NHCo. Commission Candidates Attend Debate Forum

Apr 12, 2012

Republican and Democratic candidates running for New Hanover County Commissioner gathered at UNCW’s McNeil Hall last night for a candidates’ forum hosted by the League of Women Voters and WECT.  

The candidates expressed their views on a range of issues – including – as WHQR’s Rachel Lewis Hilburn reports -- where they stand on the construction of a Titan Cement plant. 

Three out of four Democratic candidates running for a seat on the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners are unanimous in their opposition to the location in the County of a Titan Cement Plant. 

Robert Murray says he disagrees with the virtually unanimous Republican stance that voicing an opinion at this stage is irresponsible and doesn’t allow the permitting process to do its work. 

“No, I don’t want Titan Cement here because of the information I’ve received up to this time.  Now, give me more information.  Let me re-evaluate what’s going on.”

Rob Zapple says he’s all for bringing new businesses and jobs to the Cape Fear region, but he can’t support a business that adds any new pollution to the county. 

“There are no safe amounts for human beings of mercury.  That’s where my issue is.  I think that jobs that are created are fabulous.  I think concrete is fabulous.  I don’t have a problem with Titan.  I have a problem with the mercury.”   

Incumbent Jonathan Barfield agreed.

“My stance has not changed on Titan.  I would rather that they not be here.”

Democratic candidate Stephen Vosnock did not attend.

All six Republican candidates running for a seat on the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners say they cannot take a position for or against the construction of the plant.

Current county commissioner Jason Thompson says he will listen to all the sworn testimony before making a decision. 

“That is a loaded question and anybody who is a candidate and answers it and tells you a position, they’ve automatically disenfranchised all the voters because you cannot vote on the issue when it comes before us as a county commission.”   

Beth Dawson says that, as a commissioner, she would have a duty to carefully review the pros and cons. 

“It would not be a responsible answer for me at this point to say anything other than I would look at both sides of the issue. I would listen to the concerns of the citizens, ask tough questions, and make informed decisions on behalf of all of the citizens.”

But she adds -- the County should welcome new businesses and try to recruit companies that would be compatible with our fragile coastal environment. Dr. Derrick Hickey, an orthopedic surgeon, says he understands the dangers of mercury and sulfur dioxide, but will not make up his mind until all the evidence is presented. Claud “Buck” O’Shields explains it this way:  “I agree with them that it is quasi-judicial and if you stake yourself out, you can be excused from voting.”

Woody White and Frank Meares concurred. 

Also discussed at last night's forum was the possibility of creating a public-private partnership in order to finance a multi-million dollar baseball stadium. All the candidates say they’re eager to see what might come of it.  All but one, that is.  Republican Candidate Frank Meares says he thinks construction of a stadium is misguided.  

“They might see the future of baseball here.  I don’t.  And I don’t believe a lot of other people who have looked into this and seen the lack of investment feel the same way."

But the other five Republicans and all three Democratic candidates agreed that with private sector funding – continuing to explore the possibilities could only benefit the county, as long as taxpayers aren’t forced to shoulder the financial burden.  

Full disclosure: Rob Zapple is on the Board of Friends of Public Radio, WHQR’s governing board.