In the democratic primary for Durham County Sheriff, we endorse incumbent Worth L. Hill over challenger Tony Butler. Hill, 72, is seeking his fifth term in office. Hill has been sheriff since 1994 and has guided the department through improvements in technology and services, including the establishment of a squad to cut through a backlog of 63,000 unserved warrants. Last year, the squad served more than 18,000. He has managed a once-overpopulated jail, and under his tenure, many say morale at the sheriff's office has improved.
But our recommendation comes with reservations. Hill's most recent four-year term has been marred by malfeasance by a small number of the 450 employees in the department. In 2007, a civilian worker embezzled $100,000, and last year the department faced accusations that another employee pocketed an undisclosed amount of money that had been slated for undercover drug investigations. Add to that three deputies who were dismissed in 2006—one for drug trafficking at a nightclub he owned, and two for violating rules for off-duty employment.
We applaud Hill's openness in announcing the incidents and firing officers who are guilty of wrongdoing. But to restore confidence, the sheriff needs to assure the public that processes are being improved, and he needs to be more vocal in communicating his accountability to the public.
Although Hill called for more oversight in the outside employment of his deputies, four years after the off-duty nightclub incident, the department doesn't track how many hours and for whom deputies work in their off hours. It's also not clear that Hill has immediately changed auditing and financial practices to ensure fewer opportunities for embezzlement. Hill needs to increase his communication and priorities, particularly in light of a March argument inside the county courthouse, the security of which is the sheriff department's responsibility (the dispute escalated to a shooting just outside the building) and the revelation that none of it was caught on tape because the courthouse's cameras haven't worked for years.
This is the third time Tony Butler has challenged Hill for sheriff, spending more than $13,000 in the 2002 and 2006 elections. He currently works as a certified nursing assistant at John Umstead Hospital in Butner and as pastor of an Asheboro church. He worked for 11 years as a state trooper and two as a Guilford County Deputy. Based on Butler's responses to our questionnaire, it isn't evident that he has the breadth of experience to run such a large department.
The winner of the Democratic primary faces Republican Roy Taylor in the fall.
We endorse incumbent Omega Curtis Parker over challengers Donald A. Hughes and John Tarantino. Parker spent 39 years in Durham's schools (some top district administrators were her pupils) and is an advocate for teachers. While Parker has spent four years as a board subcommittee chairwoman, we would like to see her be a more vocal member of the board. Among her cost-cutting ideas for next year: limiting licenses for educational software and possibly reducing top administrators' salaries while keeping classrooms funded.
Hughes, who ran in 2009 for Durham City Council, also wants to trim top salaries. He says he will work to improve teacher retention and boost underachieving schools with more funding. However, many of his ideas already are in place. Hughes also suggests that the schools gather more public input into the system's draft budget before it's presented to the school board, instead of later, when most of the decisions already have been made. We agree this process needs more public input.
We would like to see Hughes, the son of former City Council and school board member Jacqueline Wagstaff, take more time to establish himself in the community since returning to Durham from Greensboro, where he received his college degree. His close affiliation with Wagstaff and Lavonia Allison, president of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People (both considered by many to stir up division instead of contributing constructively), may have overshadowed his ability to make a name for himself. Hughes' leadership in college and participation in government meetings could contribute to a strong future in public service. But that might begin in smaller roles through which he can build his experience and reputation, such as advisory boards and committees.
Tarantino did not return a questionnaire to the Indy.
We endorse incumbent Fredrick A. Davis in the race for this school board seat, contested by Regina Stanley-King. Davis, pastor of First Calvary Baptist Church, has deep connections to innumerable families in the school system. Married to a teacher of exceptional children, he advocates for educators and for students who need innovative schooling. Davis is candid, asks tough questions of school leadership and isn't shy about standing against the majority.
Stanley-King, who was endorsed by the Indy in 2005 in her bid for the seat of current City Councilman Howard Clement, did not respond to an Indy questionnaire.
We endorse Nancy Cox over competitor Christine Baker.
A former teacher, Cox is embedded in the education community in Durham. Having campaigned for school board in both 2004 and 2008, and as an active member of the Durham Council of PTAs, Cox knows the issues. She supports extended hours for underachieving schools and is a strong advocate for the arts. To cut spending next year, she suggests addressing the salaries of top administrators, revamping historic school buildings and lowering energy use across the district.
In her unsuccessful bid for a board seat in 2008, Cox secured 29 percent of the primary vote. We believe she has the widespread support—and absolutely the know-how—to be an exceptional leader.
Baker, a real estate agent and former business owner is the mother of a child with special needs and has worked with the PTA and Exceptional Children's PTAs. We applaud Baker's involvement, but she lacks the depth of Cox's experience.
We endorse Stephen A. Martin, although we're also impressed with Natalie Beyer. We think that Martin's institutional memory and business experience are valuable to hold onto as the search for a new superintendent continues and budgets are strained.
Martin, a former executive director of the Carolina Theatre, is completing his second four-year term and is the most experienced member of the board. His work as chairman of the Administrative Services Committee and his financial acumen are invaluable to the budget process.
Beyer has served as a parent representative on the district's Site-Based Decision Making Team. She also has flown the flag for the district, appearing in informational videos praising the diverse offerings. It's clear she has a deep concern and passion for the schools and is well versed in educational policy, both nationally and locally, and she's already shown commitment as a parent volunteer.
Shea Neville, a former substitute teacher and baseball coach who works for Duke Hospital, is also vying for the seat. While we commend him for running, he doesn't have the same depth of knowledge and experience as Beyer or Martin.
Balancing the books while maintaining, and even raising, the quality of classroom education is the most vital issue in this race, and we feel Martin best meets that charge. But that might not be enough next time. We hope Beyer runs again and that her campaign puts Martin on notice that other qualified candidates stand ready to serve should his commitment waver.