BULADEAN – Nine candidates for Mitchell County Commissioner attended a candidates’ forum Monday, Feb. 10, hosted by the Buladean Community Foundation at the former Buladean School.
Republican challengers Chad Greene, Brandon Pittman, R.L. Hoilman, Wesley Vaughn, Wayne Godfrey and Harley Masters were joined by current county commissioners seeking re-election Jacob Willis, Danny Burleson and Jeff Harding, as well as the lone Democratic challenger, Howard Larsen.
Because of space, what follows is each candidate’s opening statement at the forum:
Chad Greene, Republican challenger
“I’m running for county commissioner for the sole purpose of working for you people,” Greene told the crowd. “You’re the ones that live here.”
Greene, 47, has lived in Mitchell County his entire life. He and his wife, Lisa, have been foster parents for about 10 years.
“I’m not going to beat around the bush,” Greene said. “I think it’s time we move this county forward, and I think we need a jail in this county. We are wasting a lot of tax money paying other counties to house our prisoners. If we build a jail, we can create jobs and keep that money here.”
Greene also addressed the problems at Mitchell County DSS.
“There are issues with DSS,” he said. “You don’t lose 17 employees in six months. As I said, I’m not going to beat around the bush. It’s time to find out what the problem is there and fix it.”
Greene also said he would like to see something in the county for young people to do.
Jacob Willis, Republican incumbent
Willis said he is a lifelong Mitchell County resident, and he ran for commissioner four years ago because he wanted to make a difference and because he loves Mitchell County.
“You don’t run for commissioner because you want to hurt Mitchell County,” he said. “It’s because you want to help Mitchell County, and that’s why I’m running.”
Willis gave a rundown of the accomplishments of the current board of commissioners, such as funding the 1:1 initiative that provided a laptop for every fourth- through 12th-grader and iPads for every kindergarten through third-grader in Mitchell County; funded at least one STEM teacher for the past four years and funded the RISE program.
“We have created economic development through EDC,” Willis said. “There are more jobs in Mitchell County now than there was four years ago.”
Willis noted the median annual per household income in Mitchell County is approaching $40,000 for the first time in history, and there is an Amazon shipping hub at the former Henredon site.
“Our fund balance four years ago was $7.2 million, and now it’s at $8.5 million, that’s a 13.5 percent increase and is equivalent to saving you 6.5 cents on your tax rate,” Willis said. “We’ve added two deputies to the sheriff’s department. Our sheriff does an excellent job taking care of Mitchell County, and we need to build another sheriff’s department where they will be safe, and we have the funds to do that at the present time.”
Howard Larsen, Democratic challenger
Larsen has lived in Mitchell County for nine years. He is a retired teacher and current substitute teacher. He is the lone Democrat seeking a commissioner’s seat.
“I chose to live here,” Larsen said. “That’s why I want to be involved in Mitchell County. One thing I think we are lacking is communication. I’m holding town halls, and if I’m blessed to be elected, I’m going to hold one every month. The future of this county is bright, but we have to make sure we stay focused.”
Larsen talked about the county’s volunteer firefighters.
“We need to come up with a program where they can recruit people,” Larsen said. “We have a lot of issues coming down the pike for this county. There’s a lot of issues we need to look at.”
Brandon Pittman, Republican challenger
Pittman is a Republican candidate for commissioner, schoolteacher, coach and small-business owner.
“I stand here before you tonight fully believing I am the best candidate for this important job,” he said. “I have a long, verifiable history of good work, but more importantly, I have a long history of doing right by the Mitchell County people. With me, you’ll get a leader that will strive to make our government work for every citizen.”
Pittman said everyone pays taxes, and local government should work for everyone, regardless of where they are from in the county.
“I’m approachable, and I listen, I’m proactive and solution-driven,” he said. “My life is woven into the fabric of this community. We are at a crossroads, and I owe it to my family and this community that I love to step up and do my best.”
R.L. Hoilman, Republican challenger
Hoilman said he has made a living in Mitchell County for 35 years and cares about what happens to Mitchell County.
“I promise to do my best to take care of taxpayers’ money and will treat all county employees equally,” he said. “Morale is the lowest I have ever seen in Mitchell County. We’ve lost people right and left, and if you talk to some of them, they’ll let you know why. People have left this county like their bellies are on fire. But the underlying things people don’t know is what’s important, and that needs to be stopped.”
Wesley Vaughn, Republican challenger
Vaughn said he is running because he believes it’s time for a change in Mitchell County, and there needs to be transparency. He has had a career in law enforcement, has four children and three grandchildren.
“I have a daughter in college who will probably never come back here because there’s nothing for her to come back to,” he said. “The days of the big factories are gone. Recruiting small businesses to come in is the future for areas like this.”
Vaughn has coached little league ball and feels as though it is essential to take care of the elderly and offer programs, as well as support law enforcement and fire departments.
Vaughn said he wants to ensure the community college offers training for technical degrees.
Wayne Godfrey, Republican challenger
Godfrey has lived in Mitchell County for three years. He is married to Toe River Health District Director Diane Creek. He said they have made Mitchell County their home and put everything they have into the area.
“I’m running to make a difference in Mitchell County,” he said. “I think it’s time for some changes, some honesty, integrity and a lot more transparency. We need strong public safety and strong public health. If we have both of those, Mitchell County will thrive.”
Godfrey said if he is elected, he will represent the county as a whole, not just personal agendas.
Danny Burleson, Republican incumbent
Burleson has been married to his wife for 47 years. He said he has always been civic-minded, served for several years on Spruce Pine Town Council, the past four years as commissioner, been a member of the board of elections and is a Mason, which has given him a lot of experience in a lot of different areas. He has spent most of his life as a small-business owner.
“I’ve seen the business climate through the good times and bad, and I know how to manage,” Burleson said. “I know about budgets and how to run a business, and running the county is basically running a business. You’ll probably hear a lot about budgets, but a budget is nothing but guesswork, that’s all it is.
Burleson said he would not make any promises because one member of the board of commissioners can’t do anything.
“You have got to work as a board, and that’s what it takes to move the county forward or do anything else for the county,” he said. “Right now, our county is in good financial condition, and it was not especially that good when I came on board with the commissioners. This past year, every department came in under budget. I was very proud of and very pleased with that.”
Harley Masters, Republican challenger
Masters is 28 years old and a small-business owner who has been married to Mitchell County Sheriff’s Deputy John Masters since 2018. She has a degree in aviation maintenance and opened her business, Southern Ridge Café, in August 2018.
“Since we opened, I have been very involved in my community,” she said. “I regularly attend Bakersville town council meetings, commissioners’ meetings, and I make a point to support businesses throughout the county. A lot of people want to know why I’m running, and it’s because I planted my roots here. I not only love Mitchell County, but I care about the people who live here. I want Mitchell County to be better not only for everyone in this room but for my children and grandchildren. I’ll make decisions based on common sense and not personal agendas.”
Jeff Harding, Republican incumbent
Harding and his wife, Darla, are small-business owners. He is seeking his second term on the board of commissioners.
“My campaign is simple,” Harding said. “I love Mitchell County, and I want to see it grow and be stronger. It’s a great place to live and raise a family, but we must have a vision. I’m tired of finishing second to the surrounding counties. I believe in business and people, not politics. We should run the county like a business and listen to the people. They are who we work for. It’s not about politics.”
Harding said he believes he has been a strong voice for all of Mitchell County and will continue to be.
“We need to take care of our elderly,” he said. “I strongly believe in education and entrepreneurship, and I think I have proven I am transparent and believe in accountability.”