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Stanly County Commission candidates field Q&A

A total of eight Republican hopefuls for Stanly County Board of Commissioners will be among a bevy of candidates contested in the May 8 primary.

Only one of the five available seats on the county commission will be spared the primary showdown. Four seats are set to be challenged in the primary, with the other, District 4, set for the General Election.

With the exception of District 2, the Republican primary winners for county commissioner will be decided in May, barring no successful write-in candidate in November.

For the at-large seat for county commission incumbent Jann Lowder will face Lane Burr; District 1 pits incumbent Scott Efird against Mike Barbee; District 2 commissioner Bill Lawhon faces challenger Joe Speight; and District 3 incumbent Joseph Burleson squares off with Tommy Jordan.

In an effort to provide county voters with candidate information, The Stanly News & Press posed each candidate with five questions related to county issues as well as a brief summary of their personal background.

Below find the profiles and Q & A of the candidates vying for county commissioner.

(Editor’s note: The eight Republican candidates vying for seats on the Stanly County Board of Commissioners were presented with a questionnaire. They were asked to respond to each of five questions in 50 words or less. The Stanly News & Press gave the candidates some latitude with the word count; however, some responses had to be edited for brevity and fairness.)

Stanly County Board of Commissioners

District 1

Scott Efird (incumbent), Republican

Age: 56

Family: Tracy (wife), and children, Kerri Dawn (deceased)

Occupation: Planning Director for the city of Locust

Most admire: My dad

Favorite movie: “True Grit” (John Wayne)

Favorite quote: “The very things that hold you down are going to lift you up.” — Disney’s “Dumbo”

Mike Barbee, Republican

Age: 68

Family: Sheila (wife), and children, Tyra, Kelly, Kristi and Wesley

Occupation: Retired from AT&T; part-time sales associate and driver’s education instructor

Most admire: the late Rev. Billy Graham

Favorite movie: No response

Favorite quote: Not applicable

District 2

Bill Lawhon, (incumbent), Republican

Age: 66

Family: Gail (wife, children, two sons, Erik (Jami) and Cory (Abby), three grandchildren

Occupation: Retired from Uwharrie Bank after 42 years; minor shareholder and president of Lawhon Family Auto, Inc.

Most admire: the Rev. Billy Graham

Favorite movie: None

Favorite quote: My father and mother stressed to me this truth — a man’s word is his bond.

Joe Speight, Republican

Age: 66

Family: Children, Jay and Chris; Debra Morgan (significant other)

Occupation: CEO/Founder Joe Speight Insurance Agency, Inc.

Most admire: Ronald Reagan

Favorite movie: “Field of Dreams”

Favorite quote: “You can’t be for big government, big taxes, and big bureaucracy and still be for the little guy.” — Ronald Reagan

District 3

Joseph L. Burleson, (incumbent), Republican

Age: 30

Family: Jerry and Debbie Burleson (parents)

Occupation: Real estate broker

Most admire: My father

Favorite movie: No Response

Favorite quote: “Government’s first duty is to protect the people, not run their lives.” — Ronald Reagan

Tommy Jordan, Republican

Age: 40

Family: Dr. Amy Jordan (wife)

Occupation: Technology Consultant, Structured Cabling Engineer

Most admire: My wife

Favorite movie: “Braveheart”

Favorite quote: “Well done is better than well said.” — Benjamin Franklin

At-Large

Jann Lowder, (incumbent) Republican

Age: 73

Family: Gary Lowder (husband); children, daughters, Tandy Carpenter and Ginger Efird; and son Kelly

Occupation: Retired owner of TKG Transport, Inc.

Most admire: My daddy

Favorite movie: “Saving Private Ryan”

Favorite quote: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” — Helen Keller

Lane Furr, Republican

Age: 62

Family: Married, three children, eight grandchildren and one on the way

Occupation: Owner/Operator of Pro Tire II

Most admire: President Donald Trump

Favorite movie: No response

Favorite quote: “Make America Great Again!” and “Love it or Leave it!”

Questions for Q & A

  1. What do you recognize as the county’s greatest challenge and how would you address that issue?

Efird: I think that the need for jobs within the county is one of the biggest issues that we face — not just jobs, but jobs that offer individuals the opportunity to provide their families with good pay, benefits, and stability.

A key to this would be to continue to promote The Riverstone Industrial Project in Stanfield by using tax incentives to help the project attract future businesses.

We want our money to stay here — it should be earned here and spent in Stanly County.

Barbee: Everyone knows that jobs and education are our biggest issues. I feel that being on the Stanly County Board of Education for 10 years I have the experience and that helps me in knowing the issues and needs of our education system. I would like to help out in that area, too.

Lawhon: The lack of infrastructure is our county’s biggest challenge. As a commissioner we need to place emphasis on our infrastructure and work to gain federal and state grants.

Commissioners at our February planning retreat placed emphasis on waterline placement throughout our county. We want waterlines placed in locations that are not currently served. We should be able to place one to two miles per year with our current revenues.

We want this to be an ongoing process of placing as many new waterlines as permissible with excess revenue from our current operations.

Speight: Our infrastructure and our school system should be updated to meet today’s needs. I will work to help improve the perception that Stanly County is a good place to live and do business because of the central location and beautiful places to live and work.

I would use my sales experience to persuade potential businesses to come to Stanly County and create job opportunities for our citizens.

Burleson: Continued economic prosperity is our county’s greatest challenge. We must continue to focus on lowering taxes, as well as reducing governmental burdens on workers and businesses through our policies and our economic development activities.

One particular challenge facing our county is the need to expand our public utility infrastructure. Our infrastructure is the foundation for our economic development and we need to expand services to citizens throughout the county.

Jordan: Retaining Stanly’s rural beauty and charm while becoming attractive to the technological world outside our doorstep is the challenge. We can work to make that happen, but we need people in qualified fields with experience to do so.

Lowder: I believe in recruiting new business and continuing to help our existing businesses is the greatest challenge.

To attract new business the county must build on its infrastructure by adding broadband, water lines, sewer lines and site development.

The reality is available broadband is an increasing demand of business and industry today. Stanly County needs jobs.

Furr: The current water and sewer system is not able to support new businesses. Business is critical to attracting new residents for the county.

Although the teachers are paid by the state, there are incentives that could be subsidized by the county to compensate teachers that go above and beyond what is required for the position.

Our law enforcement needs to be better equipped and compensated for the service they provide. Better benefits would attract and retain top performers that provide a safer environment and therefore be attractive to potential new residents.

  1. What more can commissioners do to make Stanly County more appealing for economic development?

Efird: We must work with our existing businesses to promote the ability for them to have the opportunity to attract other companies that would complement them and work hand in hand with them mutually.

I also want to see small businesses promoted, as they are the backbone to our communities.

Barbee: Water and sewer issues have plagued Stanly County forever. We need to make it available to all residents without penalizing those who don’t need or want it. I don’t think that purchasing land for industrial parks is the right answer for growth.

We have to provide the people that are trained and willing to work. We must be willing to show corporations we can work with them to train the people they need.

Lawhon: We have been working to become competitive by recently purchasing land for an industrial site located in western Stanly County. This property is located between 11 to 12 miles from 1-585 and is within one hour or less to Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

Moving forward we will put in infrastructure that will allow this property to be developed for new commercial buildings which are needed to attract additional development.

Speight: Taking a more conservative approach to being good stewards of county finances and appointing conservative individuals to governing boards, such as the Community College, the Library Board, etc., unlike some of our current board members, who have developed a very liberal agenda.

Burleson: In the last two years I have worked with our two newest commissioners to take long overdue steps to improve our EDC.

First, we reorganized the board to better represent all of the county and not just a select few. Once the board was reorganized we hired a new EDC director who is focused on results.

Based on the county’s recent investment in additional sites and infrastructure, I believe we are better positioned to bring in new jobs and industries to Stanly County.

Jordan: We want business to come to Stanly. Businesses have people. People have families. Families need jobs and infrastructure to support them.

If we want the businesses, we need to start at the bottom — with our schools, our infrastructure, and establish it all from the ground up. Sooner, rather than later.

Lowder: We must understand the only way to offer a prepared workforce is to support K-12 and the community college. Both public education systems know business and industry demand skills in rapidly changing technology.

Businesses do prioritize location by comparing public education among the prospective areas for consideration. We must provide the tools for career opportunities. We should work with SCS and SCC.

Furr: Not to make light of what the current administration has accomplished, but the growth potential for this county in the next 10 to 20 years is estimated at 10 percent (NC demographic trends) and the ground work to make Stanly County successful needs to start now. Many services will need to be expanded and modified to accomplish this goal.

  1. What do you recognize as the county’s top three assets and how can Stanly better promote them to the county’s advantage?

Efird: Our people, the proximity of our county in relation to other counties around us, and our natural resources.

We need to concentrate on education in Stanly County for our citizens to provide them with the resources to be prepared for the future.

Our county is in the middle of many growing and emerging counties, and we should poise ourselves to be able to tag onto that controlled growth and draw people into our county.

Our natural resources are readily available for many uses. We have Badin Lake, Morrow Mountain, Lake Tillery that attract many visitors and tourists and permanent residents. We also have several wineries that brings in many visitors and tourism dollars

Barbee: Agriculture, small business and our people are all tied for the number one spot. Another benefit is our natural resources for sportsman and vacationers. We have great access to hunting, fishing and water sports not to mention our beautiful Morrow Mountain and Uwharrie Mountains for vacationers.

Not much good is ever mentioned about our lower sales tax, but this could be advertised to help attract business to our county.

Lawhon: Stanly County is blessed with our location, natural resources and diverse industries. We are close to metropolitan areas, but we are considered rural.

Our natural resources can be used by our citizens and citizens from other areas can enjoy them with a short drive. We are blessed with diverse manufacturing, industry along with strong agriculture businesses. This combination gives us good growth potential.

Speight: Morrow Mountain State Park, our lake system and our good-hearted/hard-working people. Our community college is also a great asset to this community.

Burleson: Our people, our location and our community college are Stanly County’s top assets. Stanly County is blessed with a wonderful location. We are close to the economic engine of Charlotte, but far enough away to not be in the hustle and bustle of the city.

We have the beautiful Morrow Mountain State Park and lakes to our east and we are surrounded by beautiful farmland. Our people are charitable and engaged in the community.

Through our schools, churches, civic organization and citizen groups, our citizens are always willing to support good causes and people in need.

Jordan: Pfeiffer University, Stanly Community College and Morrow Mountain are three assets I believe bring a lot of attractiveness from outside our area.

We are already doing great things with them, but we could spend some time examining how we could improve visibility and reach to bring more people to Stanly.

Lowder: Stanly County Airport, natural resources and recreational facilities. The airport is a part of the infrastructure and a partner with the NC Air National Guard.

Natural resources are rivers, lakes, and a state park. Stanly County may not have a countywide park system, but there are 17 parks, a dog park and an amphitheater in our municipalities. Visiting at parks, sport facilities and sporting events is a growing part of enhancing lifestyles for families today.

Furr: Real estate: Stanly County owns prime real estate that could be developed for potential businesses.

Location: We have an adequate road system that has room for expansion and the distance to major interstate is minimal.

Railway System: We have an existing railway system that would allow the transportation of goods and potentially passengers in and out of the county.

  1. What county commission decision or action within the last two election cycles caused you the most agitation and why?

Efird: I was bothered most by the attempt in 2017 by some of my fellow commissioners to change the way the sales tax was distributed among the municipalities. It was a knee-jerk reaction and was not discussed in length or researched to how it would adversely affect each of the local municipalities.

Had this decision been implemented it could have destroyed several of the municipalities including Badin which would have had to let their entire police department go because of the lack of funding.

Our cities and towns are what makes this county a great place to live.

Barbee: I can’t say it’s been an agitation with any decision or action but rather just using better judgment when spending our tax dollars.

My opponent and his allies have appointed liberal Democrats to very important boards in the county instead of selecting conservative people.

I also believe we should communicate with all our communities and work with them on their needs and ideas. Collaboration works better than court action and saves everyone money.

Lawhon: Last year a sales tax distribution proposal came to the board by a couple of our commissioners. They wanted to change the way sales tax was distributed which, if the change had occurred, would have brought $1.8 million to the county’s checkbook.

That sounds great, but the bad news was it was being taken from our towns and the city of Albemarle. I along with commissioners Efird and Lowder, plus lots of our citizens, objected to this proposal. This would have caused our towns and city to be in a financial bind.

Thankfully an overwhelming crowd of citizens let it be known that this move was wrong for our county.

Speight: I became disappointed after the last election. Some candidates ran as a conservative and performed as a liberal after being elected. This type of behavior does not create a positive appearance for the county.

Burleson: In 2014, I joined the board with other candidates who ran as conservatives. Since I was elected I have worked to make sure that boards appointed by the county commissioners represent the values and beliefs held by a super majority of Stanly County citizens.

Unfortunately, some of those commissioners have not kept their word. Instead of appointing well-qualified citizens who share the common goals and values of our county, they have worked to appoint liberal Democrats to important policy board such as the community college board of trustees, the health and human services board and the library board.

Jordan: The CHSA Board consolidation was 100 percent opposed by the community.

Many, including myself, spoke at that meeting, laying out the reasons it was a bad idea. Four of the commissioners voted that in to give themselves more authority. That’s not the representation we need.

However, if elected, I will support the CHSA in providing needed services.

Lowder: Sales tax distribution discussion: A commissioner proposed almost $1.4 million to not be returned to the municipalities, but to become county funds. The commissioner said, “…it was our money.” Municipalities would be addressing their strongest challenge in choosing services to cut, or raising taxes.

On April 24, I responded to that statement saying, “It is not our money; it’s the people’s money.” Who loses if this had passed; the answer is: citizens throughout Stanly County.

Furr: Money has been spent in excess that I feel could have been used in a more effective way.

  1. Why are you the best candidate for county commissioner and what prompted you to run for office?

Efird: I am running for re-election because there are many things that I still want to continue to be involved with and implement within this county. I have a genuine concern and care about the future and the direction that this county is headed for the future. I am a lifelong resident of Stanly County and am passionate about making this the best county in North Carolina.

My first term I focused on economic development and education and still feel that both have more improvements that need to come. We have made strides in both education and economic growth, but still have issues to address. We have raised per pupil spending the last several years for education.

With the purchase of Riverstone Industrial site in Stanfield, this will go a long way in attracting future economic growth within the county.

Barbee: I’ve been considering this for a number of years and I believe that my experience on the BOE gives me an edge. I know that I am the most conservative candidate running for this seat.

I will work for all the people of the county to see they are treated fairly and they will have a voice through me to help address their concerns and needs. I believe we can help and improve all our community schools and keep our tax base low.

I will look into reducing property taxes, if possible, and if we can reduce burden on our taxpayers help our farmers and small business our county will grow and that will attract business.

Lawhon: Being a commissioner requires being objective, honest, having integrity and considering all citizens. It also means you are available to meet or talk with citizens about local issues. You should love your community and its citizens.

Serving for the last three-plus years, I have made myself available for these types of meetings. I support our fire departments, EMS, rescue squad and law enforcement. My name and reputation are qualities that I pride.

Speight: I grew up in Stanly County and I’m a true believer in the conservative values of the people here. I have a Master’s Degree in Business and have also been in business for 30-plus years.

I strongly disagree with the liberal ways of thinking, shown by some of the now-sitting commissioners. My door will always be open to the public for them to share their opinions or concerns.

I believe that my conservative approach and strong desire to see Stanly County and its citizens succeed makes me the best candidate for the job.

Burleson: I represent the values, beliefs, and goals of the people of Stanly County. I am a conservative who supports lower taxes and less government intervention into the lives of our citizens.

I led the charge to add “In God We Trust” — our country’s motto — to the courthouse. I publicly support traditional marriage, pro-life policies, and our constitutional rights — including the Second Amendment.

I have supported investments in education, economic development, public safety, the community college, as well as the merger of the Department of Social Services and the Health Department into the consolidated Health and Human Services Department for more efficient and effective services and cutting cost.

Jordan: I’ve successfully owned and run businesses my adult life. I’ve had the pleasure to work across three countries, two continents and I understand business, technology, a need for growth and how to make those things possible.

I attribute my success to honesty and integrity. I would appreciate your vote!

Lowder: I know and understand the requirements to serve as a commissioner. I have the qualifications, knowledge, experience and commitment. I have over 35 years as a business owner. My commitment is proven by my involvement in Stanly County, and I want to devote time, energy, and effort for all our families.

People who know me understand how much my home county has meant to me throughout my life. I want to continue to “give back more.”

Furr: I have been a resident of Stanly County all my life. The area is near and dear to me. I have watched other counties grow around us while Stanly County is overlooked. This is not acceptable and a new approach is needed to make sure the next generation will have a prosperous and safe area to make their home.

I can and will make sure the people are represented in every decision and vote I make.