Two seeking Mount Airy board seat

By John Peters -
Goins -
Phillips -

There are two candidates squaring off for the Republican nomination for the Mount Airy District seat on the Surry County Board of Commissioners: Bill Goins and incumbent Larry Phillips.

Because no one has filed to run for the Democratic party seats in the November election, the May 8 primary will likely crown the overall winner for the seat.

The Mount Airy News recently posed several questions to the candidates. Here are their answers, along with a little bit about each. The candidates are listed alphabetically.

Bill Goins

What is your experience? What other elected or appointed offices have you held, or have sought? What is your professional/job experience?

I have 26 years of experience as an educator, 18 years of which has been as a school administrator. I have served in multiple communities in Surry County as a teacher, coach, assistant principal and principal. Each of these roles has allowed me to develop a variety of skill sets that will help me be an effective county commissioner such as: public relations, managing budgets, human resources and managing employees, valuing employees and people and working to build relationships, being visible and accessible, effective communication, experience in dealing (with) people from different backgrounds, and getting people to come together to get things done. My professional experiences have prepared me to handle the responsibilities of a county commissioner.

Why do you want to be county commissioner?

As a product of Surry County, I have seen our county go through many changes. I have been fortunate and blessed, but I worry that Surry County’s young people will not have these opportunities if we do not make a change. I would like to serve the people of Surry and give voters a choice in who represents them. I think a fresh set of eyes is a good thing for an organization. As I have traveled our great county, I feel that most people want a county government that will listen and be in tune with their community. I pledge to be that commissioner.

What do you believe is the single biggest issue facing Surry County?

I believe one the biggest issues facing our county that will ultimately take resources from other areas is the opioid epidemic. This issue has thrust our county into a place that we do not want to be in terms of making our county an inviting place for businesses and job growth. Our citizens should feel safe at home and work, and business owners should feel confident that their establishments will be safe from crime and theft. Citizens are expressing concerns about the opioid problem and the problems that come along with it. Additionally, this issue affects many different departments and organizations and will be a continual drain on the county’s resources. I believe we have begun to identify ways to help with the issue, and our county government has taken steps to address this problem through education, legal action against drug producers, and by looking for resources to help beat the addiction.

However, I feel that we are going to have to make sure that we find sustainable resources to adequately fund programs to help citizens to break the addiction. I also believe that we will have to advocate to our state and federal government to help in our fight to rid our county of this epidemic.

It seems that every candidate for nearly every office talks about the need to spur economic development, and this election is no exception. Specifically, how is that done? What can the county do that it hasn’t already done?

The good news is there is some expansion in existing companies. We are going to have to take care of the businesses and industry that we currently have while looking to attract more. We need to work through our Economic Development Partnership, county and municipal governments, school systems, community college, and community organizations to make our county and municipalities places that business and industry want to come and set up. As we attract businesses and current businesses expand, we need to sit down with business owners and discuss what their plans are for the future. This will allow us to create a partnership and understand their goals and potential needs. This will also help us determine next steps as we continue to research economic development for our county.

It is time to look at doing things differently because what we have been doing is not working. We can build shell buildings, put in water and sewer lines, and make other improvements to lure business, but that doesn’t mean that we will attract businesses. We need to pull all stakeholders to the table and review our assets and determine gaps. This is the only way we will know what we are doing well and what we can improve upon so that business will want to come to Surry County.

One of the general discussions we hear in Surry County is that too many of our young people go off to college, then leave the community for better jobs. What is the answer to that? How can the county be more attractive to its young people, and what role do the commissioners play in that?

We want our young people to go beyond high school to earn a degree/certification that will help them be successful after graduation. We must realize our young people have options. They can go to a four-year university/college or go to Surry Community College to earn a two-year degree/certification. We need to encourage our students to look at a variety of areas in which they can make a good living and show them the opportunities that are right here in their backyard. Our schools and businesses are currently working together so students can begin working before they graduate from high school. This is allowing our students to gain skills and make connections in our communities and we can do more.

I have suggested that we create a vocational middle school where students can experience various vocational programs like: agriculture, carpentry, electrical trades, etc. Middle school is a perfect time for students to get excited about the things they are interested in and Surry County has a great deal to offer our young people. Experiences like these will help our young people see what Surry County has to offer and help make our county more appealing to them as they become young adults. County commissioners will have to work with stakeholders to help support these efforts.

Is there anything else you’d like to say to the voters of Surry County?

I am a lifelong resident of Surry County and I have a vested interest in seeing Surry County grow and prosper. I grew up in the Beulah Community and now reside in the city of Mount Airy. As a resident of both the county and city, I understand how important keeping tax rates low is for our citizens. I believe economic development and education are integral to growth and prosperity in our county. I am committed to keeping our citizens safe and healthy. I would like to see our county government more in tune with our municipalities and communities as we move forward.

I pledge to serve all the citizens of Surry County and to listen to citizens about their concerns. I pledge to be accessible to citizens. I am committed to doing the very best job I can for the citizens of Surry County.

Larry Phillips

What is your experience? What other elected or appointed offices have you held, or have sought? What is your professional/job experience?

I’m a Christian, a husband of 40 years, father of two, grandfather of three, my work background includes retail management, 10 years in textiles working as knitter, fixer, supervisor, quality control manager, personnel and training. For the past 30 years I’ve had the privilege of serving as the senior pastor of Midway Baptist Church. I hold a Principles of Supervision certificate from N.C. State, advance training in Statistical Process Control, am a graduate of the NC Rural Economic Development Institute, Mentor Status from the UNC School of Government, US Constitutional Studies Hillsdale College, and hold a Master’s Degree from Liberty University. My work to combat adult literacy was recognized by Surry Community College, Time Magazine, and former Governor Jim Martin. Those qualifications give me an unique perspective and voice on public policy and its impact upon businesses and the hard-working families of Surry County.

What first spurred you to seek a board of commissioners seat, and why do you wish to be re-elected to the position?

I serve because of my love for this county and its citizens, and the seriousness of the problems we initially faced in 2012. Our economy was in a recession, the unemployment rate was between 18-23 percent; today 4.3 percent unemployment and the county average median wage is up. Our ambulances were breaking down during critical patient transport; today (we’re) back on 5-year replace plan. Our Sheriff’s Department was underfunded; today $1.3 million more annually than 2012. Funding for our schools had declined, today ADM and capital allocations are up pre-recession levels. Our county lacked financial discipline, today (our) Bond Rating is up and financial policies are in place.

While proud of those accomplishments, I’m seeking a second full term to specifically see implementation of a collective county-wide strategy to combat the opioid epidemic. To expand local access to more comprehensive mental health services, including mental health beds. To work with our local judges to see the establishment of a drug court, and with state officials to find a more equatable funding model for traditional public education in rural counties, including Article 43 sales tax flexibility. To protect our Present-Use-Value System and Volunteer Agriculture Districts for farmers, to support and enhance our diverse economic growth and ensure a business-friendly environment within county government. And to protect the religious liberty of our citizens from unconstitutional local ordinances.

What do you believe is the single biggest issue facing Surry County?

By far the most disruptive, destructive, and painful issue families across Surry County face is the opioid epidemic. Beginning with the legal prescription of a highly addictive substance, our county, like others across America, finds ourselves in a crisis. A crisis which results in the loss of precious human life, threatens family stability and public safety, limits our available workforce, increases criminal activity, and financially overburdens the limited resources of local governments.

I voted in support of a federal law suit against the major opioid manufacturers, who I believed failed to comply with federal regulations in the distribution of a highly addictive substance. Unless the flow and supply is reduced, the market will continue to be flooded with opioids. I supported the recent hire of Mr. Mark Willis to lead our county in a long-term collective and multifaceted approach to combating this epidemic which includes educational prevention, treatment, recovery and enforcement. I am working to expand mental health treatment often associated with substance abuse.

Finally, I would encourage my fellow citizens while working aggressively to combat this epidemic, we must not loose our compassion for those addicted and the pain their families and loves ones endure.

It seems that every candidate for nearly every office talks about the need to spur economic development, and this election is no exception. Specifically, how is that done? What can the county do that it hasn’t already done? Should the county continue pursuing the idea of landing mid- to large-size manufacturing firms, or is there another direction to go?

Indicators show the local economy is recovering from the recession. Future growth requires understanding our economy is more diverse, and a diverse approach must be taken. I’ve worked to keep our property tax rates competitive with our region. I support using tax incentive packages to attract new business that pay above the county average median wage, and local business expansion.

North Carolina should continue the use of historic tax credits to encourage redevelopment of existing properties. I will advocate again this year for approval of a joint project with the city of Elkin to build a shell building. Existing buildings were not built to meet the demands of a 21 century manufacturing process which require minimums of 70-100 foot high ceilings and 50,000 to 100,000 square feet of operational space.

Our regional economic development area has a mega-site which is currently being aggressively marketed to automotive manufacturers. We must be positioned to attract component manufacturing when that happens.

Supporting our local tourism and sustaining local agriculture are also two key components to growth. I want to continue working to establish an aviation partnership with Liberty University so local residents have opportunity to obtain a BS Degree in Aviation through our local airport.

One of the general discussions we hear in Surry County is that too many of our young people go off to college, then leave the community for better jobs. What is the answer to that? How can the county be more attractive to its young people, and what role do the commissioners play in that?

As a county commissioner I believe there are two primary components that are necessary. First, millennials as with all families, need employment capable of sustaining their families and meeting their long-term financial goals. Secondly, and this is more difficult for some to understand, millennials place great value upon the culture of their communities as well. By culture I mean the atmosphere, the social life, the values and environment the community creates.

Surry County is and always will be a rural county with its own unique challenges and story. Attracting the next generation, however, will require a greater understanding on the part of my generation that we can preserve our story, be true to our values, while creating a county-wide atmosphere that is inviting to millennials. Millennials enjoy walking trails, bike lanes, greenways, canoeing, and a downtown that offers after-business-hours restaurants and shops. Some in my generation see this as a waste of public investment, or trying to be like one of the major urban cities. I couldn’t disagree more. It’s part of the overall strategy to create an inviting atmosphere for the next generation. I see my role to assist in this development where possible.

Is there anything else you’d like to say to the voters of Surry County?

I want to thank the citizens of Surry County for giving me one of the privileges of a lifetime: to serve you. I am proud of the work accomplished during my first term on your behalf. Work that included managing a recession so our county could have options going forward. My experience and leadership has earned the respect and trust of my peers. Later this year I will become the 102nd president of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners, the first commissioner from Surry County to do so. That position enables me to translate your concerns into legislative goals for all 100 counties to advocate for.

I have never forgotten the chair I sit in as a county commissioner belongs to you the people and my purpose for being there is solely to serve you. I will continue to strongly advocate for our county anywhere the interest of our citizens is being discussed; be that in Washington D.C., or Raleigh.

So I am asking for your vote to serve a second full term as your county commissioner. I sincerely wish you and your family all the best. May God’s blessings be upon your life and our beloved county.



By John Peters

Reach John at 415-4701.

Reach John at 415-4701.