Tuesday will mark the end of a hotly contested race for a seat on the Surry County Board of Commissioners.
Five Republicans filed to run for the Mount Airy District seat held by Commissioner Jimmy Miller, and Miller is among the five vying to represent the residents of the Mount Airy-area on the board.
Since no Democrat filed to run for the seat, whoever walks away from the primary election as the Republican nominee will fill the seat starting in January of 2017.
As of Friday afternoon, 4,111 Surry County residents had already cast their votes in Tuesday’s election through early voting or absentee ballots, according to elections director Susan Jarrell. Those included 2,515 people who voted in the GOP primary.
With more than 40,000 registered voters in the county, and a high turn-out expected due to the presidential primary, victory is anybody’s to snag on Tuesday.
Making Tuesday’s stakes even higher, legislation passed by the General Assembly to redistrict the state’s congressional districts nullifies any need for a run-off election to take place.
Prior to the February redistricting, one of the five men running for the seat on the county board would have had to gain at least 40 percent of the vote to get the nod. If none of the five had hit that mark a run-off election would have occurred between the top two vote-getters.
Now the race will be decided on Tuesday, whether or not the winner has received 40 percent.
The seasoned veteran
If re-elected Miller, 82, will enter his eighth term as one of the two commissioners representing the Mount Airy District on the county board. First elected in 1988 after running one losing campaign, he’s been on the board for nearly 30 years.
Miller, who resides on West End Drive in Mount Airy, said his advantage is experience. His motivation, however, is continued service to the county’s more than 70,000 residents.
“I want to continue what I’m doing,” said Miller. “There are some things I started that I want to finish up.”
Miller said he has seen new schools and other projects completed during his tenure on the board. He also said he’s proud to have served Surry County in a “fair and honest” manner.
The long-time commissioner places providing for the capital needs of the county’s three school systems at the head of his agenda.
“We need to move forward with some of these (projects),” said Miller before questioning what the board had completed in the last four years. “We need progress.”
Miller is retired from Dixie Concrete and is a Korean War-era army veteran.
Larry Johnson, of Greystone Lane, started Johnson Granite more than 15 years ago. He’s now retired and in his down-time from church activities and volunteering for a local food bank, he says he wants to give being a county commissioner a shot.
If elected, he will do the job for free. Johnson, 64, said he will either not accept a paycheck for his time on the board, or he will donate it to a local charity.
Johnson is also the only candidate to have directly stated Miller is no longer the man for the job in the Mount Airy District.
“There’s one commissioner who works very hard (in the area of economic development),” said Johnson. “That’s Larry Phillips, but he isn’t up for re-election. We need change.”
Johnson did also state he “deeply respects” Miller and the work he has done in Surry County government.
Johnson said his business experience has prepared him well for the task of county commissioner, and he placed economic development at the top of his list.
Like Miller, Johnson also indicated the the needs of the county’s schools were important to him.
“We need to give them (schools) the very finest,” remarked Johnson at a candidates forum.
Bill Goins, 47, lives on Tanglewood Drive in Mount Airy. He’s a life-long educator with bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Appalachian State University.
Goins is an assistant principal at Central Middle School. However, he has held multiple posts throughout the county school system during his 23-year tenure.
Goins also believes funding the county’s schools and economic development should be at the top of the board’s agenda. However, he indicated he would thoroughly assess every request for funding separately, including those from his employer.
“We are going to have to break down and spread out these projects. We will have to prioritize,” said Goins.
Goins has said he is concerned about the future available to Surry County’s next generation. He even questioned what opportunities would be available to his own children if a few things don’t change in Surry County.
“How do we keep our young people here?” asked Goins. “We need industry and jobs to be available. We are getting five or ten jobs here and there, but we need more than that.”
Voice for transparency
Allen Poindexter, 38, of Emerald Lane, was among the first candidates to say he would run against Miller. He did so after taking the podium during the open forum portion of a meeting of the Surry County Board of Commissioners.
At that meeting and others, Poindexter spoke to commissioners about the county Sheriff’s Office, raising concerns of “illegal” firearms transactions and $50,000 in raises which went to four top deputies.
In particular, he questioned the manner in which commissioners had discussed the raises, which were meant to retain the four veteran deputies. Like many other “personnel” issues, commissioners discussed the pay increases in a closed session.
He has said transparency in county government is his mission.
“There’s not enough transparency,” remarked Poindexter. “I’m completely against closed-door meetings. If that’s the policy, maybe we need to change the policy.”
Poindexter, who owns his own graphic arts and marketing company, said he wants to ensure a better economic climate for the county’s future.
“Jobs are the biggest issue,” said Poindexter. “We need to offer companies incentives and tax breaks without putting an undo burden on our citizens.”
The commander returns
Van Cooke, 49, of Fairview Drive, said he served his country and now it’s time to serve his home. Cooke, who now farms, returned to Surry County three years ago after retiring from the navy as a commander.
“In 1991 Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. When my country called, I answered. Now I want to serve Surry County,” said Cooke at a forum.
Cooke said he’s concerned about the county’s debts owed.
“The county currently has about $46 million in long-term debt,” said Cooke. “We need to accelerate the process of paying down that debt. If the economy hiccups and revenues dry up, residents could face fee and tax increases.”
“Fiscal responsibility” is the term Cooke said he would use to summarize his campaign platform.
“Don’t be foolish with other people’s money,” is the concept by which Cooke said he would govern.
Cooke also said his service as chairman of the Surry County Agricultural Extension Advisory Committee and funding cuts to the extension office helped him arrive at the conclusion to put his name on the ballot.
“I realized I needed to be more than a loud advocate. I needed to get in the ball game.”
To the polls
Early voting concluded at 1 p.m. on Saturday. However, the county’s voters still have an opportunity to cast votes in the traditional manner on Tuesday.
Polls will open at 6:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m. In accordance with a new North Carolina law, voters must have a state or federally issued form of photo identification.
A list of the county’s 33 polling locations with addresses for each and a tool for voters to determine in which precinct they vote are available on the Surry County Board of Elections website at www.co.surry.nc.us/departments/(a_through_j)/board_of_elections/index.php.
Voters with additional questions can call the board of elections at 401-8225.