Commissioner candidates differ on consolidated law enforcement

Published 3:37 pm Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The third candidate forum was held at the Womack Building last Thursday night, sponsored by the AAUW. The candidates, who did not know what questions would be asked, fielded questions from the organizers and the audience. About 75 people attended last Thursday&squo;s forum, which was moderated by Anna Conner.

The candidates include Democrats Ray Gasperson, Ren´e McDermott and Cindy Walker and Republicans David Moore and incumbents Ted Owens and Tom Pack.

On the consolidation of county and town law enforcement, Walker said she is not in favor of that move at this time. Gasperson said he&squo;d be willing to look into it, but it would be a big step as the county and towns would have to come together and ask the state to pass a bill. Gasperson said he knows of only two of North Carolina&squo;s 100 counties that have county-wide law enforcement.

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McDermott also said she&squo;d be willing to look at consolidation, but residents would need to realize that they would no longer have a vote for the top law enforcement officer in the county, currently the sheriff. Under a consolidated plan, the elected sheriff&squo;s duties would be limited. She also said she thinks having appointed officials making those decisions doesn&squo;t necessarily cure problems.

Pack, Owens and Moore all said they favor county-wide law enforcement, noting that it would take politics out of law enforcement and would mean better job security for law enforcement officials. They also said it would save the towns money.

Moore said he is in favor of consolidation because it would protect the county&squo;s citizens in a much better and more efficient way. Owens noted that all three towns pay $1 million for law enforcement and consolidating would save the towns money. He says he sees the commission as a citizen group appointed by both the county and towns. Pack said consolidated law enforcement should be seriously considered, especially for the towns because they are now paying double for law enforcement.

Other issues discussed at last week&39;s forum included candidates&39; short and long-term solutions to county water issues, the pros and cons of the proposed real estate transfer tax and how they would prepare the county for a potential downturn in the local economy in view of the current international financial situation. They also talked about their thoughts on controlling development, how they would adjust for the new tax revaluation and how each would work with the towns on the issues of water, land use and economic development.

All candidates seem to agree that the county needs to continue to create its own county water system and move quickly to create a comprehensive land use plan. They also agree to support the land transfer tax and earmark the revenue to preserve farmland.

On some issues, candidates agreed, the county should work with the towns. Walker said she thinks the problem in the past has been in the county&squo;s tone with the towns.

During closing comments, Pack said that McDermott and Gasperson&squo;s idea of creating unified development ordinances must mean that they want to zone the unzoned townships against residents&39; wills. Pack said that in order to create UDOs the entire county must be zoned. Both McDermott and Gasperson have said they will not force zoning on anyone. McDermott said following the forum last week that UDOs can be created without zoning the entire county and she is definitely not in favor of zoning anyone who doesn&squo;t want to be zoned. Gasperson has also made it clear in past forums that he will not force zoning.

The last candidate forum will be held this Wednesday at the Saluda Senior Center at 7 p.m. All six commissioner candidates as well as N.C. Rep. candidates David Guice (R) and Tom Thomas (D) are expected to participate.