Chatham County Board of Commissioners
The Chatham County Commissioners' race has provided voters with one of the most entertaining campaigns in the Triangle in recent memory. Two Democrats are vying for each of the three open seats in the primary. The stakes are high, with the rural county of 45,000 residents poised at the edge of a development boom that will change its character for better or worse, depending on who's in charge.
The District 4 race ranks as the most crucial, where challenger Raymond "Bunkey" Morgan, a pro-business conservative, is attempting to unseat incumbent Gary Phillips.
Morgan, who ran unsuccessfully as a Republican in District 1 two years ago, went to great pains to prove that he had indeed relocated from his family estate in District 1 to a cottage in District 4, which he bought and then sold in a curious land deal resulting in a $30,000 profit. Morgan, a former county planning board member, has based his candidacy on lowering taxes and encouraging economic development, leaning heavily on his personal record as a bootstrap businessman. And yet, court records show Morgan and his wife didn't pay federal income taxes in 1988 and 1989 (a total of $9,571) and Morgan also failed to pay $50,833 in quarterly taxes related to his car wash business in 1991, leading Uncle Sam to put liens on his properties until he paid all three debts in 1998. With the addition of a $375,000 foreclosure by creditors in 1996 and several judgments against him for not paying routine company bills, Morgan's business record just doesn't jibe with the image he cultivates. All of this would be a problem for Chatham's progressive-minded voters if they didn't have a sterling alternative in Gary Phillips. The one-term incumbent commissioner, who now chairs the five-member board, has a reliable track record of adhering to principles of environmental and social responsibility. In his first term, Phillips led the creation of the county's land-use plan to control sprawl, fended off the monstrous Briar Chapel proposal and an asphalt plant expansion, and fought for social services in a tight budget, earning him The Independent's endorsement for a second term.
In District 3, Chatham voters have another clear choice in the race between incumbent Carl Outz and challenger David LeGrys, an IBM staffer and 19-year Chatham County resident, who earns our endorsement. In his first term, Outz has demonstrated friendliness toward industry and resistance to environmental protections in decisions on such issues as asphalt plant expansions and hog-waste disposal restrictions. LeGrys, on the other hand, has consistently advocated for growth controls in his six years on the county planning board, including taking lead roles in the county's long-range land-use plan and its cell-phone towers regulations.
In District 5, two political newcomers are vying for the seat being vacated by Rick Givens, who is seeking the sheriff's job. Neither Charles Johnson nor Tommy Emerson offers enough of a progressive platform or track record to earn The Independent's endorsement, though Johnson, an accountant, real estate broker and former chamber of commerce president, seems to have a clearer view of the issues facing his county and may be more willing to listen to alternative points of view than Emerson, the retired CEO of the North Central Farm Credit Association.
Chatham County Sheriff
A crowded field of candidates is running for Chatham County sheriff, and that's a most welcome development in a county that clearly needs to make some fundamental choices about law enforcement.
Five Democrats, including the current sheriff, Ike Gray, are squaring off in the Sept. 10 primary. The single Republican candidate will challenge the primary winner in November.
Each of the Democrats is pledging to restore the department's credibility, which has been in tatters since 5,000 pounds of confiscated marijuana went missing in late 2000. The bungling that led to the pot's disappearance, along with the inept follow-up investigation by the department, has given Chatham's citizens a comic opera that no one is laughing about. Other problems have plagued the department, like its poor clearance rate for solving widespread break-ins.
Several of the candidates have long experience in law enforcement and related fields, but only one offers the combined attributes of years enforcing the law, a record of close involvement with a broad set of community groups, and a vision for how to steer the department back to respectability. Richard Webster, a Pittsboro police officer who served for a decade as a Chatham sheriff's deputy, has earned the respect of people who work with the county's most vulnerable citizens.
Gray's name has become synonymous with the recent scandals in the department, and he hasn't made much of a case for why he's the person to fix the problems he's presided over as sheriff. Rick Givens, who has served the county well as a commissioner, touts his Air Force special operations training as a virtual law enforcement credential, but he has no substantive experience in civilian policing. Darden Jarman worked as a deputy for a mere year-and-a-half, and he hasn't presented much of a vision for improving the department. And while Randy Knight, a state patrolman for the last 21 years, has a sterling reputation and some good ideas, he doesn't appear to have the breadth of experience and community connections that Webster does.
It should be noted that one common and disturbing thread has run through all five of these candidates' campaigns. Despite Chatham's bitter bout with the missing pot scandal, all of the candidates have pledged they will devote even more time, energy and expense to fight that war more aggressively. They speak of more K-9 units in the schools, more high-tech surveillance gear, more drug-fighting personnel, etc. We hope that the sheriff elected in November will rethink the issue enough to realize that if there's one county in the entire state that most needs a reprieve from the folly and futility of the drug war, it's Chatham.
Chatham County Board of Education
In District 3, Challenger Allan (Ziggy) Zimmerman is taking on longtime incumbent Jack Wilkie. The Independent endorses the newcomer Zimmerman, who would be the answer to the prayers of progressives who hope to gain a majority on the school board to oppose the heavy-handedness of Chatham Superintendent Larry Mabe. Wilkie, a 33-year-member of the board (and chairman for 31 of those years), is seen as a key supporter of Mabe, who returned the favor by allowing Wilkie and State Sen. Howard Lee to distribute free boxes of Dunkin' Donuts to all Chatham teachers as a campaign ploy. The free doughnuts included a note on each box from Lee and Wilkie. Opponents have dubbed the affair Donutgate and have criticized Mabe for allowing a county courier to deliver the doughnuts at taxpayer expense. Zimmerman, a North Carolina State Trooper and the PTSA president at Chatham Central High School, has offered some fresh ideas to improve the countys educational system. He backs a schools bond to help the county keep up with steady growth and better services for the countys growing Latino community. In District 4, five people are vying for two seats. The Independent endorses incumbent Ronald P. (Ronnie) Collins, who cast the lone vote against a contract extension for Mabe. Collins, a self-employed accountant, supports a performance audit of the countys educational system, and hed like to see developers foot some of the bill for new schools. He supports a schools bond as our only alternative in the short run. That leaves four candidates vying for the remaining seat. Of those, The Independent supports Wayne White, a mathematician who is a retired manager of Lucent Technologies. While the other three candidatesDoug Burke, T.C. Yarborough and the only women in the race, Deb McManuseach has their good points, White is a Chatham County native who seems to have the most experience and best leadership skills of the foursome. He is a critic of Mabe, and says the school system needs to do more to retain and attract high-quality teachers. He is noncommittal about how to fund new schools, but he supports development of short- and long-term plans to identify needs.