DUBLIN – Election time is often touted as an opportunity for citizens to “make their voice be heard,” but Tuesday night in Bladen County was just the opposite – an opportunity for candidates to speak and voters to listen.
For the first time in recent history, candidates up for election were invited to a forum, which was held Tuesday at Bladen Community College. The one-hour session was divided into three segments representing races for which at least one candidate had agreed to attend: Board of Education District 3, county commissioner District 3, and county-wide commissioner.
Questions were posed to each candidate present, and they were given three minutes to respond.
The evening started with the Board of Education candidates and a question about consolidation.
“Personally, I think there are other options other than closing two schools in one town,” Chris Clark said. “If cuts need to be made, they need to be made higher up. We need to be consolidating two schools and building a new one. I don’t want to see any close, but if we have to, we have to.”
He also weighed in on an issue close to his heart – educating children with special needs.
“This is a touchy issue with me,” he said. “If anyone had travelled down the road my family has traveled … you would see (special education) needs drastic improvement.”
Ashley Trivette opened the District 3 commissioner race portion by stating her qualifications.
“My husband (Tracey) and I own several business, and I run HealthWorks Fitness Center,” she said. “I know what it takes to make tough decisions, and I have experience operating a budget effectively and efficiently.”
When fielding a question about economic growth, Trivette noted her recent tour of the Industrial Park with economic developers.
“I’m proud to see what has been accomplished at the Industrial Park,” noted Trivette. “I know there are concerns about the rate that it’s growing, and I know that we have challenges … but I want to shine a positive light on the beautiful county we have.”
Presenting a picture in contrast were three of the county-wide commissioner candidates: David Gooden, Ray Britt and Randy Crow.
When asked what, if anything, needed to be done about Bladen County taxes, Crow said he would like to see the tax rate exemption for farms protected or increased and see economic development that doesn’t result in a burden on taxpayers.
Britt informed attendees that Bladen County was in line with other counties of similar demographics, but suggested the tax base needs to be increased so that taxes are spread around.
Gooden simply said, “We need to give taxpayers a break. The goal is to keep (taxes) down and spend money wisely.”
The men had diverse opinions on economic development as well.
“We have good things going on,” said Gooden, “and we need to keep what we have to compete with other counties. We have a lot of railroad not being utilized by industry.”
Crow, a Kelly resident, noted his content with the rate of growth in that area, but also said he would like to see the agriculture industry enlarged.
“When you look at families, kids grow up, and they don’t have anything to come back for,” opined Britt. “I’m not satisfied with economic growth for that reason.”
He also noted the strong business department at Bladen Community College and a history of Bladen County having a skilled work force.
The conversation seemed to strike a nerve in audience members when candidates began discussing county funding for the Bladen County school system.
Britt noted that Bladen County Schools has historically produced successful professionals like astronauts and scientists.
He elicited vocal agreement from the audience when he said, “We need to look at the dollars we’re spending and see why it takes so much to run a Central Office with so many (people). I say this with all due respect … we need to man up.”
“I think the current level of funding is fine, but my real thought goes to administration. I’ve worked in Bladen County 25 years, and, believe me, it’s top heavy,” he said.
Crow expressed discontent with the level of federal and state involvement in education, placing undue burdens on teachers.
“I don’t know if this will be well received,” he said, “but Bladen County is spending the least amount per student on education … . There are a lot of problems with schools in general, and … it is very upsetting.”
After the panel, candidates remained to answer any questions voters might have had.
Any candidate not quoted in this article was not present at the forum.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.