Feb. 29, 2016
By Connie Leinbach
The Ocracoke Civic and Business Association held a candidates’ forum Thursday night (Feb. 25) in the Ocracoke Community Center. Close to 40 islanders attended.
While there are about 80 candidates on the combined Republican and Democratic ballots for national statewide and regional seats in the March 15 primary, the OCBA sent messages to the candidates for three of the offices.
One is U.S. Congressional District No. 3, currently held by Walter Jones. Vying with him for the Republican nomination are Taylor Griffin and Phil Law. These two did not respond back. The Democratic challenger, David Hurst of Newport, NC, is unopposed and will be on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.
Requests to attend and/or answer questions also were sent to the candidates for the state House of Representatives District No. 6 (currently held by Paul Tine). Those candidates are Republicans Ashley Woolard of Washington and Beverly Boswell of Kill Devil Hills. Democratic candidates are Warren Judge of Kitty Hawk, who attended Thursday night, and Judy Justice of Manteo, who could not attend Thursday but will attend the March 9 OCBA meeting to answer the questions below that Judge answered.
Incumbent Hyde County commissioner for Ocracoke is Democrat John Fletcher. He is being challenged by Democrat Tom Pahl. There are no Republican candidates for this seat.
The entire ballot is posted online as well.
Editor’s note: The following Q&A has been slightly edited for clarity and redundancy.
Hyde County Commissioner for Ocracoke.
1. What is the biggest challenge Ocracoke faces of which the county commissioner can have an impact?
John Fletcher: Get Highway 12 squared away with DOT and getting the
right-of-way re-established or we’ll find ourselves driving in the ocean.
Number two is we recently found out hospice is withdrawing its services from the mainland and Ocracoke. We need to combine our departments of social services and health department so that people dealing with these agencies can get some relief. Last Friday called 5 different numbers of the health dept. and got five different answering machines. Monday, I called the health director to ask him how many people worked there. Thirteen. Thirteen people working in a government office and no one answered the phone. Those are the two biggest things. Also, the matter of continued access to the beach here on Ocracoke.
Tom Pahl: I don’t disagree with a thing John said. There’s no single issue. So many are interrelated. But a single issue would be maintaining and developing the economic health of Ocracoke. Maintaining the economic viability here. Heard that from a lot of people since I announced my campaign. There are a lot of issues here: access on H 12 is critical, ferry issues are critical (toll seems to be an ongoing battle) issues around the long route and whether there are options to that long route, and the impact that has on tourism on Ocracoke. The economy is tourism based but it’s entrepreneurial based. The entrepreneurs make the economy work here. Need to address issues that affect the entrepreneurial spirit. That’s not just shops and motels, but the fishing community and constant regulations on the fishing community and it’s always a moving target. The commissioners don’t have control over those issues directly. But it’s critical that the O commissioner should establish personal, respectful relationships with all of these.
2. Do you think the services that Hyde County offers, which are mostly located on the mainland, meet the needs of the Ocracoke residents? How could they be improved for Ocracoke?
Pahl: The administration on the mainland is where they sit. We get a lot of services and good services. Generally speaking, we get pretty fair services for the needs that we have on our island. Improvements? I’d like to see the county take on the issue we’ve been dealing with for a long time is public restrooms. I’d like to see the county take that issue. Ocracoke provides a significant percent of HC rev and a good amount of that revenue comes from tourists and part of that good experience is having bathrooms. I’d like to see Hyde County take that up. The dump could use improvements and there’s some work going on there. EMS is headed toward a significant upgrade and that’s good. Generally speaking, we get services that are pretty good in proportion to our need.
Fletcher: Ever since I’ve been coming to Ocraoke, since 1960s, I’ve been hearing that Ocracoke doesn’t get its fair share. The average person on mainland doesn’t know what O gets and or doesn’t get and to tell you the truth they don’t give a damn. County government does a pretty good job of providing things here. It’s more expensive to provide services on Ocracoke. Everything costs more. A deputy costs more because we have to provide a housing allowance. EMS—housing expense. The amount the government spends per capita expense is greater on Ocracoke. Not that we don’t deserve it but we get a pretty good deal by and large.
Two areas we could do better: social services and public health. Course, I don’t think public health does very much over here if anything. SS tries to do so over here but expense in the limited area where they have to work needs to be upgraded. Perhaps some of the place used by EMS could be used by social services to help social services out some.
The school you should be right proud of it you get your fair share for the school. As long as you get your fair share for law enforcement and the school I can’t be too ashamed of what the commissioners are doing, although they could be better.
3. What’s your view on keeping the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry toll free?
Fletcher: I’d like very much to see it kept toll-free. There’s a way for it, might be a pie-in-the-sky thing, but slot machines on the big ferries would pay for the darn things and we wouldn’t have to be arguing about where the money came from.
As for some free and some tolled at the north end, that’s not gonna work because (with Mr. X and his family) and it’s gonna cost $60 to ride down and back, or wait for two hours and go for free. What’s gonna happen? (The family’s) gonna sit and wait. Then the folks running the ferry are gonna say you have to toll the free ferry. That’s the proper, Christian thing to do: end up a toll on both ferries. Anybody that tells you different I don’t think they’ve looked at human nature very closely.
Pahl: I am absolutely opposed to there ever being a toll on the Hatteras ferry, and I have worked hard on this issue for many years. It’s low-hanging fruit for the Legislature. They see the amount of traffic on that ferry and they’re looking at their budgets and thinking how can we generate more revenue. My point, that I’ve made many times, is the Ferry Division is a part of NCDOT. NCDOT has a $4 billion plus budget. That budget is greater than the defense budget of the Ukraine. The money we need to operate the ferries (never mind the piece of it that’s Ocracoke-Hatteras) is so relatively small compared to that entire budget that it’s ridiculous to think that it’s necessary to toll that ferry. It’s also unfair. There are two sources of funds for NCDOT budget: state gas tax and federal funds that support transportation budgets across the country. We pay gasoline tax. It’s 100 miles to Wal-Mart, and we pay our federal taxes. We pay into those two funds that support those ferry just as much as anyone in NC does. We should have the same access to the transportation as everyone in the state has. We’re not asking for special privilege. Just asking not to be singled out as the only NC community that would have to pay a toll to go home at night. I’ve used these words when I’ve argued these positions with the state Legislature and other public forums.
4. If you’re re-elected/elected, what will you do the next four years?
Pahl: Everything the commissioners do is interrelated. But I would have a theme: teamwork. This county functions because the people who work in county government need to work together: mutual respect; deal w each other that we all have a job and are all working together for the benefit of HC. Talked to a lot of folks in SQ. Establishing a good working relationship with the other commissioners, HC department chairs and the employees. Respect is issue that I would make key to the way I would work as CC over the next four years.
Fletcher: I’ve messed around in the courthouse in SQ for probably 40 years and I know the crowd over there and have always gotten along well with them and they’ve always supported me. The only person I don’t set horses with over there is the county manager. And the reason I don’t set horses with the CM is he plays politics, and I don’t think the CM’s job is playing politics. If I’m re-elected there’s gonna be a change in that. Cause I guarantee your if I catch him playing politics I’ll have him snatched up so close every time we go to a meeting that he won’t be able to breathe. And I guarantee that’s the only one in the courthouse I don’t get along fine with.
As to the sheriff goes, I think we get along fine with him. I haven’t had that much to do with him I used to have when I practiced law. I think I get along fine w him. What I would like to see and hope to work on is getting from the federal government a little bit better break for this county. They own a tremendous amount of land but the own the most valuable. They own all of the ocean front and about 95 percent the lake front. Any time they try to tighten down the native use of that land or the public use of that land it affects the county adversely—businesses and citizens. Open up more of the public land to public use. We could also do that from the state. The state owns three or four big wildlife preserves.
Questions from the audience:
Mickey Baker on public toilets:
Pahl: This is something the OCBA and business community has really struggled with. It’s been approached primarily as an OCBA issue with Occupancy Tax funds, and I think it’s a county issue. I would raise that issue as a serious need on Ocracoke that is important to the entire operation of the Hyde County government given the key role that Ocracoke plays in generating revenue. I would make that argument and hopefully move that into the discussion of the commissioners as to where it would be, designed, the ongoing issue of maintenance, etc.
Fletcher: Politicians are supposed to be liars and lawyers are supposed to be liars. Since I’ve been elected I’m a politician. You all know I’m a retired lawyer. I do what I do and that’s the way I am. Those of you who know me and like what I do I appreciate your vote. Those who don’t, you have an alternative.
Pahl: One thing we haven’t covered in the questions is the significant role the Ocracoke commissioner plays in making appointments to advisory boards.
It’s an issue the other commissioners would have to work hard at to know if those appointments were the appropriate appointments or not. Generally, they just go along with whatever the recommendation of the Ocracoke commissioner is. That has a huge impact on Ocracoke.
I don’t think it’s a good idea for a single person to be in that position. If I was elected, I’d put together an advisory committee to work on those appointments. Put a group who had a deeper reach into the community than I would to find the right people to be on these boards. It’s a case where there is a case of a single individual who has tremendous influence as to what goes on the island and I think it should be spread out further in the community.
In closing, I have great respect for anyone who’s doing what I’m doing, what John’s doing and what Warren’s doing and that’s raising our heads up out of the trenches and making democracy work. I have great respect for anyone, especially in this community, who’s willing to do that.
General Assembly District 6 Democratic candidate Warren Judge:
- 1. If passenger ferries are approved for the Hatteras-Ocracoke route, can the Hatteras car-ferries remain free while a fee is required for a passenger ferry?
Do you think the NC Ferry system should be privatized?
The NC Ferry System needs to replace several of its ferries which have in service in the range of 50 years. Where should the funding come from?
Judge: The ferry system very imp to Ocracoke. Needs to maintain the fleets. Absolutely that money should come out of NCDOT budget. Hwy 12 runs through Ocracoke. NCDOT chooses to use a ferry system to bridge the gap. They use it as a bridge. There are bridges all over the state. This has been a cultural change in GA since 2011. It’s a shame that we in these coastal counties are held to a diff. standard than other people throughout the state. We’re one state. We’re 10 million strong. As for the passenger ferry: this is an experiment. I think it’s a great idea. If the only way they can do this is to charge a fee, they should not let this springboard in into charging for the free car ferry. We should maintain ferry replacement out of the general fund.
No to privatizing the ferry. If you do that only those who can afford to ride will ride just as in education, if you privatize only those that can afford education will get an education. I’ve never really seen it work well.
Q 2. The average salary for NC public school teachers and principals is among the lowest in the United States. Do think they should be better compensated? If so, by what percentage? Where would the funding come from?
It’s a disgrace. 50 states and we rank 46. I hope no one in Raleigh is proud of that. It’s deeper than that. You all have an outstanding school on this island but you also have a bullseye on your back because it’s a small school because we’re a very a sparsely populated island in a sparsely populated county and that disadvanges<sic> us. In addition to the Democratic-Republican battle, it’s an urban-rural battle. And we’re losing very battle in the urban-rural battle. But we’re the 10th most populous state. People want to come and live in NC. We need to be respectful of that and we need to pay our teachers properly. For South Carolina to pick off our teachers is a shame. There are 12 Southeastern states. The per-pupil allotment in NC is 12th out of the 12 states. West Virginia is first. We need to set a goal. Set a five-year goal that we put our teachers’ salaries in the top 10 states. We ought to be able to generate the funds to pay our teachers accordingly. The last couple year our economy has been growing and there’s been surplus revenues. Those surplus revenues have gone to decreasing income tax while raising sales taxes on everybody. Take those surplus revs and prioritize education as No. one priority and use that surplus to raise teachers’ salaries. which will be reoccurring as the economy continues to grow and use that to build education back up.
Q3. Do you support offshore oil drilling? If you do, should there be a buffer zone and how many miles offshore should it be?
Absolutely not. There’s not enough reward for the risk. We’re at risk everyday with the tankers going by. We don’t need to add to that risk. Back in the late 1980s people of Dare and Hyde founded LegaSea to fight Mobil Oil. Last April had a rally in KDH, Hands Across the Sand was formed. It was great to see people I haven’t seen in 25 years. It’s great we still have the passion and are still able to remember what is so valuable about where we live—our coastland, sound estuaries. Will affect everyone across District 6.
Question from attendee Jake Johnson: Dare County commissioners voted for tolls on ferries. Hyde County voted against tolling. A few days later you tried to rescind. Why did you vote originally?
Judge: My vote in October was a mistake. I own that vote. I called Earl (Pugh) the next morning. I’ve been opposed for however many years it’s been in discussion. On that night we voted, I was convinced by comments made by presenters that night and leadership on our board that it was a done deal–hat tolls were gonna be placed on the ferries, and the caveat handed out to me was that all three ferry routes would get the same annual pass—one pass for all three routes—would drop from $150 to $75 for all three routes.
If you listen to my comments that night, I told them I put a lot of trust in the fact that the information I was given was accurate, and I was taking a chance in supporting the concept of cutting that annual fee in half and including all three routes. Soon after, I learned that wasn’t the case. I came to the next Hyde County commissioners meeting and fell on my sword as I am tonight. If they (Hyde County) came up to the next meeting, I would put the motion back on to rescind. I moved to do so; (Allen) Burrus seconded it. It Lost it 2-5. A couple of months later, Hyde County adopted a resolution (to ask the ARPO to wait until the General Assembly short session), and asked if we could handle it. We did pass that.
It’s not that I flip-flopped. Was playing a little politics to get what’s best for Ocracoke Island.
As a member of the General Assembly, I’ll be in opposition to it.
I was impressed Jan. 25 (at the Legislative meeting on Hyde County mainland). They were impressed. The message I got was they were getting it.
Fletcher: My brother in Dare County said it wasn’t all his (Judge’s) fault.
Question from Darlene Styron regarding Monitor Marine Sanctuary. Will you keep an eye on that since that will impact that whole area?
Until my term expires, as a DC commissioner, I will keep an eye on it. All the Dare county board members will be diligent in looking at this issue. We acknowledge the value of the shipwrecks. We respect that, but we also our heritage and culture. Our concerns lie not in today but the future. That’s where we focus our opposition to the expansion: if this happens, that there is a legitimate governing board that has a seat for stakeholders—fishermen, environmentalists, a local commissioner for each county and have an equal say and not just ex officio.
Our concern is what happens when we’re gone 50 years from now and our children have to deal with this.
Final statement: Call me, write me. I’ll come down to meetings. I’ve been crisscrossing this district. I’m going to represent y’all well. Will represent the 80,000 who live here not the leader of the party in Raleigh. I’m versed in it; I’m knowledgeable.
About dredging these channels—North Carolina has to move past the federal government taking care of these channels. Our General Assembly members need to be advocates for us with Congress and not just write letters. I’ve testified in Congress. Our state government needs to step up to the plate.