The second in a series of three, featuring six candidates vying for three open New Hanover County commissioners seats, presents the views of Robert Murray, a Democrat and New Hanover County native, and Woody White, a Republican and a local attorney.
LN: What is your campaign budget? In that budget, what is your largest expense?
Murray: Coffee. Right now, my largest expense is signage. My campaign budget is not to excessively spend. I’m trying to run a low-cost campaign, word-of-mouth campaign, because in this day in time in the economy, and this is something I’ve not been able to put out, it’s kind of hard to ask people for donations and go out here and waste it by putting signs all over the place. … Right now, I’ve only started out with 250 signs.. … I’m hoping to do it in less than $2,000. That includes the primary.
White: My budget is really however much I can raise. I have over 275 contributors from New Hanover County and the biggest expenditure I have is television advertising and radio advertising. …Folks can check the online reports when they’re filed and see how much I’ve been able to raise. … My primary report was filed and it’s on public record, about $48,000, and I’ve raised more than that for this cycle. I just don’t know how much right now, because our report is due at the end of October.
LN: What do you see as the most important issues in the county currently?
Murray: One of our issues is trash. … The other thing, we’ve got unemployment. And these are not on order of importance. … We’re talking about how to get industry in here. We need to work toward getting something maybe for our tourists to do when they come in here. …If we try to get an Alabama Theater or Barefoot Landing, a big water park set up, not only would we give the tourists something to do and give a tourist draw, we’d have jobs. And we’d have clean jobs.
White: The local economy and jobs, getting government out of the way… lowering regulation, having fair tax policy are issues. But the most important issue that we’re facing here locally is restoring confidence in our county government. The last couple of years our county government has been distracted on things that are not germane to creating jobs and to efficiently delivering government services to the citizens. I hope to look at the next two years as an opportunity to not focus on a lot of personal distractions with our county board.
LN: As far as solid waste in the county is concerned, what do you see as the best option for residents?
Murray: I think we definitely need to get that incinerator back on line. As much I hate to look at what we put into the air when we burn the thing. We’re still looking at the requirements set forth by EPA so we’ve got to follow those. … so we can extend the life of our landfill so we don’t have to rely on somebody else to take our trash. We need to be able to take care of our own. … I cannot give you an option on which way I feel on which company I feel would be better because I have not seen the [Covanta Energy] contract. I have not read the contract. … I’d have to really sit down and digest what’s going on.
White: We have a duty that we owe future generations, our children and grandchildren, that we don’t just hoist all of our problems onto their shoulders 30, 40, 50 years from now. We also have a duty today to taxpayers to try to keep their taxes and fees low, particularly those on fixed income. As we deal with solid waste … you have to compare those dual duties and try to find the fairest, most efficient way to handle it. The Covanta contract was something I was very interested in seeing. I would like there to be an efficient, low-cost way to handle our trash … as opposed to shipping it to some other county. On the other hand, there are other options that we might … explore to keep our costs down now.
LN: What is the key to economic development in the county?
Murray: I think we need to look at our strengths. … What do we have to offer? Or what can we offer? One of our strengths and one of the things we always talk about, we just went through here a year or so ago, of a redesign of our motto. … And that motto was basically trying to pull the tourist trade back in here. Well we get the tourists in and they sit here and they have nothing to do so I think that’s what we should do. We should work to that strength. I think it would be a boom to us financially; it would also create jobs and a pretty good tax base, too.
White: Speaking with one voice, being unified, being innovative in how our elected leaders come together and present this locale to businesses that are either moving here, want to move here or expand here. … Companies that want to move and want to expand in our county look at very few specific things. First, what is our tax burden? Second, what is our regulatory environment like? And third, what is our labor force and work force like? … We have a highly successful academic environment at the university and a highly successful vocational track to train our workforce at the community college. In a broad brush, those are the issues that are going to affect economic development.
LN: Would the county and city working together on issues such as Extra Territorial Jurisdiction, specifically non-contiguous voluntary annexation, be a positive or negative in your eyes? Why?
Murray: You have two governing bodies and each one wants to have things their own way, needless to say. And in some cases, they do work together and they work together well. And in some cases, they don’t. … I think it should always, always be put to a vote. Therefore, the people being annexed have some say-so in being taxed. Voluntary annexation should only be effected if the pieces of property directly connect to the city of Wilmington or to the city that’s annexing. In other words, they should not be able to go two miles outside. … Non-voluntary I don’t believe should be available. It should be by vote.
White: Our county and all the municipalities within the county need to have an ongoing dialogue with annexation, parks and recreation, utility authority and all issues. Recently we’ve seen a detachment from our biggest municipality being the city of Wilmington and the county and that’s not right. And so part of what I will do if elected is work hard to bring parties back together, keep them at the table so we are constantly talking about out strategic plan and keeping the channels of dialogue open between the county and other municipalities. It’s not appropriate to just to cut off dialogue because you disagree over a zoning ordinance here or an annexation issue there. … I am against involuntary annexation. If folks want to be annexed and benefit from taxes that they’re paying with the government services that they might want, then communities and neighborhoods are free to petition for voluntary annexation.
LN: What are some appropriate solutions for the overcrowding found in schools across the county?
Murray: We have people moving in from everywhere. And when people get here, they stay and they raise a family. So we start, you know we have to put them in school; kids need to go to school. What is the solution? It’s really a tough answer there. … Do we build more schools? Can we afford to build more schools? How do we go with that? Solution, to be honest, I really do not have a dead set solution. The only thing I can say is maybe we put in some temporary classrooms and hire some more teachers. But now we’re looking at the money and how we’re going to pay them. We’ve got to look at that angle and go back from there. Education, that’s something that I’ve always felt, is high priority, very high priority. I think we should do everything we can to make sure our children get a great education. But we have to also remember that we are a growing area and we growing by leaps and bounds.
White: Our school board deals with this on a yearly basis and has over time done a good job in the county for the most part for our student population. It’s leveled off her in the last few years. It saw tremendous growth in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. Our student population has leveled off, has enabled us to allocate our resources more efficiently. I think our school board does a good job. They need to constantly look at and be prepared for trends down the road so that we don’t have to react to it, that we can plan ahead for it instead. … I’m running for the county commission and I would be very careful to dictate or suggest to the school board how it needs to handle its problems. What I would do as a county commissioner is work in tandem with … in collaboration with the school board to handle the specific problems related to Wrightsville Beach Elementary where there is overcrowding.
LN: What don’t people know about you?
Murray: Do I have to really put that in the paper? Well I don’t know. I think I’ve kind of thrown a lot of stuff out there on this campaign … I think people probably, I mean I’ve tried to give a background every time I’m out there. Like I’ve said, I’m 20-year military retired. I’m 15-years retired from Corning. I’ve been a volunteer firefighter going on my 22nd year. I teach fire service. And probably one thing they don’t know is I farm. … I have people that have bought from my father for years. My father passed away and I’m doing it now. I still ain’t got his green thumb, but I’m fine.
White: My favorite kind of music is bluegrass and outlaw country. I’m a lifetime sportsman with the North Carolina Wildlife Commission. I went skydiving one time before I had kids and my wife has prohibited me from ever going again, but it was fun and I survived. I’m sure there are a lot of things, but those are kind of interesting tidbits I suppose.
LN: How do you make yourself readily available to your constituents? What is the best contact information for the public to reach you?
Murray: Once elected, I plan on having a quarterly breakfast meeting for people to come in and talk to me. … Within the first six months, I want to eyeball every employee of New Hanover County. I want to walk up to them and say, ‘Hey.’ And I want to let them know that I am available. … I’d be willing to meet with any group any time, just email me and we’ll try to make arrangements. email@example.com
White: I have an office and my office phone number is 910-313-3336. And if elected, I will have an office at the Government Center and I will be available anytime to discuss any issues for the citizens to come talk about.