ELECTION 2008: YES! Weekly endorses…

by YES! Weekly staff

Forsyth County Commission District B

YES! Weekly endorses John Gladman, Nancy Young and Gloria Whisenhunt for Forsyth County Commission District B.

John Gladman is an outsider to the political arena. He’s worked for more than a decade to help improve the lives of those living in poverty. Gladman, the assistant director of social services for the Salvation Army, said he’s seen first-hand the trickle-down effect of decisions made by the Forsyth County Commissioners during his 13 years of service. He’s often been frustrated by the commissioners’ lack of knowledge about basic issues impacting residents on a daily basis. That’s what inspired him to do more. Gladman believes citizen involvement in the political process is the only way to fix the system, so he decided to run for county commissioner. For these reasons and more, YES! Weekly proudly endorses John Gladman for Forsyth County Commission District B. “I believe government should be open, honest and should serve ethically, and I didn’t feel we were getting that from our government,” he says. “I didn’t feel the issues I cared about were being addressed.” He is opposed to the Forsyth Tech bonds due in large part to the manner in which commissioners placed the referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot. “It was made at a Thursday night briefing session so things could go to ballot, and the citizens never got to speak on it,” he says. The $62.1 million bond package, which would allow Forsyth Tech to expand its facilities, would also increase the county’s debt load. Gladman believes passing the education bonds would be an unwise move considering the current fiscal crisis. As supporters of the bond we part ways with Gladman but take his stance as a signal that he would be a good steward of the taxpayers’ money.

There’s something to be said for a politician with a background in journalism. Nancy Young, a native of Belews Creek, is a Democratic candidate for Forsyth County Commission District B, and a former reporter. “The time I spent as a reporter was some of the best training I’ve received,” Young said. “To get through a tremendous amount of information while figuring out what the pertinent facts are, it makes you think about things in a logical way. Even though you have your opinion, it’s your job to find the facts but be balanced about it.” One of the major planks of Young’s platform is to rein in urban sprawl. Young spent six years living in the metropolitan Atlanta area, and a big component of maintaining quality of life in a community is keeping rural areas rural.’  “Sometimes you’ve got to tell developers ‘no,’” Young says. In tough economic times, it’s the responsibility of elected officials to make difficult decisions and cut the county’s budget wherever possible, she adds. “We’ve got to look at every dime were spending and spend it wisely, and we’re going to have to cut back.” Young supports the Forsyth Tech bond referendum despite the inevitable tax increases necessary to pay for the $62.1 million bond issue. “We are in a situation where we have never needed Forsyth Tech more,” she says. Young would be a breath of fresh air on the Forsyth County Commission, and YES! Weekly proudly endorses her candidacy.

Gloria Whisenhunt, chairman of the Forsyth County Commissioners, has served on the council since 1996. Whisenhunt is a seasoned political veteran who has offered leadership and stability to the council. An outspoken supporter of the Forsyth Tech bond referendum, Whisenhunt believes investment in community colleges leads to business investment in the county. “Forsyth Tech is a tool we can use for economic development; you can entice businesses to your area if you have a skilled workforce,” she says. “Forsyth Tech is good for the community because of the economic crisis we’re in; their growth is up and so many people are losing their jobs.” Whisenhunt says the bond referendum would enable the college to offer more courses to residents, and retrain workers for the high-tech jobs of the future. Despite the county’s increased tax burden in recent years, Whisenhunt says she’s proud of the fact the commissioners have exercised fiscal discipline in offsetting the debt service on a number of education bonds over the past 12 years. “I’m proud that we have held the property tax at a reasonable rate while at the same time building new schools for our young people,” she says. “I’m proud of the services we provide for all our citizens.” Despite her touting the inclusion of prayer in council meetings as one of her top achievements while in office, YES! Weekly proudly endorses the candidacy of Republican Gloria Whisenhunt for Forsyth County Commission District B.

Guilford County Commission at-large

YES! Weekly endorses Paul Gibson and John Parks

Guilford County Commission District 4

YES! Weekly endorses Kirk Perkins

Democratic commissioner Paul Gibson is something of a wheeler-dealer. That’s good politics, and in Gibson’s case, good government. In this two-term incumbent’s hands, it means balancing political constituencies in a workable coalition, and finding preexisting resources to avoid raising taxes. In January, Gibson addressed a group of homeless residents in Greensboro. When they told him they most needed a place to take a shower in the morning to get cleaned up for work, he offered that the next time the YMCA came to the county for money, he would ask them if they would be willing to allow homeless people to use their showers. Gibson supports the planned homeless day center in Greensboro, and has showed up for some of the organizing meetings. He puts substance behind words with his credo that progress means everyone advancing together, and he’s an easy choice for us.

The second Democratic incumbent on the commission, John Parks, also gets our nod as a supporter of education, a low-key personality on an otherwise fractious board, and a straight shooter. While nobody is likely to be overwhelmed by Parks’ charisma, he does his homework and takes his job seriously; there’s no reason he shouldn’t be returned to his seat.

The two Democrats’ strongest challenger is Republican Larry Proctor. We were dismayed last year when Proctor, as chairman of the county planning board green-lighted Blue-Green Corp.’s planned gated golf community in northern Guilford, which would have taken land from the nascent Haw River State Park. Fortunately, overwhelming public support for the park and the county commission’s consequent reluctance to approve the deal overcame a decision by Proctor that went against the public interest.

Republican Wendell Sawyer is easy to eliminate. With a busy law practice, he says doesn’t have time to campaign, but he owes it to the citizens whom he proposes to represent to come out and talk to them at candidate forums.

Paul Elledge’s support for cutting spending on law enforcement against “victimless crimes” such as drug possession caught our interest, but alas the county commission controls only the purse strings of the sheriff’s office, while the NC General Assembly decides what criminal statutes get on the books. Moreover, Elledge would be ineffective as a lone Libertarian on a board dominated by Democrats and Republicans. He would do well to start from the grassroots and build a coalition with liberal opponents of the prison-industrial complex such as the Rev. Cardes Brown before setting his sites on elective office.

Neither candidate in the District 4 candidate particularly sets us on fire. At a Sept. 25 candidate forum Democratic incumbent Kirk Perkins paid tribute to NC House Rep. Alma Adams’ leadership in raising the state minimum wage, and then averred that a living wage (the hourly compensation needed to meet basic needs) should be achieved through the free market. It comes off as a tortured distinction, and one that is ultimately unsatisfying. The northeastern Guilford district ranges from urban to rural, liberal to conservative, so any political representative probably needs to walk a tightrope. Republican challenger Eddie Souther calls himself “the taxpayer’s best friend,” but we haven’t heard him talk about where he would cut spending to reduce the tax burden. He cites education as the best way to raise the county’s standard of living, but GTCC is already doing its best to retrain workers. Souther doesn’t make a case for how he would help by taking a seat on the board.

Guilford County School Board at-large

YES! Weekly endorses Sandra Alexander

Guilford County School Board District 3

YES! Weekly endorses Darlene Garrett

A retired university professor and small-business owner, Sandra Alexander presents well. She speaks confidently on topics ranging from the achievement gap to diversity and the pitfalls of excessive teaching. Alexander received the Guilford County Association of Educators’ endorsement and she bested her nearest competitor in her primary by more than 23 percent, suggesting a large number of teachers checked off her name at the polls. Her opponent, Michael McKinney, is engaging and forward thinking. A High Point real-estate banker, he and Alexander are more alike than different; both enjoy a comfortable relationship with the real-estate community and share a liberal outlook in their support socio-economic diversity in school assignment plans. Students, parents, teachers and taxpayers will be well served by either candidate, but we give Alexander the edge because of her persuasive style.

McKinney received the nod from outgoing at-large school board member Dot Kearns, a fellow High Pointer. Kearns has said she believes one of the two at-large seats should be held by someone from High Point to balance Greensboro’s influence. Should she win, the burden will fall on Alexander to pay special attention to High Point’s needs. Incidentally, McKinney shares Kearns’ view that the school board should have taxation authority; Alexander opposes giving the board that power. We aren’t weighing in on this issue, except to say that it deserves vigorous debate, but voters should be aware of the two candidates’ positions as they go to the polls.

Of the five district seats up for reelection this year, only District 3 in northwest Guilford is competitive. Incumbent Darlene Garrett is a committed and smart member of the board, although we regret that she was not more accessible to us and more visible on the campaign trail. As a representative of a comparatively affluent district, Garrett’s support for the School Community Alternative Learning Environment, a program to educate students suspended from regular school, and the Positive Behavior Support program makes her a valuable ally to constituents in predominantly African-American and lower-income east Greensboro and central High Point. Considering past racially-tinged discussions about school assignment plans and the petty demands of parents concerned only with their own child’s education, Garrett is a much needed bridge-builder. The incumbent also wins point for her support for adding teacher assistants and increasing teacher supplemental pay. Mike Stone, an Oak Ridge plant manager, is an engaging, energetic and well-versed candidate who would probably do a good job for constituents. Good for him for running, and offering voters a choice.

High Point City Council at-large

YES! Weekly endorses Mary Lou Andrews Blakeney and Jason Cox

High Point City Council Ward 2

YES! Weekly endorses Julius Clark

High Point City Council Ward 6

YES! Weekly endorses Jim Corey

The ideas we’ve heard from the four candidates vying for one of the council’s two at-large seats have not exactly revealed stark differences. We’re left to act on our instincts here. The nod goes to Mary Lou Andrews Blakeney, a retired registered nurse. Her participation in the civil rights sit-ins of the early 1960s shows her to be a proven fighter, and frankly, an additional seat needs to be filled by an African American to bring some equity to this post-industrial city of Dickensian class divisions. ‘ 

Of the four candidates, Blakeney’s idea of giving more assistance to small businesses to reinvigorate the job market in High Point is the most sensible. Incumbent Latimer Alexander champions corporate incentives and retraining, ideas that that look back to the 1990s instead of forward into the 21st century. High Point needs new ideas to tackle staggering economic challenges.

Jason Cox is young and his advocacy of making the city website more user friendly is most welcome. We also hope he’ll push for the implementation of a popular idea, that of televising council meetings. The council and the city need his relative youth. John Wesley Sneed II comes across as sincere and intelligent, but he hasn’t offered any compelling ideas.

A crowded field of six candidates vie for the privilege of representing Ward 2, which is being vacated by Councilman Ron Wilkins. The poorest and most heavily African-American in the city, Ward 2 desperately needs capable representation. Residents need someone who will work to eliminate blight, enhance small business growth, bring jobs to the core city and expand public transit options.

Vetting a half-dozen inexperienced candidates has been an imperfect and perilous experience, but by process of elimination we arrive at Julius Clark.

Foster Douglas and co-plaintiff Jerry Douglas owe the city of High Point $19,527 for court costs after a federal judge dismissed their lawsuit as frivolous. That should be evidence enough that Foster Douglas doesn’t hold the city’s interests at heart. Tony L. Davis, though well intended, moved into Ward 2 only after he decided to run for council. His brother is a Guilford County commissioner, and we dislike political dynasties.

Pride Grimm, the only white candidate in the race, is energetic and clearly demonstrates a desire to learn the ropes. He shows up for city council meetings, and holds a standing lunch date-cum-tutorial with Wilkins. And yet his performance on the stump indicates that he lacks a firm grasp of political reality. His idea of getting churches to buy up and repair dilapidated housing is inadequate to the enormity of the problem. Jerry Mingo is unfocused and inarticulate, while Fitzgerald Waller gets scratched from the list by virtue of the fact that he temporarily dropped out of the race and hasn’t been accessible to voters.

Two significant reasons stand out to vote for Clark. As the operator of the Rosetta C. Baldwin Museum, he is steeped in the ward’s African-American history. Also, Clark is the only candidate with a sensible and courageous notion of how to clean up vacant and dilapidated housing in the ward: Tighten up the city’s ordinance, and hold landlords accountable.

In Ward 6, voters are fortunate to have two qualified candidates offering starkly different choices. A political science teacher at High Point University and a retired naval officer, political newcomer Jim Corey offers well-rounded representation for the ward, and the city. He promises to challenge the status quo, to make High Point a “green city” and to build on his experience living in Latin America to bring its ethnic enclaves into the political mainstream. Most substantive, Corey advocates extending sidewalks along Eastchester Drive, Westchester Drive and North Centennial Street — much needed initiatives in a city that, even more than Greensboro, bears the shame of a legacy of rampant real-estate development that has left pedestrians in the lurch.

John Faircloth, a two-term councilman currently holding an at-large seat, a former police chief and an agent with Coldwell Banker Triad Realtors, is too much of an insider for our tastes. At a Sept. 23 candidate forum he acknowledged that liability. “I’m as guilty as anyone because I’m in the real estate business,” he said. “We have had too much of this spreading out into the beautiful land and making large subdivisions and seeing the inner part of our city begin to deteriorate and become stale.”

Truer words were never spoken.

Democracy inaction

Democracy in action should ideally be something like Thunderdome: Two men (or two women, or one woman and one man) enter, one man (or, you know, whatever) leaves. And sure, there are those who will gleefully list all the faults of the two-party system that American politics has become, but it’s still all we’ve got. And yet no fewer than 22 Triad-area elections feature candidates who run unopposed — and that’s not including the dozen or so district judges running unopposed. What this means is open to interpretation: Either the people we’ve got in those seats do such a fine job that there is no need to replace them, or that a disengaged electorate is asleep at the wheel. We suspect the answers vary from case to case. Still, we fel the need to point out that this is not a good thing — not good for the region, not good for the state, not good for the country. Contested elections make for robust debate, variance on the issues, choices… these are what drive progress. And it should bother you that a couple dozen of our elected leaders do not have to apply for their jobs this year. Ask yourself: Are things just fine, or have we become politically complacent? At any rate, here is the list of ordained politicos who will waltz into their seats this year — and every other year, as long as no one rises to meet the challenge. NC Senate ‘ ‘ ‘  District 26 — Phil Berger (R) ‘ ‘ ‘  District 28 — Katie Dorsett (D) ‘ ‘ ‘  District 31 — Peter Brunstetter (R) ‘ ‘ ‘  District 32 — Linda Garrou (D) ‘ ‘ ‘  District 33 — Stan Bingham (R) NC House of Representatives ‘ ‘ ‘  District 57 — Pricey Harrison (D) ‘ ‘ ‘  District 60 — Earl Jones (D) ‘ ‘ ‘  District 61 — Laura Wiley (R) ‘ ‘ ‘  District 62 — John Blust (R) ‘ ‘ ‘  District 72 — Earline Parmon (D) Guilford County Commission ‘ ‘ ‘  District 5 — Billy Yow (R) ‘ ‘ ‘  District 7 — Mike Winstead Jr. (R) ‘ ‘ ‘  District 8 — Skip Alston (D) Guilford County Board of Education ‘ ‘ ‘  District 1 — J. Carlvena Foster ‘ ‘ ‘  District 5 — Paul Daniels ‘ ‘ ‘  District 7 — Kris B. Cooke ‘ ‘ ‘  District 9 — Amos Quick III Guilford County Register of Deeds ‘ ‘ ‘  Jeff L. Thigpen (D) High Point City Council ‘ ‘ ‘  Mayor — Becky Smothers ‘ ‘ ‘  Ward 1 — Bernita Sims ‘ ‘ ‘  Ward 3 — Michael Pugh ‘ ‘ ‘  Ward 4 — Bill Bencini ‘ ‘ ‘  Ward 5 — Christopher Whitley

Bondage and Discipline

Forsyth County education bond

YES! Weekly says: Yes

Guilford County 1/4-cent sales tax

YES! Weekly says: Yes

Greensboro transportation bond

YES! Weekly says: Yes

Greensboro War Memorial Auditorium bond

YES! Weekly says: Yes

Greensboro parks and recreation bond

YES! Weekly says: No

Greensboro housing bond

YES! Weekly says: Yes

It is a good time, experts tell us, for municipal bonds. Manycities find themselves with crumbling infrastructures and growth issuesjust as investors are pulling out of real estate and stocks. Municipalbonds are an easy sell because the borrowing entity has the ability tolevy tax, which means they’re good for it. Still, bonds are a form ofborrowing against future earnings, and the most important thing toremember when considering their value is that the money must be repaid,generally through the raising of taxes. As such, we feel bonds areimportant for one-time projects, qualitative investments in thecommunity and emergency funds. But bond referendums should not be usedto raise money for things that should be paid for by taxes. ForsythCounty has but a single bond issue this year: a $62.1-million request,with the bulk of it going to help Forsyth Tech expand and renovateexisting facilities and the rest going to Winston-Salem/Forsyth CountySchools for new buildings. And we do not think this requestunreasonable. We place a high value on education, and theTriad’s community colleges in particular. An educated populace and askilled labor force work to everyone’s benefit, and this bond can beviewed as an investment in our people. Guilford County hasjust a single bond issue on the ballots in November as well: a 1/4-centsales tax, intended to pay off a $330-million education bond passed inMay and avoid raising the county property tax. We endorse this bond aswell. For one, we endorsed the education bond back in May, so it isonly right that we make allowances to pay for it. And low propertytaxes are just fine by us. The city of Greensboro has slated four bondissues on the November ballot, totaling about $205 million. Thisyear’s big-ticket item is the Greensboro transportation bond, at $134.1million, which makes road improvements, streetscape projects, sidewalksand maintenance. And we approve of this bond, but not withoutsome reservations. For one, transportation essentials should be fundedthrough the annual budget, not by bonds. And $73 million of this total— more than half — are earmarked for roadway improvements, which wefeel should be paid for with tax monies and, in any case, are not asimportant to the city as bike lanes and public transportation as we tryto reduce our consumption of fuel and our collective carbon footprint.We do approve of the downtown greenway, which will eat about $7 millionof the loan, because we feel it will improve economic conditions andquality of life in the district and for the citizenry as a whole.Sidewalks, as well, are something we value, and with $9.3 earmarked forthem, maybe people who don’t have cars won’t have to walk in the streeton Battleground Avenue anymore. The next bond forconsideration concerns Greensboro War Memorial Auditorium, $50.5million for a remodel and upgrade. We approve of this bond, mainlybecause the venue is so outdated. The acoustics are substandard, thedressing rooms are an embarrassment and the disabled bathroom isinadequate. The concert hall still attracts some name acts, but with animproved facility we could lure better performers off the road andreward ticket-buyers with higher sound quality. The Greensboroparks and recreation bond weighs in at $20 million. And we are againstit. True, the Greensboro parks system is an enviable collection ofgreen spaces that draw new residents and improve all our lives. Butwe don’t see that the park system needs help right now. And we are abit insulted that most of this bond money, $12 million, is earmarkedfor a swimming center, which was tacked onto the bond at the lastminute. It’s almost as if the authors of the bond hadforgotten — or disregarded — the fact that this swim center was astandalone bond issue in 2006 and was defeated by 10,000 votes. Mostcurious. The final Greensboro bond issue, a relatively paltry$1 million, goes to housing, specifically — or, in this case,non-specifically — to a list of tentative projects that must beapproved by City Council. In theory we support this bond because itcould provide relief in the low-income housing sector in the form ofdomiciles and support. But in practice we are wary, given the ProjectHomestead fiasco and the vague nature of the deal. Still, $1 million isnot an exorbitant amount, and the possibility that some good can comeof this outweighs our reservations. Foreclosure assistance, forexample, is a worthy pursuit in these times. And the investment islikely to bear dividends on the form of new homeowners on the taxrolls. That being said, we will monitor the Community Resource Boardand City Council closely on this front, and at the end of the day wewill expect accounting of every dime.