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County Republicans pick a replacement for Conrad on Forsyth commission

by Jordan Green

jordan@yesweekly.com

Four Republicans are jockeying to replace Debra Conrad, an 18-year veteran on the Forsyth County Commission who plans to resign at the end of the month to take a seat in the NC House.

The commission will vote to appoint someone to fill the vacant seat on the seven-member board in early January. The likely appointee, who will complete Conrad’s unexpired term through the end of 2014, will be recommended by the Forsyth County Republican Party. The party has scheduled a meeting on Thursday at the Forsyth Tech West Campus in Winston-Salem to accept nominations from the floor and hold a public forum with candidates. The party’s executive committee, numbering about 160 people, will then select a candidate to recommend to the county commission for appointment.

Three candidates, John R. Bost, Mark Baker and Jimmie Boyd, are more or less known quantities, having run un successfully in the Republican primary for three seats that were claimed by incumbent commissioners. A fourth, Michael Kilgariff, currently serves as Republican chairman for the Belews Creek Fire Department precinct.

“Commissioner Conrad will submit a resignation effective Dec. 31,” said Jane Cole, external communications director for the county. “That’s going to happen. Everybody knows she’s going to the General Assembly. We will have a special called meeting on Thursday, Jan. 3 at 2 p.m. to consider a resolution for approval of the person recommended by the Republican Party. If the commissioners choose to approve that recommendation, then that person will be sworn in and seated.”

Under state law, the person appointed to fill a vacancy must be of the same party and live in the same electoral district as the member being replaced. As a matter of politics, the Republicans’ 5-2 majority on the board ensures that the next commissioner will be from the GOP in any case.

State law requires the board of com missioners to consult with the county executive committee of the party before filling the vacancy. The statute holds that the commission “shall appoint the person recommended by the county executive committee” if received within 30 days of the seat becoming vacant.

Chairman Scott Cumbie said the party is researching to determine whether the county commission is bound to the party’s selection, but he does not expect the two entities to clash on the decision. Richard Linville, the Republican chairman of the commission, could not be reached for comment for this story.

John R. Bost, who serves as mayor of Clemmons, placed fourth in the Republican primary for County Commission District B, trailing Linville, Dave Plyler and Gloria Whisenhunt, the three incumbents.

Bost said he and Conrad share a similar philosophy on economic development as fiscal conservatives who support incentives when they demonstrably create new jobs, create a net increase in tax revenue and include strong performance standards.

“My objective long term is to bring some representation and balance to the western Forsyth County area that would include Clemmons and Lewisville. That’s critical for the economic development of western Forsyth.”

On education, Bost presents himself as a supporter of both public education and charter schools.

“You would find me very supportive in assuring the funding formula for public schools,” he said. “It’s a very healthy thing. Make sure we’re both making a sound investment in public schools and holding them accountable, make sure the public schools have the funds to create the sound product. I’ll be a strong advocate of public education, but at the same time very open to charter schools. I’m not threatened by that.”

Mark Baker, a parochial-school principal who has served on the Tobaccoville Village Council since 2007, placed fifth in the primary, and ran slightly to the right of Linville and Whisen  hunt. Baker parts ways with Conrad and other Republican members of the board in his opposition to incentives. The two both support 287(g), a program that allows local law enforcement agencies to carry out federal deportation functions. The county has not implemented the program because of opposition from Republican Sheriff Bill Schatzman.

Baker said if appointed to fill Conrad’s vacancy he will focus on making tough decisions on spending and the tax rate as the county adjusts to reduced revenue levels as a result of a scheduled revaluation of the taxable property. He said he wants to promote a “pro-business atmosphere” to encourage business growth and job creation.

In lieu of incentives as an economic development tool, he said the commission could review regulations to see if any are hindering job growth while maintaining a strong education system.

Baker has demonstrated that his conservative philosophy is not ironclad when the Tobaccoville Village Council voted unanimously to approve a resolution expressing opposition to a rezoning request to allow Jerry Stoltz to continue operating a stump-grinding business near the village. Baker said that vote represented more the exception than the rule.

“The biggest issue was the noise, the pollution, the dirt,” he said. “The place had multiple fires on its property. It felt like it was a negative to the neighborhood. My overriding philosophy is individual freedom: As long as you’re not hurting anybody else, people can do what they want with their land.”

Jimmie Boyd placed last among eight candidates for county commission in the Republican primary earlier this year.

He has taken red-meat conservative positions on a slew of issues in the past, including immigration, Christian prayer to open commission meetings, allowing guns in county parks and voter ID. He takes a critical view of incentives, but said he would not necessarily oppose them.

“I think they need to be tiered a little bit,” Boyd said. “I know we need some big businesses…. I’m not necessarily saying I would wipe out incentives. I’d look a little harder at them, and I would look at how to help small business, too. In my opinion, the company themselves is looking at how to make more money…. With a lot of these megamillion companies, if they’re bringing 200 jobs and the people right here are not qualified, they’re going to bring in their own people.”

Boyd indicated he would like to bring more transparency to the commission. He said he wouldn’t be on the losing end of a vote, and wouldn’t hesitate to call reporters if he thought they should be asking his colleagues to explain their votes.

Michael Kilgariff, a small business owner who previously served as compliance manager for the NC Energy Office’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act program, said he is stepping forward as a candidate because he believes he has the “time, talent and treasure to be able to make a difference.”

“I think that we’re going to be faced with slower growth — and a continued slower growth — and we have to maintain and manage a balanced budget,” Kilgariff said. “We have to be smarter about how we spend our money.”

Kilgariff said his experience as a professional energy manager who has met with both local governments and private businesses to help them find cost savings positions him well to help Forsyth County government operate more efficiently.

The candidate said he supports economic incentives under the right conditions.

“If it’s well targeted, if it’s measurable, if it achieves the desired goal, that’s something we should consider,” he said.

Despite the fact that he hasn’t gone through the paces on the campaign trail as his three opponents have, Kilgariff said he’s the right person for the job.

“If they’re looking for someone who they believe can step in as a leader, take you through the process, get you through the tough times, I’m the one. I’m not a professional politician. But we need someone who can make business decisions. We need to be making decisions based on a business decision on what’s best for all the citizens of Forsyth County, not political decision based on what it takes to get reelected.”

WANNA go?

The Forsyth County Republican Party holds a meeting at the Forsyth Tech West campus, located at 1300 Bolton St. in Winston-Salem, on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. to select a nominee for recommendation to the county commission to fill the unexpired term of County Commissioner Debra Conrad.

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