Candidates make their case to the public at Sunday forum

Sep. 23, 2013 @ 12:52 AM

Eight candidates for four seats on the Henderson City Council answered eight questions each and met with the public Sunday afternoon.

The candidates’ forum also offered each a chance for an opening and closing statement. They gave 80 statements to an attentive audience of nearly 50 in the Vance County commissioners’ chambers and a live radio audience on WIZS-1450 AM. Similar themes to help the city were shared, with variances in how best to achieve them and which were most important.

Jobs through economic development and crime were among the top issues cited in response to the community’s most important concerns. Other issues among each’s top three were blight, affordable housing, restoration of community pride, lower utility bills, infrastructure and education.

The two-hour forum, a collaborative effort of the Henderson-Vance Chamber of Commerce, WIZS and The Dispatch, rotated turns among challengers and incumbents, and the four wards. The City Council seats on the ballot are at-large Ward 1, at-large Ward 2, Ward 3 and Ward 4.

Sara Coffey is challenged by Charles Douglas for the at-large Ward 1 seat; Mike Inscoe is challenged by Arnold Booth Jr. for the at-large Ward 2 position; Garry Daeke is challenged by Geraldine Champion for the Ward 3 seat; and Vernon Brown is challenged by Fearldine Simmons for the Ward 4 position.

Candidates expressed a willingness to serve in opening and closing statements. Several gave reference to what drew them into public service.

“The community is only as good as what you give to the community,” Daeke said.

Brown noted a societal problem Henderson hasn’t avoided — fatherless children.

“You can hire 100 more policeman, but policemen can’t be fathers,” Brown said. “It’s time for real men to become real fathers in this town.”

An opening comment from Douglas drew an echo later from incumbents Brown and Daeke with regard to youth.

“We have a lot of young people with idle hands,” Douglas said. Both current councilmen later expressed a need to maintain and enhance the recreation department offerings.

Speaking of Henderson’s most pressing needs, Inscoe said the city needs to push for Triangle North to obtain a fulltime managing director. Brown drew an analogy to the police chief search, expressing belief the city needed economic development to be treated with near-equal importance and input from the community. Simmons was in agreement.

And Daeke noted the problem of a poverty-stricken area.

“We have 30 percent of our families in this community living in poverty and living in substandard housing, and suffering day to day dealing with those issues and raising a family,” Daeke said. “When people are healthy and economically stable, they can take care of their children. Our crime rate will be lower and our families will be healthier.”

Simmons, an educator, agreed with seeking jobs but also pointed out a sore spot — public school education for children of potential workers. Vance County Schools rank No. 115 of 115 school systems statewide in the latest four-year graduation rate.

“Even if we have jobs, people will look at our schools and ask what is going on,” Simmons said.

Incentives were endorsed by two of the candidates and all eight agreed the city needed an aggressive approach to economic development yielding jobs.

Inscoe and Daeke each mentioned the city’s most valuable resource as water.

A hypothetical question of facing a budget revenue shortage and choosing to cut personnel, cut city services or raise taxes and fees delivered answers with more choices.

Cutting services was the most preferred answer. Daeke expressed approval for an idea to consolidate city and county government as a way to streamline each.
“We have to do more with less,” Coffey said.

Booth’s idea of asking Sheriff Peter White to put non-violent criminals from the jail to work later drew a positive reaction from Brown.

“Before we get to that point where I see we don’t have any money, I think as a City Council person, I would have sat down with everybody across the board, and we would have went down to Sheriff White’s office, and we would have had a plan worked out with Sheriff White to get some of those non-violent inmates out of the county jail and put them on some of them projects that we’ve got 10, 15 city workers standing out on Dabney Drive, everybody got a shovel, but we can cut that 10-, 15-, 20-man staff down to maybe five in a supervisory position and we get those inmates to do that work,” Booth said. “We get those inmates to go to work, and eventually they’re going to be like, wow, I’m not going down there to Sheriff White’s jail no more because he works us too hard. It’s win-win.”

Candidates were also asked a broad question about crime.

“How can the council impact reducing crime?” asked George Rush of WIZS.

Among the answers were keeping and not reducing recreational programs for youth, community gardens, maintaining equipment and technology, studies of traffic patterns that could lead to more one-way streets, and community policing.

“We also need to look at the community itself,” Inscoe said. “The individuals that live in those communities, they must step up. They must take their communities back. They must report crime and they must be diligent about doing so.”

“I really believe that the City Council should get together with whatever police chief we get ready to hire and make sure the investigations are being done properly,” Champion said. “I believe that if the City Council gets with the police chief and the city manager and makes sure that those crimes that have been committed, that they are being addressed, then I think that would help with impacting and reducing crime rates.”

“Looking at our police department and how it is structured, that goes with the city manager,” Coffey said. “We have to make sure we have a city manager that controls that, that controls our chief of police. Maybe not control is the right word, but at least looks at how the chief of police is handling the citizens and handling his officers.”

Candidates had few comments in naming specifically where the city has wastes in its budget and use of taxpayers’ dollars. Coffey named the city operations center.

Brown gave a nod to Ray Griffin, the city manager, in how lean the city currently operates in avoiding cuts to jobs or services.

“He’s a numbers man,” Brown said of Griffin. “He’s on those numbers. And we’re on the right track with this leadership.”

None of the candidates were against certificates of inspection for minimum housing. Responsibilities of tenants and a “two-way street” on the issue were mentioned by Simmons.

Candidates were asked if they would support a resolution that prevented City Council members from voting on use of taxpayer money if they had not paid their taxes. Champion, saying “all of us go through hard times,” and Douglas, citing the next election’s ballot box, said they would not support such a measure.

The other six collectively deemed the council a leader by example, measured by a high standard.

In their closing statements, candidates expressed adoration of the city, servant hood, fresh ideas and a willingness to help.

“My mother used to say there are no problems, just opportunities,” Inscoe said. “Some are larger than others. We need to face them as a way to make this community better.”

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The following are questions asked of candidates at Sunday’s forum. To hear the recorded audio, visit WIZS-1450 AM online at

Question 1
In priority order, what do you perceive to be the three most important concerns that are facing Henderson? Expand on what you consider the most important of these three.

Question 2
Assume you have been elected to the City Council. The amount of money available at budget time leaves you with the choice to either cut personnel, services or raise taxes and fees. Which choice do you make?

Question 3
People say that we need more jobs in Henderson and Vance County. The city’s role in economic development has ebbed and flowed in decades past. How aggressive of a role should the city have in economic development today?

Question 4
How can the City Council impact reducing crime in Henderson?

Question 5
Waste is always a concern when it comes to government entities. Do you feel the City of Henderson is wasting taxpayers’ dollars? If so, cite where you feel there is waste that should be addressed.

Question 6
In the past, the council approved a certificate of inspection for minimum housing. It was approved and then done away with. If a similar case came to council now, would you vote for or against a minimum housing standard?

Question 7
Would you support a resolution that prohibited elected officials who owe past due city and or county taxes from voting on financial issues on their elected boards on which they sit?

Question 8
What experience do you have that makes you qualified to represent the people of Henderson? And give us an example of what you’ve done.