Commissioner candidates on the issues

Compiled by Adam Orr

(Adam Orr|Jefferson Post) Signs for state and local candidates adorn the lawn in front of the Ashe County Courthouse.

JEFFERSON-Election day is just around the corner and the Jefferson Post reached out to all six county commissioner candidates to gauge their thoughts on the issues.

Candidates are vying for three open seats. Democrats running for county commissioner include Polly Jones, Donna Weaver and Richard Blackburn. Republicans running include Larry Rhodes, Paula Perry and Gary Roark.

1. If elected, whare are your top goals and what is your plan to achieve them? What do you see as the county’s top priorities in coming years?

2. What’s your opinion on where the future Ashe County Middle School should be placed? Is the current proposed site in Jefferson a suitable location?

3. Some 31 percent of children in the county (1,555) lived in poverty in 2014 compared to the statewide average of 24.1 percent, according to the North Carolina Justice Center. What role should the county play, if any, in helping alleviate the problem? How would you address the issue?

4. Animal welfare concerns have been a hot button topic for the entirety of 2016. Should the board make changes to county ordinances concerning animals? If so, what issues should be addressed (tether, constantly barking dogs, housing, etc)?


Polly Jones

1. My priorities are jobs, education, and supporting small businesses, tourism, and our farmers. Ashe County Commissioners have a role and a responsibility to develop and improve the local economy. We need to entice new businesses by offering incentives and by providing 21st Century work-ready students. For example, Ashe County High School and Wilkes Community College are working with local industries. Ashe County High School’s STEM Program, if implemented, could be a step in the right direction, and Wilkes Community College is providing training for existing industries. In order to improve the economy and quality of life in Ashe County, we need to support the expansion of Wilkes Community College to provide job training for our citizens and dual enrollment for our students so they can earn an Associate Degree.

2. Building a new middle school has been a priority of the BOE and BOC for several years. Six years ago, when I was elected to the Board of Education, our then superintendent, Dr. Reeves had already begun the discussion about the location and size of the new middle school. The understanding was that when Westwood and Ashe County High School were paid off, funds would become available to begin the planning and the building of the new school. As you know, planning for a school of this size is a major undertaking and requires years/months of dedicated planning. Since both schools will be paid off soon, Dr. Holden began the search for available locations. The BOE investigated twelve sites and consulted with real estate agents and land owners. Some sites were too steep, some sites were too small, some sites would have had traffic congestion, some sites had no water or sewage lines available, and the site at Smethport was contaminated with chemicals. Dr. Holden did make a statement to the local papers that the school would probably be located near the center of county population and that would probably be in Jefferson. To build a true middle school – grades six through eight – requires a minimum of 35 to 40 acres of land. Obviously, flat acreage is more cost effective when preparing the land for buildings and sports fields. The location in Jefferson is the best possible site because it contains the required acreage, the terrain is flat, and it has access to water and sewage from the town of Jefferson. The traffic patterns are being studied and I see no problems concerning congestion. I believe when the new middle school is finished every citizen in Ashe County will be pleased and proud.

3. As a former public school teacher, I was aware that 62% of our students received either free or reduced lunches. As a former Executive Director of the Sharing Center, I discovered that 1 out of 4 of our children are food insecure; they do not know where their next meal is coming from. The county can and does support local food pantries by allowing them to use county owned buildings. One of the most important things we can do is to improve the economy by finding more industries to locate here. We need jobs with benefits that pay a living wage for families. The fact is that no family, working for minimum wage (7.25), can afford a two bedroom apartment. We need for Governor McCory to release the Medicaid funds so our children can receive medical care. We need to lobby for the state legislature and Congress to stop cutting TEFAP and SNAP. We need to make a change to the Federal Summer Feeding Program because presently only 4.7% of our children receive food during the summer through this program. Obviously, we need to work closely with DSS. Local government can be the catalyst for pro-poor economic development, improving living conditions and using humanitarian measures to lift people out of poverty. To succeed, we have to have economic growth and jobs, we have to support the development of small businesses and micro enterprises, we have to partner with communities and community based organizations, we also need to make sure that all of our students are educated and prepared to enter the 21st Century workforce.

4. I believe the BOC and animal control officers should meet and study the existing ordinances and develop a solution to the problem(s). Ashe County is not like Guilford, Forsythe, or Surry Counties, who have recently passed tethering laws. Our tethering laws should reflect our situations and requirements as well as the needs of our citizens. Locality dictates how we deal with tethering and dogs barking. Dogs should not be allowed to roam along roadsides or in other people’s yards. Dogs that roam freely are safety hazards. Tethering cannot be the primary or only way to protect our animals. Animals can be protected by using underground electric fences, building safe enclosures, or by using a long tether. I believe all dogs should be safe, dry, and well-fed. Before we pass an ordinance, we also need to look at how it will be enforced and financed.

Donna Weaver

BIO: Donna Janine Weaver; age 68; I live in West Jefferson; BS degree in Sociology, Master’s degree in Counseling from ASU. I worked for the County of Ashe 38 years: 6 years-Director of Mt Jefferson Child Development Center; 4 years as Social Worker in DSS; 28 years as DSS Director

Question 1: My top goals are developing long range strategic planning for the BOC; recreating a BOC that is collaborative, non-partisan in decision-making and operates with integrity; building on current infrastructure – water, sewer, technology to all parts of the county; affordable housing/rental property for working families;creating living-wage, full time jobs with benefits for the county; helping high school seniors who do not want to go to college develop their own small business.

Top priorities for the county for the coming years include affordable housing, infrastructure for business development, strengthening our agricultural base, jobs and education.

Question 2. The proposed middle school site is centrally located, however I feel there is not enough land buffer for existing residences. I know it is very difficult to find a site to fill all the needs. I do not know current land options without doing the research, which I believe the Board of Education has done. I trust them to know their needs better than anyone.

Question 3. There are MANY factors that contribute to poverty. The two most important factors in addressing poverty, in my opinion, are Education and living-wage jobs, both available to all. Several other important factors that need constant attention are: healthy parenting so that children grow up learning self discipline, a positive world view such that they believe they can be successful, and can be good problem-solvers; adequate food and shelter (housing), medical care. We need to continue our financial investment in these factors to improve community life for our citizens.

Question 4. I am sure the ordinances could be tweaked. I do not like to see animals tethered for more than 8 hours per day. I believe animals need attention and love for them to be happy and healthy. I want animals to have appropriate food and shelter. If someone cannot afford an animal I believe they need to give it to someone who can afford to provide what it needs.

Larry Rhodes

1. My top goals are employment, education, medical care and recreation opportunities for all ages. I will work with our county economic director, the Ashe County Chamber of commerce, and state representatives in following up on leads of employers interesting in coming to Ashe. These businesses must be employee friendly, environmental conscious of all Ashe County , desirable wages, with great working conditions, and benefits. I will work with our local board, state boards, and community college to provide the best educational service possible for our future leaders. I will continue to work with Ashe Memorial Hospital, local health centers, and state medical assistance in providing health care. I support the funding of recreation for all ages in Ashe County .

2. The site location for all school locations is the responsibility of our local elected school board, it is then the responsibility of the commissioners to provide the funding with the county bank account. If the Jefferson site is the decided location based on the reasons of finding, and the main one due to cost of providing water and sewer it appears to be a good choice.

3. Poverty is real world in Ashe County and there are a number of county and government programs ongoing. Our county taxes provide funding for a number of programs in this area and a tremendous amount of volunteering and fund raising continues in Ashe County to reduce poverty when possible. This is a very serious issue and we all must be aware of helping when we can with time and money.

4. Our animal control personnel operate with the present ordinances as a guide to conduct their work. They are very professional in all the work they perform. As of now , the present ordinances are being reviewed and recommendations will be brought to commissioners to review and make future decisions for future use.

Paula Perry

Paula Roark Perry, I am married to Lamon Perry and we reside in the Buffalo Community. I am the owner of Guardian Insurance Agency, Inc., an independent agency that I started in 1996. The business celebrated 20 years in October. We have two sons, Kelly Joe that is also an insurance agent, and Jared who is a Captain in the United States Marine Corps.

1. One of the county’s top priorities in coming years, need to be focused on spending. There seems to be a lot of wasted spending that can be overcome. Spending happens, but we need to look at the necessity of it, and what the true benefit is for the people of the county. This would be one of my top goals.

2. My opinion for years was that the Middle School and High School should have been closer together, in a common area type placement. If there is not enough area that can be obtained where the High School is to make this possible, then I think an area closer to town, like in Jefferson, would be more appropriate, for the land should not be as steep or hilly. In Jefferson, there is water and sewer so that should help with costs. The concern would be where the entrance and exits are located, to see if that area can handle the amount of traffic that it will have.

3. There are so many children living in poverty in this county, it effects their everyday life in so many ways. I know the Church I attend helps with the Friday snack pack program, where the children are given items to take home for the weekend, to help with providing them something to eat, for so many get their breakfast and lunch at school and then on the weekend, they get nothing to eat. The lack of jobs, and the problem of drugs in this county play a huge problem in the neglect of daily needs of the children. There are various programs throughout the county that help with the needs, Ashe Really Cares, the Sharing Center and many Churches helping with the snack pack program at each of the schools, just to name a few, but until there is a better employment base and economic development in the county, it seems like a never ending cycle.

4. The Ashe County Animal Control has ordinances that they serve by and this is a situation where no one wins in the end. One wants to tether dogs, another wants dogs to be quiet, another thinks all dogs should be inside, and it goes on and on. We are a rural county and not everyone is going to be happy about animals, but I think the BOC should put the poverty issue for food security for the children first.

Richard C. Blackburn

Richard C. Blackburn, a native of Ashe County, earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from Appalachian State University. He was a teacher and principal for thirty-three years. Additional work experiences include positions with the National Park Service, United States Postal Service, Appalachian State University, and Wilkes Community College.

Blackburn’s public service experiences include eleven years as an alderman for the Town of Jefferson, four years as a member of the Ashe County Board of Education, eight years as a member of the High Country Council of Governments and an Ashe County Commissioner from 2002-2010.

1. To encourage economic development that will increase job and wage growth, maintain “low tax rate through living within our means,” promoting public education, supporting law enforcement, fire and rescue, developing infrastructure, championing the cause of children, seniors, farmers, workers, troops and veterans. Economic development will continue to be the county’s top priority in coming years. A strong economy will make it possible to address many of the problems that exist. In order to sustain a strong economy, long-range planning will be necessary.

2. It is the responsibility of the Board of Education to select an appropriate site for the future Ashe County Middle School. Having been elected by the people of Ashe County, the Board of Education assumes the duty to search for, evaluate and finally determine the best location to build a new school. I was a member of the Ashe County Board of Education when the site was selected for Westwood Elementary School. Selection of a site for a new school involves a conscientious effort. Opportunity for public input is provided by holding public hearings. Since the Board of Education has analyzed all aspects of selecting an appropriate site for the future Ashe County Middle School, I have confidence in their decision.

3. A guiding principle for me is that we should always be concerned about those in society who are the most vulnerable. Among those are children who live in poverty. Statistics show that poverty is a basic cause of numerous problems as individuals reach adulthood. If the cycle of poverty can be appropriately addressed, these problems can be greatly reduced. What role should the county play? It is incumbent for the county to address the issue of achieving and maintaining a strong economy. An economy that produces JOBS, JOBS, JOBS which pay wages that will support families will be greatly helpful! Schools that provide educational opportunities are a must. Churches involving the faith community can provide support. The county has a vital role to play in helping to alleviate the problem of poverty for children. In addition to working for a strong economy, the county can provide and support agencies that serve the needs of children. The Department of Social Services must function efficiently and not allow any child to fall through the cracks.

4. I will fully support all efforts to provide greater protection for the welfare of dogs and all other animals. Ordinances should always be subject to review and updated as needed. I would not support an anti-tethering ordinance as such for Ashe County. However, guidelines that modify the harshness of tethering could be included in a county ordinance. For instance, the length of the tether could be addressed. Appropriate shelter and/or shade could be defined. Allowance for exercise could be suggested and proper ground cover specified. A strict anti-tethering ordinance would allow dogs to stray freely. This would quickly allow dogs to roam onto other people’s property and potentially become a nuisance. It could also be a danger for children and the elderly in a case where a dog might have a bad temperament.

Gary Wayne Roark

Roark graduated from Ashe Central High School and Wilkes Community College, and is a licensed General Contractor. He is seeking a third term on the Ashe County Board of Commissioners. Owner Gary Roark Construction, served 22 years in the military, and spent more than 20 years on the Jefferson Fire Department.

1. The county has risen to the top in many ways. It is a destination place for tourism and is coming back to be the destination for second homes. The local housing market is also on the rise. The above items create monies for the county in different ways. The tourist spend their money by shopping in our stores, staying in motels, and attending local events. Through September, 2016 the building inspection department issued 62 permits for new home construction and many more for additions, garages, storage, etc.

One of my top goals is to see Wilkes Community College and Ashe County High School work together to create more programs such as construction, mechanics, drafting, etc. for students who do not plan to attend college after high school. I am willing to meet with WCC and the high school to set up programs created for students who would like to begin their own business after graduating high school. If these classes could be given it would give the student a great advantage to passing the required test in their field. Another goal is to see the board of commissioners work closely with the outlying areas of the county. We have worked with Lansing and that has been a huge success. I would like to see the Board of Commissioners seek out the outlying areas of the county and see in what way we can be of service to them as they are also taxpayers. The top priority for now and in the coming years should always be taking care of Ashe County citizens. We do this by putting our priorities in order and making sure our education system is top notch, our law enforcement is well equipped, our hospital is fully staffed and equipped to handle emergencies, outpatient and inpatient need, keeping up with technology and of course pursue the creation of jobs.

2. My opinion of where the Ashe County Middle School should be placed doesn’t really matter. The total decision of the placement of the new school will be the Board of Education and the State of North Carolina. The commissioners do not have the authority as to the placement of the school. The school needs to be placed where there is water and sewer available. As far as the commissioners are concerned our obligation is to work with the Board of Education once the site is selected and has been approved by the State of North Carolina.

3. The only way to address the problem of poverty whether children or families is to educate the population. The board of Commissioners has given the Board of Education the total amount of monies they requested in the budget. Our school system is one of the best, if you choose not to participate in the education system; there is not much the county can do. The problem of poverty anywhere in America will never be eliminated until education, starting at the family level is seen as a priority.

4. The subject of animal welfare has been a topic of discussion several times this year in board meetings. I can speak for myself, but I would imagine that all members of the board are willing to meet with Animal Control, county manager and any citizen that wants to have an input into the possibility of changing a part of the ordinance. However, we have to realize that we live in a rural area where animals, in the past, have been allowed to run free, etc. I, personally, think we need to have an open meeting which could be announced in advance so everyone that wishes to speak could.

(Adam Orr|Jefferson Post) Signs for state and local candidates adorn the lawn in front of the Ashe County Courthouse. Orr|Jefferson Post) Signs for state and local candidates adorn the lawn in front of the Ashe County Courthouse.

Compiled by Adam Orr

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