Commissioner hopefuls stump

Published 10:43 am Thursday, April 15, 2010

Staff Writer

Editor’s note: This begins a series of stories resulting from the Washington Daily News Candidates Forum, which was held Tuesday evening.
All nine Beaufort County commissioner candidates were represented at the Washington Daily News Candidates Forum on Tuesday evening.
Also present was Bertie Arnhols, an Aurora resident who is circulating a petition in the hope of running as an unaffiliated commissioner candidate.
The commissioner hopefuls’ portion of the forum began with two-minute opening statements.
Each of the candidates used these statements to illuminate his or her background, and some went farther by staking out their territories around political issues.
To ensure fairness, the candidates’ names were drawn at random, and each gave an opening or closing statement or answered a question in turn, after his or her name was called.
The process continued until each candidate had completed his or her time at the microphone.
First up was Darwin Woolard, a Washington Democrat and a former Washington councilman.
Woolard noted that he’s lived in Beaufort County since he was 9 months old. He said he served on the council for three terms, or a total of six years.
“I feel that I could bring a lot to the table,” he stated. “I’m just the type of person — I just shoot from the hip. I have to take and get all the information. You cannot make a decision without having all the information.”
Woolard, who lost his bid to be re-elected to the City Council last year, said he thinks he was “kind of burned” at the polls because of his voting record.
“I have to stand here and tell you that I would do it again because of the information at the time,” he added.
He emphasized his willingness to serve, and said he was ready to answer questions.
Ed Booth, an incumbent Democrat from Washington, told the crowd he was appointed to his first term — to fill a vacancy on the county board — and was elected outright to his second term.
He said the commissioners inherited one of the largest debts in Beaufort County history: the issuance of $33 million in school bonds.
“Part of that was you have to raise taxes every three years to pay those debt services,” Booth said. “Beaufort County commissioners have not raised your taxes, not one time. We have absorbed it — I didn’t say ‘I’ — we have absorbed it and have worked diligently not to raise your taxes one bit.”
He said he would be happy to continue sitting down with the commissioners and working to make Beaufort County “the county it can be.”
Third up was Jerry Evans, a Washington Democrat.
Evans said he and his wife moved to the county in 1971.
“The first thing I want to say is I’m not a politician,” he asserted. “I’m here tonight because I’m one of you. I’m just frustrated. I just feel like this county has so much to offer.”
He said the county has a “a lot of challenges ahead of us” over the next three to four years.
“I feel like I’ve got the experience for that,” he said.
Evans added that he owns a couple of businesses, one in Washington and one in Greenville.
Pointing to the recent revaluation of real property in the county, Evans cited his resumé, saying he has “quite a bit of real-estate experience.”
He said he’s interested in bringing new jobs to the county, but he is more concerned with keeping people here and keeping people working.
He said he’s traveled the county and heard “a lot of complex answers” to his questions.
Evans said he has been involved in the community, adding that he traveled to Washington, D.C., to lobby against a proposed military outlying landing field that would have affected the county.
The fourth candidate whose name was drawn was Stan Deatherage, an incumbent Republican from Washington.
Quoting former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, Deatherage said, “‘The trouble with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.’ This pretty much sums up our future in today’s America.”
He said the federal government’s spending is outstripping its income, and that the feds aren’t accounting for debt service.
“How does that affect Beaufort County and our local government?” he asked rhetorically. “Simply speaking, it all runs down.”
Deatherage accused Washington, D.C., Democrats of moving toward socialism, saying they had traded their party’s symbol of the “jackass for the red hammer and sickle.”
“We must form a line of defense to save America for us and future generations,” he said.
He advocated for more local control over health care, and he said America should protect its borders.
He said Beaufort County spends more than $2 million a year on services for people who are in the county illegally.
Next at stage center was Sonya Shamseldin, a Democrat from Pinetown.
“I’m a mom,” she said, indicating her four children and her husband, who cheered her on from the audience.
“They are very proud of me,” she said, tearing up a bit. “That right there is worth a thousand words, because when you have your family behind you, you’ve got it.”
Shamseldin said she serves as chairwoman of the Beaufort County Department of Social Services’ board.
“I’ve learned a lot in the past four years being there, from how the system works to the money that’s expended from there, how to look over a budget,” she said. “Also, I’m very active in the community. I don’t have to ride all over from one part of the county to the other because I’m there.”
She added, “I know how much a gallon of milk costs because I do go to the grocery store. I’m just like you.”
Mentioning gas prices, she said, “I’m frustrated, and I think that’s a word that you’re going to hear on most of this panel all the time.”
Following Shamseldin was Cindy Baldwin, a Republican from Bath.
Baldwin said she has been a small-business owner for 17 years and managed a $15 million budget at the height of that business.
She’s currently a business counselor with East Carolina University.
“I’m out there every day trying to help businesses keep the doors open, and they’re pretty frustrated, and that’s exactly why I’m running today,” she said, “because someone needs to be a voice for small business and say we’ve had enough.”
She offered a visual demonstration of what she said “a small-business owner has to go through.”
Baldwin dropped a stack of papers on a table. She said the stack represented paperwork she went through to request a 15-foot extension of a pier at the Quarterdeck, her Bath business.
“It was a year of my life and it got denied,” she said of the extension request.
She held up a series of bills, including one she said was tied to the renewal of an alcohol permit for her business.
“The bill was $600,” she said. “And the state decided to do me a favor because they know small businesses are having a hard time. So, they changed the date due from June 30 to April 30. Wasn’t that nice, to cut off 60 days so they could get their money?”
After Baldwin, Buddy Harrell took the floor. Harrell is a Republican from Edward.
Noting he hails from south of the Pamlico River, Harrell said his community “is a part of Beaufort County, even though it’s not recognized.”
“I’m running for commissioner because something has got to be done about all this giveaway taxes,” he said. “We have two types of people in this country today. One is called the producers, and the other is called the moochers. And the moochers are outnumbering the producers every day. There is not enough tax money in the world to satisfy these people, and that’s the main reason I’m running for county commissioner.”
He said “everybody wants to be classified,” adding, “If you’re born in America, you’re an American. I don’t care what color you or what nationality you are. You are American.”
Harrell referred to the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion.
The following candidate was Al Klemm, an incumbent Republican from Washington.
“I have the dedication, integrity, skills, experience, the motivation — particularly the time, I’m now retired at 65 years old — to continue to be an effective and productive Beaufort County commissioner,” he said.
Klemm said he’s a U.S. Air Force veteran, a retired corporate executive and a “successful local businessman.”
He said he’s been fortunate all of his life and feels “obligated to give back to the community.”
“I do this as a volunteer and as a Beaufort County commissioner,” Klemm proclaimed. “I believe the only way a county commissioner can be effective is by being involved in the community. Volunteer and county commissioner sort of go together.”
He said he believes in “strong families, strong education and low taxes.”
After Klemm came Arnhols, who explained that she needs voters to sign her petition to let her run as an unaffiliated candidate.
Arnhols said she had two women stationed at the forum to collect signatures. Arnhols urged people in attendance to sign the petition.
“I need 1,250 (signatures), and I’m about halfway there,” she said.
She referred to leaflets that she said advertise most of her positions on issues voters have talked about in a series of town-hall meetings. (Arnhols organized the town halls.)
Arnhols said she chose to run as an unaffiliated candidate “because I’m not too happy with the way this country is going, from the Democrats or the Republicans.”
She posed some rhetorical questions to the audience.
“The current member board of commissioners represents 66 years of partisan politics and public service,” she said. “I ask you, do you feel like you’ve been served? Do you feel like your voice has been heard about issues that matter to you?”
She asked voters if they were better off today than they were in the 2008 election or the prior election.
“If you answered ‘Yes,’ then you should vote partisan politics again,” she said. “If you answered no, then vote for me.”
Finally, Washington Republican Tony “T.J.” Keech Jr. was represented by his wife, Catherine Keech.
Keech said her husband was away on mandatory job-related training.
She said the couple has a child that isn’t quite 2 years old, “and we believe that the future of our family is here in Beaufort County.”
Tony Keech is a Beaufort County native, she said.
“He certainly wants to make sure that if our family and future generations are going to survive here that we go beyond — move our community forward and triumph over global competition,” she said. “One way that he believes that we can do that is to improve the quality of life for all of our residents — north and south of the river, not just in Washington — by keeping taxes low, as low as possible anyway.”
She mentioned streamlining services and addressing turnover in county departments “so that Beaufort County can stop being a training ground for people to leave and go other places.”
For the candidates’ responses to one issue-related question, see a future edition.