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Five candidates seek Macon commission seats

Clockwise from top left: Olga Lampkin, Betty Cloer Wallace, Terry W. Bradley and Bryan Rauers. Clockwise from top left: Olga Lampkin, Betty Cloer Wallace, Terry W. Bradley and Bryan Rauers.

Five candidates will be running in the primary election for a chance to claim an open seat on the Macon County Board of Commissioners. 

Voters filling out a Democratic ballot will have to choose between Betty Cloer Wallace, who unsuccessfully ran for commissioner in 2018, and political newcomer Olga Lampkin. 

Voters filling out a Republican ballot will vote for one of three candidates — Josh Young, Terry Bradley or Bryan Rauers. 

Why are you running for commissioner?

Lampkin: I am running for county commissioner because it would be rewarding to be involved in making decisions for our future. I want to advocate for other hard-working parents in our county who are trying to make the best of the world for their children. I think that the issues that come before the County Commission should not be dealt with in a partisan manner, because what is good for Macon County is good for all of us. 

Rauers: First, I only considered running after being asked to do so by two friends for whom I have great respect. After much thought and prayer I decided I would like to be a solution and not a complainer or problem. I also believe that owning and operating two businesses and having two children in the Macon County School System makes me fully vested in our county and gives me every reason to make Macon County be the best it can possibly be.

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Wallace: My half-century of experience in public service has been a lifetime of preparation for serving as a Macon County Commissioner; and I want to work toward practical and sustainable change, to up-end the top-down voting bloc that has controlled our Board of Commissioners for many years, and to change our status quo trajectory, economic and social, that is resulting in a growing exodus of young families from our county. 

Bradley: I would like to continue my legacy of public service as a Macon County Commissioner utilizing my experiences to help guide the decisions that will be made by the Board of Commissioners to benefit the residents and visitors of our community.

Describe your leadership style?

Lampkin: I am an open-minded and empathetic listener. I seek guidance from others who are successful and take into consideration their wisdom and experience when contemplating options, before I make decisions. I rely on research and facts but can come up with creative solutions. I know that success is a team effort, so I encourage others to use their skills and abilities as we all work together toward a common goal.

Rauers: My leadership style is simple. When trying to make a decision on a certain topic I gather all the information I can. Then I look to people who have knowledge and experience on the topic before making a decision. After considering how it will affect everyone involved, I make a decision.

Wallace: Participatory. Within the parameters of any public government job or elected position, everyone being affected has the right to participate, to ask questions, to express opinions and make suggestions. We are a nation of laws, and elected officials must ensure that within our governmental system, the democratic process should be transparent and bubble up from “we the people”— not mandated from the top down in an authoritarian or secretive manner.

Bradley: Transformational leadership. I have a vision and the willingness to share my experience to the citizens of Macon County.

If elected, what are your top three goals to improve the county for residents/businesses?

Lampkin: We need to use the empty buildings in Macon County to meet our needs, both present and in the future. Things like indoor recreation for our youth and teens, drug treatment facilities, prisoner housing and affordable transitional housing could be creatively addressed using already-existing buildings. Continued support of Macon County Schools, with full funding for our classrooms, athletics, and the arts, would be beneficial to both individual residents and businesses. Finally, we need access to high speed, reliable internet for all. Students rely on the internet for homework. 

Rauers: Broadband, education, and arming our law enforcement and emergency personnel with the most up-to-date tools necessary to fight our drug epidemic.

Wallace: Jobs paying a living wage plus benefits, opportunity for advancement, and retirement, which depends upon affordable housing, better schools, and health care. Health care expansion, including recruitment of doctors and other healthcare personnel, and increased variety of urgent care and specialty clinics. Broadband expansion countywide.

Bradley: Sustainable economic growth. We must seek a more diversified economic foundation based upon a multifaceted approach of industry, trades, tourism and agriculture.

What are the top issues facing Macon County right now?

Lampkin: There is an obvious need for employment opportunities, but incentives are needed to encourage businesses to move to our county to provide jobs. We cannot hope to woo businesses and the families they would employ without housing, medical and recreational options. I think opioids and meth are the scourge of our county. I am interested in analyzing what measures have been tried in the past, and to help us take new steps forward toward some level of success. The lack of reliable high speed internet is another problem, and is addressed separately.

Rauers: I would continue to work with the other commissioners as well as our leaders in Raleigh to get state assistance. I would also look to Washington for assistance. President Trump said in his State of the Union address that he was going to allocate funds for broadband to rural areas in our country. That’s obviously a priority for the entire country. It will take everyone working together to make this happen.

Wallace: The poverty rate of 30.1 percent, which depends upon jobs, affordable housing and childcare. A lack of adequate health care for every segment of our population. Drug trafficking and drug-related crime, involving both law enforcement and the court system.

Bradley: Education. We must develop in conjunction with the Board of Education a long-term plan for facilities expansion or renovation. We also must work to retain our dedicated faculty and support staff members through innovative programs to reward them for their commitment. Sustainable economic growth. We must seek a more diversified economic foundation based upon a multifaceted approach of industry, trades, tourism, and agriculture. Broadband availability. All facets of our lives are dependent upon reliable high speed connectivity.

How would you continue to work toward bringing broadband in Macon?

Lampkin: In order to thoroughly answer this, I would need to know more about what steps have already been taken. Also, the Town of Highlands was successful in bringing internet to their community, so I would talk to their town officials to see what they did. I know that there is recent legislation, some passed and some stalled, that addresses broadband, so I would review those bills and talk with commissioners in other counties that are facing the same problem. 

Rauers: I would continue to work with the other commissioners as well as our leaders in Raleigh to get State assistance. I would also look to Washington for assistance. President Trump said in his State of the Union address that he was going to allocate funds for broadband to rural areas in our country. That’s obviously a priority for the entire country. It will take everyone working together to make this happen.

Wallace: Frontier failed to meet FCC broadband requirements for the Connect America Fund for rural areas that stipulated reaching 80 percent of rural locations by December 2019, but we can help Morris expand, or bring in a company with competitive pricing such as the company serving Rabun and Habersham counties, or look at satellite access, albeit cost and limited access would be problematic. We cannot provide or sustain any local effort to improve our connectivity without federal and state assistance.

Bradley: The county’s role in expanding access to broadband is twofold. They must function as a facilitator and as a conduit. As a facilitator the county should engage knowledgeable parties into a taskforce to study and make recommendations. Evaluate which technologies work within our geographic limitations. As a conduit the county must serve as the gateway for funding from federal and state grants. We must dedicate resources to identify and apply aggressively for these funds.

A recent space-needs study showed multiple needs for the county’s infrastructure, including a recommendation to consolidate the jail, justice center and sheriff’s office. What are the top infrastructure projects in your opinion and what are your thoughts on the consolidation project?

Lampkin: At 898 pages, the space-needs study is comprehensive and, obviously, quite lengthy, and I have not had the opportunity to review it all.  I agree that the jail, justice center and sheriff’s office could use modernization and, perhaps, consolidation, but I feel that some of that estimated $77 million would be better spent elsewhere. I understand that there is currently a lack of space for females and a lack of a commercial kitchen. Instead of a new justice center to house the courthouse, detention center and sheriff’s office, I wonder if the possibility of expanding and updating the current facilities has been explored. 

As to other projects, I think renovating the senior center and constructing a library and community center in Nantahala are projects that are much needed and would be beneficial to the county. 

Rauers: I first want to applaud the county manager and the county commissioners for hiring an outside firm to analyze the county’s infrastructure. I think the county manager as well as commissioners should study the findings and determine/prioritize what needs to be done first. Then can start the process of how the county can fund these projects. There are currently many infrastructure needs at our schools. We are going to have to analyze and prioritize which projects need to be put first.

Wallace: The $300,000 space-needs study recently completed was preordained to fit our existing programs and services — except for promotion of a new and outrageously expensive courthouse and detention center. Schools facilities were not included in the study; therefore, the study was actually not a study of our comprehensive needs but a rubber stamp of the status quo and special interests. We do need a review of our comprehensive needs, along with projected costs for each capital item, but not another study to justify special interest projects. Nor do we need a $77 million edifice to law enforcement and our slow-as-molasses court system.

Bradley: There are concerns being raised about courthouse security, inmate population, and other departments having growth issues.  If elected I would work to find workable solutions that are economically viable and financially sustainable.

With state funding for education stagnant, commissioners increased taxes last year to adequately fund Macon County Schools. Did you agree with the board’s decision? 

Lampkin: I agree with the commission’s decision to increase taxes to fund our schools. The slight increase in our taxes, which allowed for additional public school funding, is an investment that will pay off in the future. Schools should receive sufficient funding so that teachers and parents are not supplementing supplies. Allocated funds should include amounts to fully fund arts programs, both during school and after. 

Rauers: Yes, I completely agree with our county commissioners. Our children are our future and if we care about our county for the years to come we have to invest in our children. This also means that we must have schools that are updated and safe and that we keep our teachers pay competitive so that we continue to employ the best.

Wallace: Yes, I agreed with their decision, but only as a one-time stop-gap measure. It is a disingenuous cop out to always say that taxes are raised “for schools” instead of admitting that taxes often fund special interest pork projects that consume tax money that could have been given to our schools. County commissioners are responsible for providing adequate school facilities, while the state and local school boards are responsible for operation of the schools, albeit our local school board is often reduced to begging our county commissioners for additional funding simply to stay afloat, which is not a pretty sight. As our state legislature continues its juggernaut toward privatization of our public schools, we cannot simply blame the state for cutting our funds. 

Bradley: I think it is very important to support public education and there is increased budget pressure placed on Macon County due to increases in school population and unfunded mandates from State and Federal programs. One of the main issues currently facing Macon County will be the future replacement or renovation of the Franklin High School facilities. We also need to continue to evaluate local supplements for teacher pay and support staff in order to retain our investment in these resources.

Editor’s note: Josh Young is also running for county commissioner in the March 3 primary but did not respond to the candidate questionnaire by press time Tuesday.

 

Meet the candidates

Olga Lampkin

• Age: 48

• Hometown: Redlands, Florida; moved to Macon County in August 2015

• Professional background: Paralegal since 1990

• Political background: Secretary of The Canary Coalition since 2017

Bryan Rauers

• Age: 50

• Hometown: Grew up in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, but moved to Franklin 17 years ago.

• Professional background: Automotive and tractor business. After graduating from the University of South Carolina in 1992, he started a career in the automotive industry.

• Political background: Registered Republican since the age of 18. Never held political office but has been involved with several local campaigns over the years.

Betty Cloer Wallace

• Age: 76

• Hometown: Franklin

• Professional background: Four university degrees, including Ed.D. in Administration from the University of Georgia; Associate Superintendent of Macon County Schools; Director of Western Regional Education Center; Superintendent, Vance County Schools and Assistant State Superintendent, N.C. Department of Public Instruction. She’s also a book author and a tree farmer.

• Political background: Served two terms as secretary of the N.C. Democratic Party; State Democratic Executive Committee and State Executive Council; First woman in N.C. to run for U.S. Senate; Candidate for Macon County Commissioner in 2018.

Terry W. Bradley

• Age: 59

• Hometown: Franklin

• Professional background: Retired chief of police with Franklin Police Department 

• Political background: None

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