DOBSON — The quarterly Conference of Locally Elected Officials was dominated Thursday by Mount Airy Mayor Deborah Cochran declining to fill the Surry County Board of Commissioners seat left vacant by the death of Commissioner Garry Scearce.
“After much soul searching, I respectfully decline the offer to fill the vacancy on the Surry County Board of Commissioners,” began Cochran. “It was extremely humbling and flattering to hear this recommendation came from Commissioner Garry Scearce.”
Cochran explained that she struggled with her decision and reached it after a ground swell of support that included telephone calls, emails, cards and visits from citizens, present and past board members, business owners, church members and city employees.
“The Surry County commissioners are an old school team who work day and night. They need prayer and support for the transition process,” continued Cochran. “I want to convey my deep appreciation to them and to the process. I want to convey my deep appreciation to them and to the Surry County Republican Party for the vote of confidence.”
She said she had been reminded by city constituents that the mayor’s race is a position of trust. Cochran said that she respected their opinion and would listen to their voices. She added that it was “the right thing to do.” She also shared with the group ways persons who hadn’t elected her said they needed her to stay on as mayor.
“There is the man who shook his finger at me as he drove by my house,” recounted Cochran. “I was swinging an ax cutting up a huge oak tree that had fallen during a storm and the wood splintered and hit my forehead. This must have been an epiphany.”
Board of Commissioners Chairman “Buck” Golding said the announcement means the board will start the process all over again.
“Obviously, we are disappointed,” said Golding.
Golding said the commissioners would “go back to the statute” which describes a timeline (90 days) for appointing someone to fill the remaining term of Scearce. He said the board had felt it was past the primary stages of the timeline and were able to move on to selecting an individual who also had the support of the Surry County Republican Committee.
In a commissioners meeting earlier this month, County Attorney Ed Woltz had said the appointment would be a temporary position that would end Dec. 4. Had Scearce survived past the first full half of his four-year term, the replacement would fill the entire term. The executive boards of both Republican and Democratic parties will select candidates to run in the general election.
Woltz has also previously indicated that the Republican executive committee can have input but the board will make the decision.
In other items during the quarterly dinner, Veterans Employment Representative Larry Calloway for the North Carolina Employment Security Commission shared county workforce statistics with the group. Calloway said the civilian labor force for the county (not seasonally adjusted) was 33,733. The percent of change over the year was a 1.70 decrease.
The county’s per capita personal income for 2010 was $29,685. In comparison, the state per capita personal income was listed as $39,937. Calloway reported that the county had 1,805 business units. The average weekly wage for the county was listed as $605 while the state average is $824. Surry also ranks 36th in the state with a population estimate of 74,702.
Calloway’s main message was for greater emphasis on re-training and learning of skills so the unemployed can better themselves with transitions into better paying jobs. He said Surry Community College had been valuable in helping many with this.
“The reality is most of us change careers,” said Calloway. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”
Calloway also noted that locally, many good paying jobs had been lost. He said service sector jobs were filling that void but could not provide equivalent earnings. He also mentioned that unemployment statistics hadn’t been able to track the “hidden number” of people claiming no benefits.
Calloway also encouraged the group to foster work study opportunities for students. He said employers should take advantage of The Work Opportunity Tax Credit program to hire “targeted” groups such as veterans.
Golding closed the meeting urging the group to action.
“This is reality. This is where we are. We’ve gotta turn this economy around,” said Golding.
Reach David Broyles at email@example.com or 719-1952.