10/31/06 — Incumbent Howard will battle challenger for Duplin seat

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Incumbent Howard will battle challenger for Duplin seat

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on October 31, 2006 1:45 PM

For about a month, Democrat Larry Howard thought he wasn't going to have any opposition in November's election as he ran for a third term on the Duplin County Board of Commissioners. Then Cary Turner turned in his petition and intent-to-run form and was placed on the ballot beside him.

"Six months ago (running for office) was the furthest thing from my mind," Turner said.

But his friends kept urging him on.

"Some people in the community came by and asked me to run. At first I thought it was a joke, but they kept coming by," the 50-year-old independent candidate said. "I asked them why they wanted me to run and they said, 'You're the most honest man we know.'

"When they told me that I started thinking about it and I told my wife if they had that much confidence in me, I ought to at least run for them."

When Howard first ran for his seat eight years -- two terms -- ago, it was for similar reasons.

"Eight years ago I had a lot of people ask me to run. They just wanted someone else to run," said Howard, who has lived in Duplin County since moving from his native Lenoir in 1971. "The reason I'm running this time is we've got things in the works we'll get accomplished if people will just leave them alone. I want another term to make sure we give these things -- everything going on in the county, from education to public safety -- a chance to work."

But, Turner said, too many of the things currently going on the county have been done without any input from county residents.

"I believe a true politician represents the people. They should have a voice in what's going on," he said.

One example, he gave, was the Duplin Commons.

"When you're talking about that large amount of money, the people should have been able to vote on it. They had no say so," Turner said. "It's a heavy burden to put on the taxpayers, especially in a county like Duplin County."

However, Howard sees things a little differently. For him, the event center was a long-term investment in the county.

"I didn't vote for it thinking it would pay for itself right away. I was looking at it down the road and at the infrastructure (such as hotels and restaurants) it would bring in," he said. "It'll bring people into the county."

For Howard, who's heading into his third term, the priority list begins with education.

"We've got to have good schools for the kids in the county and we've got some that need some attention," he said. "Every year, we increase what we give to the Board of Education, but I have absolutely nothing to do with how they spend their money. We allocate it and they spend it as they see fit."

This year, the commissioners budgeted $6.6 million for the commissioners, in addition to capital outlay and debt service funds. At last week's meeting, which Howard missed while on vacation, they allocated an additional $1 million after an unscheduled plea by school superintendent Dr. Wiley Doby. Those funds will be used for facility improvements, school safety improvements and teacher supplement increases.

It's that kind of response to the new proactive approach by the school system that Turner favors.

"Dr. Dobey, if people will give him a chance, I think he can make a difference," Turner said.

But for a school system that has only been ranked as high as 88 out of 100 in the last eight years, he continued, education is still an area that needs attention, especially with the population continuing to grow.

"We can do better than that. Obviously education is a pressing issue," he said, adding that it's the first step toward increased economic development. "We need to improve our school system and better ourselves to be more appealing to industry."

But, he continued, it's important that the county realize its focus likely will always be agriculture.

"It's always nice to have industry. You would think that because of (U.S.) 40 and with Wilmington and Raleigh not far away, it would be an ideal spot for industry, but we're an agricultural county," said Turner, who owns his own trucking firm.

That's a reality that Howard, a retired Sprint engineer, is well aware of.

"We've got to lean that direction. We're known as an agricultural county. I just wish we had more resources here," Howard said.

But that hasn't stopped the county's population from growing, and that growth is beginning to tax the county's infrastructure -- particularly in terms of public safety.

"We have a growing problem in our county of gang violence," Turner said. "People who have lived here all of their lives have never thought about gangs and it's changing our way of life."

And, he continued, while Duplin County Sheriff Blake Wallace and his department are doing a good job combating the problem, they need the commissioners to give them more resources.

More resources also are needed as the influx of immigrants -- some legal, some not -- continues to increase.

"One of the most challenging things is amount of people coming into Duplin County. It's taxing everything we've got -- schools, law enforcement and health care," Howard said.

Fortunately, he continued, the commissioners already are working to strengthen the sheriff's department.

"We've given him (Sheriff Wallace) 15 new deputies and we probably need to give him more with the gang situation developing," Howard said.

He also folded the county's fire departments and emergency services department under the public safety umbrella.

It's an area he's familiar with after helping begin the Pleasant Grove Volunteer Fire Department and emergency medical services in the 1970s.

Now that emergency medical services have been taken over by the county, that's the area he's most concerned about. He wants to bring it up to the paramedic level.

"I think people in Duplin County deserve the same type of service as everyone else in the country, regardless of cost," he said.

And it's that familiarity with the county and its needs that Howard believes makes him qualified for a third term.

"I've got nothing bad to say about Cary Turner, but I've got eight years of experience. All that adds up. He's only been to commissioners meetings, as far as I know, in the last two months," said Howard, 59. "In the future I can see Duplin County taking off. If we can get the port built in Wilmington that will help us tremendously. I can see down the road where we're ready to go in a positive direction if we get people on the board willing to make that happen."

Turner, a Wayne County native who grew up in Duplin, however, believes that it's time for a change.

"My own personal opinion is that I don't think any person should be able to run more than two terms. So many people have lost faith in the government and don't trust them. I was told that there was no place for me in county government because I'm too honest. I disagree," Turner said. "I'm not running for myself, I'm running for the people."

Because Turner is not affiliated with any political party, he cannot be chosen on a straight-ticket ballot. He must be voted for separately.