Cochran seeks to return county board to voters

Published 7:02 pm Monday, March 5, 2012

Mickey Cochran, one of six candidates for the Democratic nomination in the race for Beaufort County commissioner, says it’s time for Beaufort County’s leaders to put their own interests aside and more fairly represent the people of the county.

Cochran, in an interview with the Daily News, said some of the decisions made by the county commissioners in recent years have worked against the financial interests of the people who live here and have exacerbated an already difficult financial climate.

Cochran said he hopes his candidacy will bring some of these issues to the forefront of the county’s political discussion.

“What we need are people who are going to make intelligent decisions and speak out and oppose those things that are wrong,” he said. The county board needs people with “intelligence, courage and the backbone to stand up and speak out for what is right.”

Cochran is a former county commissioner, having served on the board from 1996 to 2000.

He points to his record during his tenure on the board as being a strong advocate for public education, the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, as well as the poor and indigent residents of the county.

“I make decisions solely on researched facts,” he said.

Cochran said he is particularly disturbed by decisions made by county leaders in the increase of stipends they receive from $2,700 a year in 2000, when he last served on the board, to $9,500 a year in 2011.

He is also concerned about the increasing costs of providing health insurance for members of the county board.

While counties across the state routinely offer health insurance coverage to members of the county’s governing boards, Cochran said, “in our economic setting and environment, that does not make it right.”

He takes issue with a 2005 decision by the county board to give its members the chance to be paid the value of the health insurance as part of their salaries if they choose not to be enrolled in the county’s health insurance plan.

Cochran said that vote places an unreasonable burden on the county’s taxpayers.

In the current fiscal year, four commissioners — Ed Booth, Al Klemm, Jerry Langley, and Hood Richardson — opted to receive $4,931.28 each in lieu of receiving health insurance coverage for a total of $19,725.12 in county funds, Cochran said.

“People need a watchdog, a true public defender,” he said. “Someone with the moral integrity to stand up, speak out and openly oppose self-serving board excesses.”

Cochran also said the commissioners need to seek out the advice of the trained professionals who are hired to oversee the county’s operations — such as County Manager Randell Woodruff and Finance Officer Jim Chrisman — rather than make decisions based on politics.

He also said he would never vote to increase the compensation the commissioners receive.

Cochran said he believes in term limits and, as a result, pledged to serve only one term on the county board and he pledged to never vote to increase taxes the county’s property owners pay.

He said he will always support the county’s employees and will continue his strong support of public education and the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office.

Cochran is one of 13 candidates — including two incumbents and two former members of the board — in the race for four positions available on the board in this year’s county commissioners race.

Langley, who currently serves as board chairman, and challengers Lloyd Ballance, Robert Belcher, former Commissioner Carolyn W. Harding and Wayne Sawyer have filed along with Cochran to seek the Democratic nomination in May to face a slate of Republican candidates in November.

The seven Republican candidates who have filed to earn their party’s nomination include incumbents Jay McRoy and Hood Richardson and challengers Gary Brinn, Larry Britt, Donald Dixon, Rick Gagliano and Tony “T.J.” Keech.
Cochran, 74, is a retired educator. He taught English for 30 years in schools in North Carolina and Delaware and served as a boys’ basketball coach.

He is a 1956 graduate of Washington High School where he was a standout athlete, playing on the school’s football, baseball and basketball teams. Cochran holds a bachelor’s degree in education with a concentration in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and did graduate work at East Carolina University and the University of Delaware.

Cochran lives in Washington and is a member of the First United Methodist Church.