With the May 6 Primary elections fast approaching, the Jefferson Post asked candidates for the office of the Ashe County Board of Commissioners to provide a short biography and tell why they are running for the position.
The answers, provided by the candidates, are provided below:
Bio: Blackburn is a native of Ashe County who earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees from Appalachian State University. He worked in education as a teacher and principal for 33 years and also served eight years on the Board of Commissioners from 2002-2010.
Blackburn’s other experiences in public service includes 11 years as a member of the Town of Jefferson Board of Aldermen, four years on the Ashe County Board of Education and eight years as a member of the High Country Council of Government. He currently serves on the board of the Ashe County Public Library, the board of the Ashe Free Medical Clinic and is Chair of the Ashe Services for Aging board.
Blackburn is married and has one son, David, who is the principal of Mountain View Elementary. He also serves as a deacon at Fletcher Memorial Baptist Church, where he’s taught Sunday School for 49 years.
Why he’s running: Blackburn believes public safety is the primary responsibility of local government. He will support law enforcement, fire and rescue agencies.
Blackburn will also give attention to supporting existing and searching for new businesses and industries in the county. He wants to create a climate that supports small businesses and encourages entrepreneurship, promote tourism and brand the county as a location for second homes and retirement living, encouraging workforce development by keeping all levels of education properly funded, promoting agricultural diversity by supporting farm agencies and working in partnership with regional, state and federal commerce agencies.
Blackburn believes the board shouldn’t overburden businesses and individuals with regulations and taxes, and county residents should have “the right to live free from government intrusion.”
“I believe that leadership by the commissioners should be positive, forward-thinking, build consensus, invite input, assure openness and transparency, and promotes harmony and cooperation,” Blackburn said. “As a commissioner I would expect to be accountable, responsible and fair as I endeavor to serve all the citizens of Ashe County.”
Bio: Dix is a husband, father, grandfather, former Chair of Deacons at Bald Mountain Baptist Church and a retired state employee with over 30 years of public service under his belt. He spent over 30 years in public service in roles ranging from counselor to legislative liaison, eventually serving as deputy secretary of a state department where he was responsible for over 1,000 employees and a budget over $1 million.
Dix lives on a small farm with his wife, Michelle, and other family members.
Dix believes his background has prepared him to serve the citizens of Ashe County as a member of the board of commissioners.
Why he’s running: Dix said Ashe County needs fresh eyes and new leadership. The county is deserving of transparent leadership, according to Dix.
Dix said the county is in need of vision and a long-term strategic plan for employment.
The county is at a “crossroads,” according to Dix. He seeks to work with other commissioners and community leaders to develop a “strategic plan” for the county.
Bio: Graham is a graduate of N.C. State University and has lived and worked in Ashe County for 16 years.
Graham was Human Resources Manager at Gates and served on the Region D Workforce Development board and the Chamber of Commerce board. She currently serves on the American Heart Association board and is a trustee at Jefferson United Methodist Church.
Why she’s running: Graham believes the commissioners must diligently look for jobs that will utilize the current workforce, as well as provide jobs that will provide opportunities for younger people to return to or remain in the county. Commissioners must work to insure that job skills and training are up to date to meet the needs of potential employers.
Graham believes a balanced budget should be a priority as long as it’s not detrimental to serving the neediest citizens.
“We cannot reduce basic services to our seniors and children,” Graham said. “It’s imperative that we be prepared to cover shortfalls resulting from budget cuts.”
Graham said commissioners need to look toward the future and develop a plan for growth and development. A mixture of business, industry, tourism, agriculture and related services are needed to move the county forward.
“We must evaluate our strengths and weaknesses and determine a course of action that will build on our strengths, while turning our weaknesses into positives,” Graham said.
Bio: Hamilton graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with a bachelor’s in political science and a master’s in education. He’s lived in Ashe County with his wife, Teri, since 1982.
Hamilton worked in the soft drink industry before becoming the publisher of the Jefferson Post. He has been the executive director of the Ashe County Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center for almost six years.
Hamilton and his wife have one daughter and two grandchildren.
Why he’s running: Hamilton said he’s focused on jobs, economic development, education, health care and the county budget.
On jobs, Hamilton believes the county government should create an environment that helps small businesses, manufacturing and farms to succeed, which will lead to more jobs. Commissioners should work with local, regional and state economic development entities to bring new jobs to the county, while also doing everything they can to ensure existing businesses continue to grow, prosper and expand their job base.
On economic development, Hamilton supports transportation and infrastructure development such as the widening of U.S. 221, the expansion of broadband capacity and the implementation of progressive business policies. The board should encourage and support entrepreneurial endeavors and promote initiatives such as the Business Consultant Program offered by the Chamber to any local business.
On education, Hamilton will work with the school board, superintendent and other community agencies to make sure the county is doing everything it can to guarantee all county students graduate from high school and are adequately prepared for a career or college.
On health care, Hamilton believes Ashe Memorial Hospital is vital to the community and one of the top goals is to ensure it operates to support the community. A new approach is also needed to encourage more health care providers to relocate into the county.
On the budget, Hamilton believes the most important job of a commissioner is overseeing the county’s budget and wisely appropriating tax dollars. An effective budget needs to be realistically prioritized, frequently monitored and revised as needed, according to Hamilton. He will concentrate on making sure the most important needs remain funded.
Bio: McMillan was born and raised in Ashe County. He’s married and has three sons.
McMillan attended Wilkes Community College and later, the Institute of Government at Chapel Hill where he studied local government administration and management. He has served as the county manager for Ashe and Allegheny counties and also worked for Housing and Urban Development and Community Development for thirteen years.
Why he’s running: McMillan pledges to continue economic projects that create jobs for local citizens, support the schools and WCC-Ashe Campus, keep the county and communities first and have a transparent local government with a progressive vision for the county’s future.
Judy Porter Poe (Incumbent):
Bio: Poe is a graduate of Appalachian State University, and has served 10 years as an Ashe County Commissioners. Four of those years Poe served as Chair, and an additional two years, she served as Vice Chair.
Poe worked 21 years for Lowe’s Home Improvement in the accounting department, and worked 23 years as a self-employed accountant. She serves on the board of directors for the High Country Council of Governments, Smoky Mountain Center Mental Health and Appalachian District Health Department.
Poe is also Chair of Smoky Mountain Center’s finance committee and serves on the health department’s finance committee. In addition, Poe served three years on North Carolina Association of County Commissioners Board of Directors.
Why she’s running: Poe said she loves Ashe County as it is her home where she lives, works and shops. Poe supports quality education for our children, economical development for job growth and preservation of quality of life for our citizens.
Poe said she has always believed in service, and not just lip service. Poe feels that the positions she holds and has held in the past has helped her better serve our county. Poe has worked with County Commissioners and County Mangers from all over North Carolina through the various boards she serves on, and said she would like for Wilkes Community College to be able to expand and offer more training class for Ashe County students.
Poe said she is concerned about Boone taking water from the New River, but does not know what restrictions will be placed on future building along the New River in Ashe County. Poe says Boone said Ashe County was not involved in water intake process and therefore did not need to be involved in project, but that Ashe County Commissioners were ask by the state to sign off on project before it could proceed.
Poe said the Ashe County Commissioners did not sign the release, and that Boone plans to sell water to Blowing Rock. Poe says according to state regulations, water cannot be transferred from one water basin to another, but there is a clause that allows for “emergency” situations that water can be discharged from one basin to another, if there is an urgent need of a town.
Poe said she does her own research, votes for what she feels is best for the county. Poe says she has never, will never, and has never been asked to pledge to vote as a block with anyone.
Poe said the current Commissioners and County Manager Sam Yearick have met individually with Ashe Memorial Hospital’s Administrator and Chief Finance Officer. Poe believes the county needs a financially stable hospital. All small rural counties such as Ashe are facing the same situation as federal and state reimbursement funds are cut.
Gerald Price (Incumbent)
— the Jefferson Post did not receive a response from Price.
Bio: Pruitt is a native of Ashe County, and grew up in Laurel Springs. Now residing in Grassy Creek, Pruitt is a U.S. Navy veteran, and attended various colleges through a naval officer program.
Pruitt worked for nearly 10 years in the offshore petroleum industry throughout the Gulf of Mexico and is now a small business owner in Ashe County, running Pruitt Construction. Pruitt is involved with the Ashe County Home Builders Association as the past president and current president elect for 2015.
For the past four years Pruitt has also served as Regional Vice President for the North Carolina HBA.
Why he’s running: Pruitt says he has a deep love for all things Ashe County. Pruitt wants to see every one succeed and prosper.
Pruitt believes the county’s children and grandchildren need to know that they can have a future right here, and that our most pressing problem is the need for more jobs. Pruitt believes the county needs to go all out to recruit new business to the area, even it means just getting a list and making cold calls ourselves.
Pruitt says if we can get small manufactures who might be interested in relocating to come and visit Ashe County, then we have a chance. Pruitt believes the county needs to expand the offerings at the the community college to show industry that we are serious about having a well trained and up to date work force.
If the county does get an interested party, Pruitt believes the county needs to help streamline the process for getting a facility built by getting all the permits and planing folks to work together. Pruitt is also a strong supporter of second amendment rights and believes the county needs to be very careful of its spending. Pruitt believes the needs to get its reserve fund back in shape and would like to work toward a balanced budget.
Brien “Bruno” Richardson:
Bio: Richardson, 51, has lived in Ashe County for most of his life. He attended Jefferson Elementary School and Healing Springs Elementary School. In 1981, Richardson graduated from Ashe Central High School.
Richardson attended Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk and earned a bachelors degree from Gardner-Webb University, located in Boiling Springs, in 1986.
After graduating, Richardson returned to Ashe County and worked at the county’s Parks and Recreation department as an assistant director, and later, director of the program. Richardson also used his good-nature and acquired skills for five years and the Alternative-Teaching Parent in Ashe County. He currently works as the owner of Richardson Tree Farm.
Richardson, and his wife Terry, live in Jefferson with their three children Alex, Jake and Cori. Richardson has been a volunteer for various youth programs for over 25 years.
Why he’s running: If elected, Richardson will continue to dedicate his service to the people of Ashe County and maintain open communications with all citizens.
Richardson will be focused on the following issues:
• Encouraging industrial growth, producing employment opportunities.
• Establish career opportunities and incentives for Ashe County natives.
• Incorporate fundamentally sound decisions by the Board of Commissioners, which will economically benefit the county.
• Support and acknowledge services given to the county by its teachers and law enforcement.
• Maintain programs enabling the elderly to live independently in their own homes.
Bio: Rose was a police officer in the early 1980’s in Jacksonville, N.C., near Camp Lejune. A son of a military veteran, Rose entered the N.C. Highway Patrol in 1988 and retired from the patrol in 2012 with 30 years of service.
Rose started serving as Chief of Police for the town of West Jefferson in Dec. 2010 and continues to serve. His wife is a teacher’s assistant at Mountain View Elementary School in Jefferson, where their son attends.
Rose serves on the State Employees Credit Union Board, a committee member of the National Wildlife Turkey Federation and part of the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council in Ashe County.
Why he’s running: Rose is running for office because he would like to have more clarity and transparency from the Board and an open line of communication between the County Manager, Commissioners, county employees and residents with concerns ideas or assistance that they may offer.
Rose would like to see accountability from the commissioners to Ashe County residents helping to bring confidence in the board to serve Ashe County. He will try not to raise taxes, is for a balanced budged and using common sense approaches to ideas and issues brought before the Board.
To support local economic development, tourism and job growth, Rose says the county needs to bring sustainable jobs with fair wages to Ashe County either with tax incentives or other means necessary to make Ashe County more business oriented for job growth. Rose believes tourism is another important aspect to Ashe County and needs to be advertised as much as possible through various means.
Rose feels the Board of Commissioners should always be accountable for their actions and should be able to explain to the public in detail why they made their decisions and the actions taken.
William Sands (Incumbent):
Bio: Sands was raised in Surry County, graduating from Oak Ridge Military Institute in Guilford County with an associate’s degree. Sands graduated from the University of Alabama with a bachelor’s degree in business management.
Sands worked for 34 years with Duke Power Company, has worked 19 years with the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office, working 17 of those years as a detective. Sands is a member of Bald Mountain Baptist Church in West Jefferson and also is a member of the West Jefferson Lions Club, Masonic Lodge and Oasis Shrine Temple.
Sands is married to Judith Fletcher Sands, and he has three children, as well as three grandchildren.
Why he’s running: Sands believes his years in private industry management, four years as an Ashe County Commissioner and 19 years in law enforcement have provided the leadership experiences needed to face the issues in Ashe County. Sands believes jobs are essential to the survival, growth and well-being of Ashe County and taxes must remain affordable while maintaining the essential services the county provides.
Sands believes a healthy environment and first class medical care are a factor in attracting industry to the county and are crucial to the county’s current residents. Sands said he believes the expansion of U.S. 221, creating easier access from U.S 421 will help bring industry and business to Ashe County.
Bio: Shinkle is a native of the rural area of Philadelphia in southeastern Pennsylvania. She grew up in a close knit Christian home where her father worked hard to provide for our family while her mother stayed at home with my older brother, younger sister and her.
Shinkle moved to Ashe County in 2002 to be closer to her immediate family who has lived in the area since 1988. Shortly after moving here, Shinkle opened Ashe Massage Center which she still operates today in West Jefferson. Shinkle had a 20 year career with Kraft in several different capacities including tractor trailer driver, food production and sanitation.
Shinkle earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa., while working for Kraft. Her involvement in the community includes being a former secretary and treasurer of the West Jefferson Business Association, past secretary and treasurer of the West Jefferson Community Partnership and a member of the Ashe Chamber of Commerce.
Why she’s running: Shinkle said she is running for county commissioner because she is disappointed with the current leadership in Ashe County. Shinkle says she is a person who will take action rather than sit and complain about things she doesn’t agree with. Shinkle said she is an open-minded, non-judgmental person who can see both sides of an issue and make choices based on facts.
Alan Bulluck and Wil Petty can be reached at (336) 846-7164 or on Twitter at @albulluck or @WilPetty.