The future of New Hanover County is bright says Commission Chairman Woody White. Unemployment is declining, collaboration with the City of Wilmington and the beach towns is expanding, and the County just landed a coveted triple-A bond rating.
Elected to his first term in November, White says his job has turned out to be more about crisis management than budgets and policy. But he’s eager to engage with more citizens more often. And that’s part of the purpose behind the county’s new approach to its annual State of the County address.
Beginning Monday, June 24th and running through Friday, the County will broadcast a 30-minute segment on the Government Channel that features a different county leader each night.
RLH: What are some of the topics that you’ll be covering?
WW: Commissioner Wolfe will be talking about economic development. Vice Chairman Dawson will be talking about the budget process and fiscal issues. Commissioner Barfield will be talking about education. And I talk about a little bit of all of those things and kind of summarize what the last seven months or so have been like and what the future, we believe, over the next few months and years will look like in the county.
RLH: You’ve been very involved lately in some economic development issues. And I interviewed a local economist and UNCW Professor a couple of weeks ago about the whole idea of incentives. And his basic conclusion is incentives for the long-term don’t work because they’re not really the factor that lures a company to an area and causes them to stay. What’s your thinking on incentives now? Because it also sounds like it’s a little different than it was when you were running for office.
WW: I agree with everything he said. In theory, and in a vacuum, incentives are horrible policy. They pick winners and losers. They put government in the position of being manipulated to some extent by some of these corporations and they’re horrible. But, you know what? Those are the rules of the game right now. And until someone higher up the food chain says, “You cannot engage in incentives,” which I hope one day happens, to be honest with you. Until that happens, I’ve got a responsibility to my citizens here.
RLH: The Brian Berger issue took center stage for a large portion of the last several months. We heard people say that if you try to do something like an amotion hearing then he is going to appeal and then this thing will be tied up in the courts – possibly until the end of his term and it’ll cost the county money. If you do nothing, you’ll be viewed as someone who can’t take the bull by the horns and solve a problem that needs to be solved. How do you see this now?
WW: Well, with the amotion process, we had two choices. We could do nothing. And if we had done that, we continue to subject our staff and ourselves to some of the security concerns and the issues that – many of which are not even in the public domain. Or we could try to do something. And we did something. And we did it in an open way. We provided due process to him. He had ample opportunity to present us with whatever he wanted us to consider. We were hoping to hear that he was getting some help for what appears to be some mental health issue. And of course he exercised a right to appeal. And we expected him to do that. Whatever the court decides, obviously, we will respect that.
RLH: What do you wish people really understood about you? Is there one thing that you think the public just doesn’t get?
WW: Well, Rachel, I’m an open book. And so I think if there is a misconception about public officials in general, it’s that we’re not accessible and that we don’t care. And so sometimes it does get to you when people criticize without knowing the facts or without taking the time to pick up the phone.
It’s the act of disagreeing that leads to educating us. I can’t tell you how many times someone sent me an email and said, “Woody, I don’t agree with you on this. And here’s why.” And I’ve read that email and I think, “Gosh, that’s a good point. I hadn’t thought of that.” And you know what, Rachel, when you go into a meeting, that stuff influences you. We have open minds.
The state of the county 30-minute videos will air Monday, June 24 - Friday, June 28 at 7 PM on the Government Channel.
Time Warner - Channel 13; Charter - Channel 5