Candidates in the upcoming Yadkin County elections for commissioner, board of education and sheriff participated in an information forum hosted by the Yadkin County Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday. House Manager Bobby Todd said the group had 25 years of experience in hosting forums as a way to educate the public about candidates’ views ahead of elections.
This year’s forum was held at Maplewood Baptist Church in Yadkinville and also included a live stream of the entire event via the Maplewood Church’s Facebook page.
The contestants in each race had two minutes each to answer a series of questions presented by moderator Justin Somers which included questions solicited from the audience.
The 140 seats in the church were full with many forum guests standing at the back or in the lobby to watch the proceedings live. Event organizers said there were more than 1,700 viewers on the livestream.
The event was kicked off by school board nominees Barry Cole and incumbents Tim Parks, Tim Weatherman and Sam Crews. Newcomer Cole said looking to the future and preparing the school system and students for an ever-changing world would be his priority if elected. Incumbents Parks, Weatherman and Crews spoke about ongoing facility needs, teacher support and more.
The contestants received questions from the audience regarding Critical Race Theory (CRT) and gender roles for athletics.
“I am not for critical race theory being taught in schools. I think it’s indoctrination and if you’re an athlete you have to play the sport for the gender you were born into,” Parks said, to applause from the audience.
All four contestants adamantly agreed that they were against transgender students playing sports with the team they identified with as well as the CRT.
Crews noted that CRT is not currently part of the school curriculum and said the school board is still monitoring the program and has not found any CRTs in it so far.
“We actually review the curriculum that is handed out to our students each year … and we check that there is nothing that Raleigh is trying to sneak into the Yadkin County curriculum,” said Crews.
Outgoing commissioners Kevin Austin, Gilbert Hemric and Frank Zachary were joined by newcomer Cliff Collins in the forum. Candidate Rodney Gordon was not present. Event organizers said he did not respond to an invitation to attend.
The growth of the county was an important topic for candidates running for commissioners. Collins said he would like to see more economic growth, especially in the Hamptonville area where he resides, in the areas of places to stay and eat. He also noted the need for infrastructure to support these businesses.
The county’s slow and steady growth is what the incumbents have all said is a priority.
Increasing salary demands for retention and recruitment purposes was also a priority discussed by all candidates.
Nick Smitherman took the stage alongside outgoing Sheriff Ricky Oliver to close the forum. Oliver spoke about his long 45-year career in law enforcement. Smitherman also has a background in law enforcement, having worked for the sheriff’s office from 2010 to 2017.
The use of techniques and equipment such as dogs and drones were among the questions from the audience. Both candidates said these tools could be useful but should be considered alongside other more pressing budgetary needs such as staffing.
Both candidates said raising MPs’ salaries was a priority. A question from the audience about how salaries are determined gave Oliver the opportunity to explain that salary levels are set by county commissioners, not the sheriff.
Both candidates were asked what their motivation was for running for sheriff.
“I think over the past 11 years we have made progress in this county in providing professional law enforcement services to citizens, and that is what they deserve,” Oliver said. “We have a much better trained organization than before. Most of our agents have obtained advanced certificates in law enforcement, they have come back and obtained diplomas and we are developing training programs for field agents in our agency. Along with that, we don’t want to go back, we don’t want to go back to where we were. We’ve spent a lot of time and effort moving our sheriff’s office forward. My motivation is to continue in this direction. I believe that the citizens of this county deserve the best services available to them and I believe that with my 45 years of experience, education and management training, we can do just that. Management is tough right now, law enforcement is tough, and there’s a lot going on in law enforcement right now that needs to be handled by good management.
Smitherman said, “the motivation to run simple.”
“I had the opportunity, while working as an assistant in this county and a training officer in the field, to strengthen my integrity; establish contact with citizens. and over the years, shortcomings have come to light. It is exactly what it is. We cannot afford to become complacent. I don’t think for a second that Sheriff Oliver has done anything to directly put our citizens or our deputies on the dance floor, but I do believe the complacency continues to grow, and it’s in all areas. We have to do everything we can,” he said.
While not on the forum’s official agenda, North Carolina State Senate candidates Vann Tate, Eddie Settle, Lee Zachary, Shirley Randleman and judicial candidate Laura Byrd Luffman each had a few moments to speak.
Tuesday’s forum can be viewed in its entirety on the Maplewood Baptist Church Youtube channel at youtube.com/user/maplewoodbaptist