Beth Dawson, Rob Zapple
LN: What is your campaign budget? In that budget, what is your largest expense?
Dawson: Iím not going to put that out there for my opponents to know what Iím spending and what Iím spending it on. I donít think thatís professional at all. Iíve been very fortunate to have a lot of support from a lot of people in this community. The budget items, line items, I feel are confidential. Ö I think mailings, direct mailings, are the largest expense. There are so many national campaigns and the PACs, special interest groups are buying up the airtime. So it makes it very difficult for the local candidates to even afford very much TV space or media time that would be considered prime space.
Zapple: Weíre using television and radio Ö including yard signs and that Ö is certainly in the 10s of 1,000s of dollars ... Where that actual number will end up, Iím not sure. Ö What Iíve chosen to do is to do it in spot areas, and trying to find those times and those availabilities that are within the smaller price range and Ö to try and be as effective as I can. Ö The largest expenditure weíve spent at this point is, in dollar amounts Ö is the yard signs and door hangers, printed literature. Let me just lump that together, the printed literature is the biggest expenditure.
LN: What do you see as the most important issues in the county currently?
Dawson: The jobs and the economy are the largest concern of the citizens of this county. We need to be able to promote and recruit and retain existing businesses, sustainable jobs that are compatible with our coastal environment and bring in businesses so that our folks can get back to work. ÖWhen businesses look in an area to Ö start a business, grow their business, theyíre going to look, in addition to the quality-of-life issues, theyíre going to look at the governing boards of those counties and municipalities. ...Theyíre going to take a look at the education system. Do we have job retraining programs? And we do, at our community college.
Zapple: At the top of the listÖ the word is cooperation, or actually the lack of cooperation between Ö county commissioners amongst themselves and Ö between other elected officials and other elected bodies Ö city council. That breakdown Ö really hurts New Hanover Countyís ability to move forward on a number of different fronts, economic development being key. Ö For proper growth, smart commercial development Ö cooperation is the biggest issue. Ö Beyond that Ö the next step would be looking at the solid waste disposal and the Covanta Ö proposal. Ö It deals with essential service, Ö the disposal of our solid waste in a responsible manner. Ö It also asks for us to stop thinking of trash as something we dispose of and instead think of the waste stream as an energy stream.
LN: As far as solid waste in the county is concerned, what do you see as the best option for residents?
Dawson: We have a limited life on our landfill. I think itís estimated at six years. Ö At this point weíre looking at a lot of money and a very long-term contract with a private company, that Ö the county know Ö before entering into this contract whether or not weíre going to be able to have the capacity, have the solid waste, make sure that it is delivered to the incinerator. Ö I think that we need to keep the fees low for our citizens. Because if we go with that incinerator, fees are going to go up and youíre going to see an increase on your bill. Ö When it is economically feasible, letís take a look at the best technology to Ö replace the SEF, the sustainable energy facility. I donít know that spending over $30 million right now is the right thing to do when there may be technology in the future that would not cost so much. Thatís just one of the bottom line things that we need to do Ö get on with the permitting process that would be required for the other 90 acres the county has in mind for additional landfill space. ÖIf we need to send the solid waste to another Ö landfill, then perhaps we need to do that in the meantime while we can save the space in our landfill.
Zapple: I think that staff, county has spent enormous amount of time working on the Covanta proposal. It is a solid contract that would provide revenue stream for the citizens of New Hanover County through the electrical generation. Ö It also gives us the framework for a comprehensive recycling program, which fully-extended will also create a revenue stream. But most importantly, it preserves our landfill space through the incineration. We end up with 10 percent of the size. You put 100 pounds of garbage in or energy in, you end up with 10 pounds of waste so itís a 90 percent reduction. Ö It increases our landfill space, which is at a premium and Ö gives us a 20- to 30-year solid waste policy that Ö we can plan for and creates Ö enough electricity to power 3,000 homes per year. Itís a good, well-thought out, responsible plan. Iím hoping the county commissioners will pick it up again and move this forward in the future so we can start looking at other problems.
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?
Dawson: I think the General Assembly in passing the bill they passed last year, stopped the cityís ability to involuntarily annex. The city needs ways to expand services to areas that want those services. So voluntary annexation, in my opinion, makes sense. I do think that what has happened just recently with the end of involuntary annexation on the cityís part is there have been several requests for properties to be voluntarily annexed into the city, primarily by people wanting to perhaps develop property. And because the city zoning and planning rules might be different from the county so they feel like they might be able to do more with what they have if they were in the city to go by the cityís rules when the county has declined it. So quite frankly, I donít have a problem with annexation when it is being used to extend services to a neighborhood that perhaps needs fire service or water and sewer or any of the other services the county and the city can provide. But what I have seen going on most recently are requests by pocket areas outside of the city limits, pretty far away from the city limits, that are being requested because they are being requested by development companies not necessarily neighbors banding together wanting city services. Ö That is a reason why the city and the county should have some consistent policy. I think itís important to look at the request, look at all sides of the issues, consider the citizenís request, the petitionerís request, work with the planning staff and work with the planning board and make common sense decisions, informed decisions on planning and zoning changes. And primarily when these folks are wanting to voluntarily annex they also then turn around and want a zoning change in order to be able to build or grow an area that would be under different rules. So I believe the city has already started discussing this, this is probably the bottom line answer to your question, I think the city and the county planning departments need to sit down at the table and look at what is in the best interest of the whole county. We need to probably come up with some consistent policies that will help us grow in a responsible manner in our county. So I think they need to have communication. We need to come up with some consistent policies. There shouldnít be such a difference between what the county says you can do and what the city says you can do. So letís get the staff together with the council, with the commission, with the planning boards and planning commission with the city and look at some common sense, structural policies to make good decisions.
Zapple: I think cooperation; discussion between the city and the county at any level on any issue is a priority. It has to happen. I will, if elected, I will encourage the staff and do my utmost to create, at a minimum, quarterly meetings between the county commissioners and the city council members and regular meetings between the city manager and the county manager so that we are not just meeting when there is a crisis. We are not just meeting as just an annual or a once every two-year kind of thing, kind of as more show. As you have those kind of meetings, as we saw a month-and-a-half ago, more disagreements came up than agreements. And thatís what happens when you donít meet forever and then you finally get together, everyone gets a chance to get all of the issues off their chests. Regular meetings, regular cooperation is really what must happen. As far as annexation goes, itís controlled by the state. Involuntary annexation is a thing of the past or is no longer legal and thatís clear. Itís also clear that the city and the county have, let me back that up just a little bit, I think we are moving, looked at during this period as a transitional period as we try and sort out the unintended consequences of whatís happened by doing away with involuntary annexation and now only doing non-contiguous or voluntary annexation. Itís brought up a host of other things frankly I donít think the legislature ever thought about and there will be more tweaking that will go on. Certainly now that we have what I call a mom and dad situation where a developer has a piece of property thatís within three miles of the city limits and goes to the county and says, ĎI would like to do this project here.í The county says, ĎUmm we donít like it.í Then he goes to mom there and he doesnít like what he gets he goes over to the city and says, ĎOh dad. Can I do this over here?í And dad says, ĎOh yeah. I think we can do that over here.í So you have developers or people who are interested in voluntary annexation playing one against the other and thatís not proper either. I think in the near future, through cooperation, can work out and have a more comprehensive coordinated zoning and a way to deal with that so the city and the county are not competing against each other.
LN: What is the key to economic development in the county?
Dawson: First and foremost, responsible leaders. Responsible leadership I think is critical. Ö In order for New Hanover County to be competitive, to recruit and retain businesses and sustainable jobs, we need to have quality education options to offer the students and their families. We need to have the priority in my opinion for funding in education should be in the classroom for the students and for the teachers. We need to have quality education options. We have a wonderful community college, a university system. And I think education of a future workforce or the retraining of a workforce is key. I will work to ensure that the community college and the K through 12 and work with board of education and the community college to ensure that they are able to be successful. I think thatís critical, No. 1. The leadership, professional pro-business attitudes, like weíve discussed before, so that when businesses come into our county, they see that we are ready to do business and it continues to be good news when businesses and organizations want to invest in New Hanover County. We need to, when we can, when itís economically feasible invest in infrastructure, work with the proper planning for our water and sewer, to work with the DOT and the WMPO to find genuine solutions to our traffic issues. The county doesnít make traffic decisions, but we can continue to work and keep up the communication between DOT and MPO to map out some long range plans for transportation. So our infrastructure, our transportation, having a pro-business attitude, good education options, of course the quality of life is here to offer. We need to of course maintain our environment. Ö Whatever decisions we make need to be compatible with our coastal environment. We donít want to do anything to harm that. Ö Primarily making good decisions looking at all of the options, making careful planning and zoning decisions and being able to offer that to potential businesses or to businesses that are already here that want to expand. I think that will all work in the grand, long-range strategic plan of growing our economy so we have responsible growth.
Zapple: Education. It really is. Iíve looked at this from a number of different ways. Certainly off that is outreach by the staff and the county and other nonprofits that the county supports to recruit other businesses that share our same sense and respect understanding of the unique environment that we live in here. Personally, I favor clean industries and what I call knowledge-based industries. Ö The film industry, another great example of clean industries. $200 million plus weíre going to do. Iron Man 3, currently here now, putting $80 plus million into our economy. The great thing is they make a wonderful film then they pack up their trailers and after putting $80 million into our economy, they go away and thereís no smoke stacks. I mean thatís wonderful. And we have the resources and the talent base here over 1,000 people of crewmembers of men, women and their families living right here. Thatís what attracts films here along with the incentives from Raleigh. And they do so much for our community. Thereís no reason that $200 million canít be $300 million or $400. Ö All of that aside, it starts with the education. You have got to have that education. Ö Having the community colleges there ready to create a really focused workforce into the vocational arts. And now with our economy with older people changing their careers, having that opportunity to go back to community college to train themselves, to continue in the workforce in a different field. So important and we have all of that framework right here.
LN: What are some appropriate solutions for the overcrowding found in schools across the county?
Dawson: Ö I think it all has to do with supporting the New Hanover County Board of Education in making proper decisions for the different school districts and giving parents the option of choice as to where they send their children. I donít know if thatís whatís causing the problem. I really am not sure. So I guess the bottom line answer coming from a county commission candidate would be to say that I would work with the county board of education to ensure that they are successful and that they are able to provide quality education options for all of the students. I know they have a tough job and they need to make some decisions to solve these issues so that every student has the opportunity to have the best education. Ö Working with the board of education to make sure they have the resources they need to make sure the funds are in the classroom for the students and teachers. And that they have made good decisions as far as the districts.
Zapple: Education is at the base of economic development. I think you read enough as well as I do about what theyíre now calling the golden 2,000 days of a childís education. The priority that if you can get to a kid through SmartStart Ö in those younger primary years that you set up a person, not a child, for a lifelong success in education. It is so important. The data is in, long-range data it just shows. So that there needs to be a focus on those improvement years and then you will set this person up for K through 12 and then into community college and then into university. Thatís where the success is. It all goes back to funding. The role of the county commissioners is to make sure that the most funding is available there to pass on to the school board so that they can create a strong curriculum for everyone. That includes capital projects, more schools and also the budget to be able to hire the teachers so that we donít have overcrowding of classes and that we are able to put the resources where they are able to be the best good. Sorry thatís why I started the question with trying to focus on early education. I think thatís certainly a priority in my mind. County commissioners use the money thatís allocated from the state and local property taxes and some federal, thatís of course where SmartStart comes in. Itís our job and, hopefully will be my job, to aggressively go after and get as much funding as possible so that the talented people on the school board can create the best and the strongest curriculum for all children across socioeconomic, the world that we have here. The other issue of charter schools and public schools is a separate question that we can talk about. But again, most of that is in the hands of the school board. My job would be to get the funding there so that where appropriate we can build new schools and address those issues of mobile classrooms being brought on, making sure that we expand where necessary. But also make sure that the kids are getting to those areas where we have existing schools. Iím not talking about raising taxes on anything. Weíve been able to, even through this recession, maintain a strong school budgeting process. And I will continue to make that a priority. We have, again, no economic development without education. An educated population is what businesses look for, for their employees as well as their continuing education for their employees buy also for families of the employees that come here. One of the first things on everyoneís list is, what are your schools like? We have a strong school system that creates qualified people for their workforce, but also more people want to come here and be a part of, they want their kids to have a good education. One feeds the other completely. My goal would be one day, and Iíve got three kids, my youngest just graduated from N.C. State, is in New Hanover County I could raise my children and they could go to school. And at the end of that school, they could find a meaningful and productive job right here in New Hanover County that pays a good living wage. And they could be happy, and we as parents could be happy that our children are able to contribute back into the community. It all starts with that education. You get that education that leads to good jobs, because good businesses are attracted here. They get a good job there and it continues the cycle. Weíve got a wonderful, very strong and vibrant community.
LN: What donít people know about you?
Dawson: Probably a lot of things they donít know about me. Ö I love to fish, boat. Ö Iím aunt Beth to 10 nieces and nephews. Ö I grew up horseback riding and fishing. We enjoy recreational fishing. Ö I enjoy outdoor activities. Ö I still enjoy fishing out in the ocean. We have a little backyard fishing boat.
Zapple: What donít people know about me? I canít think of anything clever. What my friends know about me is that I enjoy talking with a lot of people. I enjoy, and this is going to sound weird because youíre talking with a candidate so itís right here at the front of my head, I actually enjoy the canvassing, the door-to-door. The hardest part about it is carving the time out. Once I get out on the street, itís really freeing in a lot of ways cause I know that the task is to work in a certain area there and going door-to-door. Going door-to-door, itís just always amazing. It sounds like it would be one of the hardest things to do. People walk to the door and thereís this kind of once they realize Iím not there to tell them some sort of religious thing or something like that. I simply say, ĎIím here to introduce myself and I would like to be part of your local government. Do you have any questions?í 100 percent of the people say, ĎOh. Wow.í What I hear most is, ĎNo one has ever come to my door before asking me what I thought about something.í And then it just flows. Ö People talk about the good things that the county or the city is doing. They talk about their own personal lives. Ö I play racquetball. My truck is my office. Thatís a no-brainer. Ö I just have to drive around and I always have. Iím generally a really optimistic person. I like what I do. Sorry, now Iím sounding silly. Community involvement is something Iíve always taken seriously. I learned a tremendous amount from my father who passed away in 2008 who worked in Washington, D.C. and was in public service agent for the United States Senate. Ö I understood from a very early age that as an individual I could make a difference. Ö And thatís really what public service is about itís a privilege. I donít talk about that stuff very much. Itís my personal life. I get asked as a candidate a lot, why do I do this? Ö There was never much of a question in my mind from being a young man a matter of if I would do it, a matter of when I would be more heavily involved in public service.
LN: How do you make yourself readily available to your constituents? What is the best contact information for the public to reach you?
Dawson: I have a phone. I have a website, electbethdawson.com. Ö For current contact information, I will make myself available; with hopefully if/when Iím elected will be very open, as I already have been, out there listening to citizensí concerns. I think thatís extremely important, whether we have town hall meetings or neighborhood meetings. As a board of county commissioners, I think itís extremely important, right now the county has email newsletters that type of thing. I would like to see that public relations continue. I think there are a lot of options now for communication. Ö Iíve been out in the community all summer since the primary, reaching out, listening to other peopleís concerns. I think that if Iím elected then to continue that outreach in ways, such as email and town hall meetings, the commissioners have done in the past to be accessible. I want to hear your concerns and see what I can do to help. 910-762-2010 email@example.com
Zapple: These days Facebook. Iíve got a Facebook page and a website. Campaign website is electzapple.com. You go on there and there is a way to contact me through there. Facebook, write me a message on my Facebook page. Thatís Zapple for Commissioner and I respond or, if itís a general question, someone from the campaign. We look at it several times a day and we respond directly through there. I encourage people to stop me on the street, which they all the time. My truck itís got my name on the side of it ó Zapple. All of those ways. Ö If somebody contacts me, I will contact them back as quickly as possible even if itís an opposing point of view.