10/21/04 — Candidates in contested races speak at forum

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Candidates in contested races speak at forum

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on October 21, 2004 2:02 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- A candidate forum this morning offered a rare chance to see both candidates in four of Wayne County's hardest-fought campaigns.

Around 45 people came to Oliver's restaurant to hear from both contestants for two county commissioner seats, a N.C. Senate seat, and the school board's at-large race. Several other state and local candidates also spoke.

In Wayne County's District 4, Commissioner Efton Sager, a Republican, said he is "a man of character and integrity."

He called the hiring of Lee Smith as county manager one of the biggest accomplishments since Sager was first elected in 2000.

Serving on the board has required hard choices, said Sager said. "I have lost friends, but I have always tried to do what's best for my district."

His Democratic challenger, Mark Hood, made it clear that his interest in being a commissioner predates Sager's election. He said he was first approached eight years ago, but he did not have the time, due to his job. He has since retired.

"People have said to me, 'So you want to be a politician?' And I say, 'No sir, I want to be a public servant.' And there is a difference," Hood said.

If elected, Hood pledged to be straight-forward and take stands for what he believes.

Seeking re-election to the county board's at-large seat, Atlas Price detailed his involvement with county commissioners' groups at both the state and national level.

He has also been a leader in efforts to retain Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and other military bases in eastern North Carolina, the Democrat said.

His priorities for the next four years include education, job creation, long-range planning and maintaining good relations between the county and its municipalities, he said. He also would work to see improvements for both U.S. 117 and U.S. 70.

His Republican opponent, Hal Keck, is both an Air Force veteran and a business owner, both of which give him insight he would bring to the county board, he said.

He would work to increase teacher pay, saying it was "ridiculous" that some beginning teachers were hired at salaries that left them below the poverty line. And he would want the commissioners to work with the school board on long-range planning so that the county would be able to eliminate mobile classrooms.

N.C. Senate

About half of Wayne County is in N.C. Senate District 5, represented by Sen. John Kerr, a Democrat from Goldsboro.

Kerr praised Mount Olive for its past success in winning grants. "I don't know of any town that has done a better job of getting water and sewer grants," he said. Wayne County is well-poised for future success with the construction of the new U.S. 117, he added.

If re-elected, he will continue to work to assist the county, he said. "I have enjoyed trying to solve problems in the Legislature. That's all I do, every day."

Redistricting left Sen. Tony Moore, a Republican from Winterville, in the same district with Kerr.

He talked this morning about his service as a member of the Winterville town board. During his tenure, that board cut its utility rates and its tax rate so that they're much lower than surrounding communities, he said.

He also was crucial to East Carolina University's receiving a cardiovascular center from the Legislature this year, he said.

School board

The nonpartisan race for the school board's at-large seat pits Pete Gurley versus Joe Hackett.

Gurley, the current officeholder, said that his priorities for the next four years include reaching an agreement with the commissioners on a school building program.

The $82 million package proposed earlier this year is too large, Gurley said. But some construction is needed to allow the school system to eliminate mobile classrooms.

He also said the two boards will continue to work together on issues such as teacher pay supplements.

Hackett said, though, that schools are being hurt by the recent increase in the supplements. Those raises will be funded by cuts in staff development and training.

"With 50 percent of the schools not making adequate yearly progress, we should not be cutting back on staff training," he said.

He also wants to see updates in school curriculums, he said.

Several other candidates also spoke.