Wake's overcrowded school system is still very much the issue in the Wake commissioners election, with fights over chronic reassignment, year-round schools and busing inflaming the passions of parents across the district. In the aftermath of last summer's drought (and in advance of the next?), water management issues are yet another symptom of the deeper cause: The rapid growth in Wake County that, as of now, has no hope of paying for itself.
Enter Stan Norwalk. Co-founder of the citizens' group WakeUP Wake County, this retired technology and management consultant from Cary wants to take the sleepy board by storm with a serious agenda to manage growth and fund education. He proposes impact fees and an adequate public facilities ordinance that would tie the approval of new development to the infrastructure (roads, schools, etc.) that development will require. Norwalk believes the commissioners have never done right by the schools, whether Republicans or Democrats were in control (currently there's a 4-3 Republican majority). "The county is 100 percent responsible for the lack of funds for school construction," he said in his Indy questionnaire.
He has a record of advocating for alternatives to property tax—he lobbied the legislature hard to get the highly unpopular land transfer tax referendum option passed, showing he has no interest in ingratiating himself to the developers' lobby. But on other forms of spending, Norwalk is tight-fisted. He questions the necessity of a $30 million administrative headquarters and believes the county could save money by consolidating duplicate services.
He also advocates a regional transportation system that would include transit options like bus, rail and vanpools. Norwalk has clocked in 14 years of service on local boards, including planning, transportation and economic development. We're confident he would bring passionate commitment and considerable smarts to deal with the county's problems.
Incumbent Kenn Gardner made a mess of things by dancing around the truth when he said he'd "volunteered" his architectural services on a nonprofit swimming pool project he advocated in his role on the county board.
Gardner has defended his conduct, even as his fellow Republicans distanced themselves from him. But Gardner's been a conflicted figure on the board for many years. He makes noises about watershed protection and better growth management (he received the Sierra Club endorsement) but seems to oscillate between supporting environmental concerns and aligning himself with Wake's anti-tax crowd. This is the closest of all the commissioners' races, and its outcome has the potential to make a serious impact on the county's future.
Democrat Harold Webb, the incumbent, still has pop in his politics at age 83. One of the original Tuskegee Airmen, the famed black aviator corps from World War II, Webb looks like he could slip into the pilot's seat at any moment and fly directly to the target, which for his eastern Wake district is more schools to keep up with the growth.
On the current commission, Webb is the leader among the three Democrats who backed moderate Republican Joe Bryan for the chair's post; together, they outvoted the other three Republicans who wanted to put a conservative, either Kenn Gardner or Paul Coble, in charge.
Under Bryan's leadership, the commissioners supplied less funding to the school system than it wanted, but more than it would have received if the conservatives had their way. Webb, a retired state personnel manager who's been a fixture in Raleigh's black political leadership for as long as anybody can remember, is content for the moment to be Bryan's soft-spoken wingman. We strongly endorse him.
Webb's Republican opponent is Venita Peyton, a conservative community leader, including chair of the East Raleigh Citizens Advisory Council, whose voice is not, however, what's needed on the county commission today. Peyton wants stronger policing in the district and less school busing, which in Wake would mean more racially unbalanced student populations. Peyton is a real estate agent who opposes such "growth paying for growth" measures as the 0.4 percent transfer tax on property sales, which the General Assembly authorized but no county, so far, has adopted.
We endorse the Democratic incumbent in this North Raleigh district as well. At 72, Betty Lou Ward is the longest-serving commissioner with 20 years of service to her credit. During that time, she has been among the school district's most reliable supporters, swallowing hard as she voted for the property tax increases that are, to date, the only method Wake has available to pay for schools. (The impact fees and Adequate Public Facilities ordinance that Stan Norwalk is pitching in his District 4 campaign would help.) She opposes the 0.4 percent transfer tax, however, and prefers asking voters for approval to increase sales taxes by 0.25 percent, a regressive solution. She considers herself a political moderate.
Larry F. Tilley, the Republican challenger, is a North Raleigh dentist who's allied with the Coble-Gardner wing of the party and calls the Bryan-led majority the "tax-and-spend group." His answer to the county's growth needs boils down to, don't pay for them. He, too, advocates less school busing, less focus on diversity in school populations, and more charter schools if the General Assembly will allow.
Editor's note: Voting for the district representatives in Wake is countywide. Candidates must reside in the district they seek to represent, but they are elected at-large, and every voter gets to choose in all three districts.
The four-member Wake County Soil & Water Conservation District board is tasked with finding the funds and incentives to protect farmland and open space from encroaching development in one of the state's most rapidly growing areas.
Fred W. Burt, a Fuquay-Varina farmer, gets our endorsement. A registered Republican, Burt wants more funding for the Community Conservation Assistance Program to assist in developed areas. According to his Indy questionnaire, he also believes that the county "must address the issue of development if we are to improve soil, water and air quality. Open farmland and forestland provides the best and least expensive way to do this."
William Cole grew up on a farm in rural Indiana. He is now a senior business consultant with Blue Cross/ Blue Shield. While he advocates for environmental protection of soil and water resources, we feel Burt, who currently farms, is better in touch with the issues.
Robin M. Hammond and Marcia Lieber are also running; neither returned our questionnaire.
Jacqueline L. Brewer, another recent Easley appointee, brings to the bench 26 years of experience as an assistant district attorney—nine more years' experience than her opponent, John J. Miller III, has at practicing law. Miller is largely an unknown quantity in Wake County legal circles.
Brewer also has the distinction of being one of the few candidates, in their responses to the Indy's questionnaire, to offer concrete solutions to the overcrowding problem on the District 10 docket. We endorse Brewer.
During the primary, the Independent cited Mark A. Perry's reputation as an excellent attorney and his experience trying criminal cases in endorsing his bid for Shelly Desvousges' open district court seat. But since then, Perry has made a significant misstep. Although he remains professionally qualified for the position, Perry's September arrest for driving while intoxicated calls into question not only his judgment, but potentially the legitimacy of the court were he to be installed as judge.
The Indy endorses Anna Elena Worley. Though she has limited experience with criminal cases, she is a capable attorney and her extensive knowledge of family law would be vital in a court that handles a significant number of domestic disputes.
We strongly endorse incumbent Christine Walczyk, who was appointed to the District 10 bench in 2007 by Gov. Mike Easley and has since garnered a reputation for her fairness and ability to manage a judicial calendar in what is an extremely busy court system. Walczyk favors public financing for judicial election and has, based on her responses to the Indy's questionnaire, reasonable solutions to the very real problems plaguing Wake District Court. She also enjoys the support of the greater Wake legal community.
Challenger Walter B. Rand, a Raleigh attorney, has worked extensively with the Wake Public Defender's office, and while we applaud his work on behalf of indigent clients, questions linger about his past performance.