Editor’s Note: The Lincoln Times-News submitted a series of seven questions to the Republican candidates running in the May 6 primary for the Board of Commissioners election. Their written responses are listed below.
Why did you decide to run for the Board of Commissioners?
I feel if you want to see change you must be willing to be a part of that change. I wish to see our county responsive to citizens, treating them as customers.
For the last 15 years, I’ve had the vision to run for County Commission. I want to be involved, active and I am willing to be the feet for the board. I have the background that allows me to understand project management, pricing, drawings and land development; this has been my life for 26 years.
My father Bud Branch, of Stanley (deceased), taught each of his children to be involved in the community. We must all be part of a team to get things done. I’ve been involved in the community my whole life. Board of Commissioners is the next step, which I am qualified and willing on which to serve.
Three of my four granddaughters live in this county, and I want to make this a better place for them. In particular, avoiding loading down the county with debt.
I decided to seek the office after being urged to do so by past and present county leaders who knew my background and my strong desire to use my skills to serve Lincoln County. They believe I am best qualified to serve as a county commissioner. They believe, as I do, that this is a critical primary election, one that will decide whether Lincoln County progresses forward as the economy continues to recover, or loses opportunities and begin to slide backward. As a retired military officer with over 32 years of active duty, Lincoln County is the only place I’ve lived by choice. My wife and I have been here over 10 years, and we don’t plan to leave. I believe since I have the right qualifications and the time to serve, I have an obligation to do so.
What qualifications do you have that make you feel you are the best candidate for this office?
My years as Chief Deputy have prepared me for leadership and problem solving skills needed as a commissioner.
I have spent 26 years in the engineering field, designing plans for the mechanical, industrial electrical controls and civil/geological field. I am 47 years old and spend the majority of my time pursuing my real passion, serving the community. I currently work approximately 12 hours per month as a Chief Examiner, with International Assessment Institute (IAI) for the North Carolina Crane Certification Operations (NCCCO), serving in Lincoln County for Crane Operators Certification & Inspections (COCI) on Industrial Park Road. Lincoln County Board of County Commissioners will be my full-time job. My energy and focus will be an asset to the county commission. I will visit sites, walk the land and do the research of talking with people regarding issues for the County Commission. I plan to be the legs for the County Commission.
My background is in engineering and designing final plans for mechanical, electrical and civil/geological fields, I am the best person for this board. I am currently serving on the quasi-judicial Lincolnton Planning and Zoning Board as Vice Chair and Lincolnton’s Board of Adjustments. These are three-year term, appointed positions. I’m in my fourth year there and have made a great impact using my skills of reading plans for our area.
We must be mindful of how much we have to spend and where the best place to put that money. If we ran our homes the way government runs its budget, we would be homeless and destitute.
I will be the “voice of logic and fiscal responsibility for the county as a County Commissioner.” I realize we must spend some money, but let’s look at where we get the biggest bang for our buck.
The last 15 years I’ve run a business creating computer models for corporations, which reflect their detailed activities, including costs and profits. So I’ve learned to isolate which “costs” are real and which are “allocated” and don’t reflect reality. I’ve looked at the county budgets in detail and have identified savings that can cut the tax bill for county residents.
I’ve also been involved in startup businesses as a partner, and learned how to squeeze every nickel.
Strong leadership, analytical, and listening skills, highest standards of integrity, graduate education in public policy, ability to recognize innovative ideas from others — particularly where innovation brings improvements with no extra cost to taxpayers and a strong desire to serve. I used those essential skills in a distinguished career as a NOAA Commissioned Corps Officer, serving in a renowned technical agency where results mattered, and waste, delays and unresponsive bureaucracy was not tolerated. I’ve commanded ships, been the Director of Operations for an entire fleet deployed around the world and taken on the most difficult assignments with noteworthy success.
I led several programs where I worked exclusively with civilians, and provided direct technical and planning assistance to state and local agencies, with funding from other agencies provided. One major effort I led brought together multiple federal and state agencies to work with a small town trying to bring a deteriorating waterfront back to economic life. I received a “Reinventing Government” award from the Vice President for my success.
What changes, improvements or projects would you like to see implemented by the Board of Commissioners, should you win the general election in November?
Streamline government, administration and compare departments’ rise in budgets during the 2009 economic down turn. Investigate property tax values higher than market property evaluations. Stop contracts where department heads and managers are farming out the jobs they were hired to do. Remove unnecessary predatory taxes like the $500 water well tax. Partner with city leaders to improve services to citizens.
I would like to see the purchase of water from the city to the county completely resolved and a contract in place.
I would like for the board to address absentees of the board. Example: if you are absent for more than three consecutive meetings, an alternate will be placed on the board. The board currently does not have an alternate.
I would like to see the East Lincoln Rotary Park “totally resolved.” Whatever the board is willing to give should be in the Rotarians hands. If they choose to give more at a later date, then give more. However, not giving what they agreed to give before the fiscal year ending is wrong. I realize the county commission gave the money for the building part, which is to be a farmers market. However, it came back at an astronomical number. So, they should do as they have done, send it back for re-engineering but go ahead and give the money promised so the park can begin construction. Follow through with your promises.
I would like for the county commission work more with LEDA. The two go hand-in-hand. Since the government has cut funding to our schools, LEDA can help by partnering with our school board and administration to connect businesses that will give toward our county schools, as East Lincoln has already done.
Turn the current UDO into a West UDO and an East UDO, and then let the west and east planning board members decide how to revise them to match the needs of each area of the county. The two ends of the county are different, have different needs and need to be organized in accordance with local wishes.
Cut tax bills. More than 90 percent of our taxpayers paid more in total county taxes last year than five years ago. As we pay down the debt we voted to incur for major school projects, those savings should be returned to the taxpayers, not spent on more “palace” projects.
Make taxation fair. In a number of cases, taxation (including water and sewer rates) is levied in a random manner. As examples — in 2010, our 10,000 water customers subsidized our 3,000 eastern sewer customers to the tune of a $400,000 transfer instead of a loan, which keeps county water rates higher than our neighboring counties. This was illegal. In 2007 the County Sewer System was established by transferring only the assets, including $3.7 million in cash, from the East Lincoln Sewer District for $1, but left the debt behind and it still appears on property tax bills, even for people who aren’t sewer customers.
Stop the “palace” projects. If something is needed, require that at least one bid be provided on budget. If that strips out some frills, so be it. County management is not spending their own money, but they should act like it is.
Cut back on consultants, and if one is needed, try to find a retired local person with the expertise needed. The county claimed to lack funds to fully support the Child Abuse Center, but had lots of money to hire consultants for the library personnel issue, and pay lawyers to hassle taxpayers appealing to Raleigh.
In general, the Board of Commissioners must be more open to any new ideas for economic growth, for improving our public schools and the quality of education, and for any ideas to unify the citizens of the county. Recognize, and seek out innovative ideas from any source!
For the short term, the Board of Commissioners must meet with the School Board and County Manager to immediately move forward with two projects that have already been approved. The projects will increase available funds to public schools, and to the county in general, by hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, with no increase in tax revenues.
Another immediate priority requires forming a working group of county business leaders and resident volunteer experts to decide exactly what portions of the Unified Development Ordinance need to be revised. The UDO must be modified to reflect the different needs and preferences of different parts of the county. It must be realistic enough to apply common sense standards and not impede economic growth. Our own citizens and business leaders need to do this together, and quickly.
For the longer term, the Board of Commissioners needs to develop some means of bridging the gap between the western and eastern parts of the county. I believe regularly scheduled but generally informal gatherings where residents of one part of the county see and hear about the rest of the county could be a good way to do this. We’re all in this together.
Describe the ways your personal ideology fits with Republican principles.
Smarter, smaller government.
I believe we are spending too much money. Here’s the best example: I have reviewed the study the County Commissioners had done in 2009, which those figures are obsolete now. So those funds spent for that service, total cost was $144,453.10, a total waste of taxpayer money.
What is needed is the cost of our current satellite offices and the overhead for those, as well as how many years it would take to recoup the cost of a renovation/upfit for the old hospital. The upfit doesn’t need to be to make it the Taj Mahal. In design and engineering, everyone knows to shoots for the moon in an estimate. Then you negotiate it down to what is absolutely necessary, or that is how it should be done. This is how every decision should be handled — negotiate and don’t just take the first number that is thrown out.
Republican principles are smaller government, and less government interference in our daily lives. Cutting big expenditures, cutting taxes and moving zoning control closer to the people actually affected by it are all steps in those directions.
I’ve been active in party politics for many years, serving on the county executive board as treasurer. In 2012 I was voted “Republican of the Year” by the board, which I think shows that I’m in tune with Republican principles.
I’m a Republican because I believe in individual achievement and responsibility. I believe in a strong central government that encourages individual success by providing opportunities for a high-quality education that leads to decent-paying jobs. A solid middle class, with opportunities for even greater success, is essential for the viability of our nation, and it all starts right here at the local level. When necessary, government must hold out a helping hand, but to help out and not permanently support. The same basic principle of providing opportunity with responsibility applies to individuals, businesses and our nation. Freedom and unlimited opportunity are what make our nation great.
What do you expect will be your biggest challenge(s) if elected into office? How do you plan to address them?
Make changes in UDO zoning ordinance to return to a business-friendly environment and streamline red tape. We have seen first-hand in the city of Charlotte the graft and corruption that goes with overregulation.
Not raising taxes for our increasing needs of the county. We are being taxed to death. We must do everything we can to not put more burden on the citizens of our county. Everything is going up, except our paychecks.
I will work diligently to cut out waste, stop spending too much for services we can do ourselves. If it makes good business and financial sense, why in the world do we continue down the same path of overspending and expect a different result? Let’s see if we can get a five-percent cut from each county department’s spending. Almost everyone can cut somewhere, five percent doesn’t seem like a lot, but when you add it all up it certainly will be beneficial.
Finding two more votes to make some changes. I’ve spent most of my life in sales, and know how to convince customers to spend their hard-earned money on my business services. That background will allow me to work with other commissioners to find better solutions to our future, and unknowable, problems.
I don’t see any real challenges in terms of my ability to hit the ground running and serve effectively. I have a good working relationship with the County Manager’s office and staff, as well as with several county departments, from my service on the Lake Norman Marine Commission and the Board of Equalization and Review. I know and respect the other candidates and can work well with any of them, and I have a respect for the sitting commissioners and their willingness to serve. I will continue to listen, to respect the opinions of others, and work well with anyone who shares my desire to move the county forward.
How have your past experiences shaped your view of local politics and this government role?
As a longtime county employee, I have observed and worked with many leaders to build partnerships to solve problems and make government work. Looking beyond the “this is the way we have always done it.”
I have been involved with local government for many years now. I am on my fourth year on Lincolnton’s Planning and Zoning (Vice Chair) and Board of Adjustments. Here are a few of the other boards or commissions in the past I’ve been on:
What I’ve learned is, you must make decisions for the betterment of the majority. Sometimes that is difficult, but you have to look at the best for the whole not a part.
I’ve watched as special interests get their pet projects done, while more worthwhile projects get abandoned. Every activity of government needs to be measured as if it were a business activity: what does it cost, and what’s the benefit (not always measurable in dollars)? If it’s worth doing, can it be done cheaper?
I’m a Republican, and always have been. However, during my career on active duty I was absolutely prohibited by Federal law from engaging in any partisan political activity at all, beyond donating to a candidate (but not publicly) and voting for the person I wanted. For over three decades, politics was a prohibited activity that — like most military people — I viewed with distaste and distrust. To my great pleasure, I have discovered that the controversial partisan issues that divide us as a nation play essentially no role at all in our county government. The role of a Lincoln County Commissioner is to move the county ahead to the benefit of all our residents. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What do you believe are some of the accomplishments previous Board of Commissioners officials have achieved?
The partnering with Upper Cleveland County water system to provide water to parts of Lincoln County. Building Lincoln County business parks.
Completion of West Lincoln park by finally completing the splash pad. I would not have agreed that purchasing the equipment was necessarily the best way to do it, but it did get completed.
The biggest accomplishment our BOC has approved is the acceptance of Denver’s Shea Homes Project. This will help the county immensely. If there are places for those people to live, they will spend here in our county. Also, think about the water that will be purchased from the county (which I hope will be purchased from the city). It is a trickle down effect to how their money will bring in much more to our demographics.
Economic development has been done particularly well. Many projects, for example, the airport water and sewer lines, were done with relatively little local tax dollars, and will generate major new business development at the new airport business park.
Since I’ve lived in Lincoln County I’ve seen the Commissioners insist on positive changes in some things beyond their actual control, such as schools and public safety, and that’s a tribute to their abilities. There are some more direct accomplishments that stand out in my mind.
The commissioners raised the professional standards expected of senior county employees. They insisted on an earlier reevaluation of property values than required by state law to more accurately reflect the loss of value for our homes. When Wal-Mart moved into the eastern part of the county, the citizens and planning board insisted on changes to the store’s appearance to reflect local values. In both instances, the citizens spoke, and the commissioners listened. There is room for improvement, and revising the UDO to better serve the entire county and not restrict growth in the western part of the county is something that should have happened by now. If elected, that is one of my highest and most immediate priorities.