enough.
For Van Cooke, the first question was about his residency. He owns a property in Pilot Mountain with a tax value of $115,160, but lists his address as Mount Airy. Where do you live?
Cooke said he is staying in the house his grandfather built in Bannertown. He said he spent much of his childhood in that house and has a lot of fond memories. While the place doesn’t seem big enough for him and his kids, Cooke said his mother lives next door, too, so he plans to stay put where he can keep an eye on her. The farm in Pilot is being used as rental property.
For Bill Goins, an assistant principal at a middle school, the first question concerned his ability to do two jobs fairly.
More than $23 million in county funds went to operating schools, and capital expenditures come before the board for approval. If elected, would there be a conflict of interest?
Goins said he doesn’t see any conflict. Commissioners appropriate money, but don’t set school policy or run classrooms. Principals can run schools, but don’t control purse strings. Some of the other candidates are businessmen, and issues come before the board that could affect their businesses, so that could be seen as a conflict of interest.
For Larry Johnson, who is retired from Johnson Granite, the question was about a lack of experience in county government. Will that help or hurt your ability to function as a commissioner?
“Well, we all have to start sometime,” said Johnson. “Jimmy started 28 years ago,” he said of incumbent Jimmy Miller’s long tenure on the board.
Johnson said he ran his own company and has always been willing to roll up his sleeves and work to get the job done. He said his common sense and a sense of humor can also help.
For the long-tenured Miller, the question concerned the $173 million in needed repairs and renovations in the 2013 Powell study.
You’ve been on the board nearly three decades. How did we get here? What needs to be done going forward?
“We haven’t been sitting on our butts,” said Miller. The county board has done a lot for local schools, and the buildings are not in bad shape. Gesturing to the Surry Central gym, he said to look at this building — it isn’t in bad shape.
While there are some areas that need attention, like air conditioning or renovations, most of the facilities don’t need anything drastic done, he said. And the county board will continue to look after schools.
For Allen Poindexter, the question concerned his recent complaints against the Surry County Sheriff’s Department.
Do you have a vendetta against the sheriff’s office?
Poindexter said he has a vendetta against things that aren’t transparent. He said he doesn’t like closed-door meetings, but doesn’t have any vendetta against the officers themselves.
For the second question, Poindexter was first to be asked. Poindexter’s campaign materials say that he is “fed up and fired up” about local government. He is asked to explain.
Poindexter said that he is fed up with things like wasted spending, and he is fired up to do something about it.
He said his nephew took part in recent fundraiser for an air conditioning unit for his school. School officials have been before the county board on more than one occasion, but have been turned down, he said. Some of the wasteful spending should be redirected to something essential like air conditioning for schools.
For Cooke, explain how your life experiences, including your career in the U.S. Navy, have prepared you to serve as a county commissioner.
Cooke said joining the military wasn’t a goal as a child. However, when the country went to war in the Persian Gulf, he felt compelled to join and give his support. From his time in the service and his service on various boards, he understands making and keeping to a budget. He also knows that the Mount Airy commissioner is just one of five servants on the board and that he would need to get along with others and work as a unit.
For Goins, as a school official you prepare young people to take on the world. What will you do as a commissioner to better the setting in which they must compete?
The three school systems in the county are already implementing a lot of changes to better kids, he said. There is new technology being utilized like Skype to allow students to converse with school kids in other countries. Mount Airy City Schools has an innovative partnership with China. An emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) courses will lead to a brighter future. There are ample leadership opportunities for children in school.
For Johnson, how does your experience as a successful business owner better prepare you to serve as a commissioner?
Surry County government is a business and should be treated like one, he said. There are ample opportunities to make policy and take care of issues. He believes he can certainly be a good steward of taxpayer dollars. And he would like to see county workers feel satisfied with their jobs.
Johnson joked that he wasn’t sure what kind of budgets Cooke might have had in the Navy, but the county board handles just a little bit more a year than his granite company.
For Miller, some people might say a fresh face is needed in county government. Does your experience better equip you to be commissioner?
After 28 years on the board, Miller said he certainly knows what to do and who to work with for any given topic. He said he would love to serve another four years, but if one of the other Republicans gets voted in instead, he will still be pleased.
The candidates were given 45 seconds to give a parting statement.
Johnson said he believes he has attributes than can help him serve Surry County well like good judgment, honesty, fairness and a strong work ethic so he won’t be satisfied until the job is done. And, he added that he’s already tried out the chair and it fits him, as the audience gave a laugh.
Miller said that no one commissioner can take credit for anything because they all work together and share the credit. He has learned that it takes at least three votes to accomplish anything, so commissioners can’t get anything done sitting on the outside. He said he hopes that the public agrees that he has worked hard for the people.
Poindexter said that with no disrespect to the other candidates, he was glad the forum was over. He said he believes in total transparency. He doesn’t want to be known as a politician — those are a burden on the community — he wants to be known as a servant.
Cooke said he has experience as a military man, businessman and farmer — and that farming background is needed in this economy because agriculture is still the biggest business in the county.
Goins said he is a hard worker who has worked tirelessly in education and will work hard for the county. He believes in being transparent and giving the people a government they can be proud of. He brings a new perspective that can be necessary for the board. If topics come up that he doesn’t know very well, he is willing to research the topic to learn about it.
Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692.