If you know me at all, you’ll know that brevity isn’t an area I excel in. I don’t consider verbosity so much a weakness, but rather I posit that most of life’s important questions can’t be answered in an arbitrary amount of words. Thoughts are complex. People are complex. And when you combine thoughts, people and politics and have to additionally sway an opinion it becomes necessary to explain the background behind your thoughts on the topic. I won’t often be called short-winded, but that’s because I feel it necessary to for a reader or listener to understand the reason behind my decisions. If you ask me to give you my opinion- be prepared for the background that forms those opinions. Otherwise you aren’t likely to understand the context from which my opinion is derived.
This past week the other candidates for Stanly County Board of Commissioners and myself were asked to answer a series of questions from the local newspaper. The rule was fifty words or less. While that probably sounds like heaven to some people, I immediately found myself balking at the mere idea that you could express a sentient thought and back it up in fifty words as it pertains to politics. Then again, that’s why I think many news media outlets thrive on snippets – because they can be misconstrued. I don’t fault SNAP for this however. They don’t have unlimited space for candidates and they have a lot of candidates to provide space for this election cycle. Before I forget it later – I’d like to take a moment and thank Richie Starnes and SNAP for their inclusion of the Q&A to all of us candidates. It was provided at no charge for us all to have an equal voice.
Imagine my surprise when I opened today’s paper to read the published article and found that apparently I was the only candidate that actually answered in fifty words or less. Some others certainly tried to adhere to the spirit of the rule, but a few of them simply rambled on for paragraphs. Had I known it wouldn’t have been censored, I’d have answered in more in-depth (read as longer) answers. Most of the questions were crafted in a “describe the problem, then describe the solution” format. I literally spent three days working on that blasted Q&A to simplify complex thoughts down to bite-sized pieces.
When I read the article today, I was reminded that for 22 years I’ve not relied on traditional media to get my point across to thousands of people. Why should I start now? If the question is important, the answer must be equally so regardless of its length.
I’ll share the five questions, my initial answers in italics and my “actual” answers below them.
The Stanly County News and Press Candidate Q&A
What do you recognize as the county’s greatest challenge and how would you address that issue?
Retaining Stanly’s rural beauty and charm while becoming attractive to the technological world outside our doorstep is the challenge. We can work to make that happen, but we need people in qualified fields with experience to do so. I can’t answer any more definitively in fifty words or less…
The ACTUAL Answer:
*stretching arms and cracking my neck and enjoying an unhindered word count*
The greatest challenge with Stanly County is… no one knows it exists. Let’s be absolutely clear about it. In broad terms of the world at large, no one even knows we exist. I live in Albemarle and have been here eight years. To this day I have to explain to people that no, we are NOT on the east side of the state, yes I know the Albemarle sound is on the east side of the state, yes I’m sure we’re in the middle, and eventually I sigh audibly, give up and say “We’re thirty minutes east of Charlotte” to which they go “Ooohhhhhh, ok! THAT part of the state.
Unless some student somewhere is in the middle school studying for a test that requires them to know all 100 counties, chances are they’ve never heard of it Stanly and if they have, they’re going to misspell it entirely.
Stanly County doesn’t have one challenge ahead of it. It has many. There is absolutely no single issue that needs to be addressed. There are scores of them and they are further interdependent on one another for growth to happen. It’s going to be a juggling act worth of a circus performance to see it happen in the next decade, and it will require the right people to do it, and that challenge alone is going to be hard for this county unless some changes are made.
Technology: We don’t currently have the technological infrastructure necessary to lure companies here. It’s 2018. This entire county should be running on fiber. Our municipal infrastructure could be running on over-air-fiber and wireless solutions while we consolidate copper costs. To break that down, rather than paying for copper and fiber infrastructure everywhere independently, we pay for it in one or two locations and then beam it over the air to the others, saving money and increasing throughput, not to mention it would add the ability for independent failover in the event of emergency or disaster.
We need better water and sewer for industrial and high-end commercial businesses, but we’ve been making progress on that from what I can tell, so that’s good. We’re handling that one and I’m glad for it.
We need a reason for college-educated adults with master’s degrees to move INTO our county, rather than away from it. We won’t get that until we have the aforementioned technological infrastructure here to support them. Face it, the world isn’t going back to the good old days no matter how much we might want it to. The world is moving high-tech and we’re not ready to play in that ball park yet, so we’re not even invited to the game!
We have some of the most beautiful God-given countryside I’ve ever seen, and I’ve traveled all over the world. It’s amazing and I wouldn’t be anywhere else, but there ARE ways we can retain that and still make ourselves appealing to the next generation of business and consumers. How are we going to get there? If you’re seriously asking that question – then it’s time to sit down and talk about it together!
What more can commissioners do to make Stanly County more appealing for economic development?
We want business to come to Stanly. Businesses have people. People have families. Families need jobs and infrastructure to support them. If we want the businesses, we need to start at the bottom – with our schools, our infrastructure, and establish it all from the ground up. Sooner, rather than later.
The ACTUAL Answer:
This answer was one of the easiest ones. We need more businesses. I already said we need more infrastructure to support them so I won’t beat that dead horse anymore here, but it should be a given.
We’ve purchased land for this new industrial site and I’m sure that was a great idea, but I need to know more about it. What’s the land going to be used for? What’s the plan? Who are we attracting with this land upgrade? Who’s going to lease it from us? Please don’t tell me we’re going to simply develop this land, get it setup, and then wait for someone to come by and say “Hey, I’ll take it!” There has to be more of a plan than that, but I’ve personally not been privy to the conversations and plans for that land. If you know more than I do and have it in writing – by all means send it over! I’d love to read up on it and get up to speed.
Schools! Good, God where do I start? Based on every independent resource one can search for when looking at schools for their children, at the very BEST we rank less than 50% across the board. Our statewide performance has suffered year after year since at least 2010.
Based solely on Elementary schools, out of a total of 1,429 schools in this state, we are for the most part ranked between 600-1000. That puts us roughly in the bottom 40%. Our middle schools a little better, coming in between 123 to 454 of a total of 694 middle schools statewide, so that’s good at least. We’re rate at least at the bottom of the top quarter, so I’d call that a “C” if this were a test. My parents wouldn’t have settled for a C out of me in school so why do we let our schools rate “average?” Our high schools aren’t any better. Gray Stone of course ranks up there – number 32 in the state out of a total of 476. The rest of them rank between West Stanly (rank 114) to Albemarle High with a ranking of 420 out of 476 total schools.
Our children might live in a world today where they get participation trophies for playing, but the real world doesn’t give them the same thing when they go out and enter it. If we want to bring families here, we need to do better. If we want to attract new families to come here, we need to do amazingly better.
Most of Stanly County, from my experience, seems to thrive around heritage. You’re from here. Your parents were from here. Your grand-parents were from here. So we as citizens of this county might be proud of our accomplishments in terms of where we came from with regards to the educational system, but keep in mind we’re trying to attract NEW families. New families know how to use Google. They research a couple main things when seeking career locations: the housing market and the educational system. If we’re only to give their children a C-D level of education, what makes you think the college-graduate with MBA degrees are going to choose Stanly over Mecklenberg? One of their high school districts is #4 in the state, out of 476. Their elementary school has a #4 ranking as well out of 1,429 schools. Put that into perspective for a moment. That school not only ranks a 99 out of a 100 on a test, it ranks a 99.99 and has a shiny gold star as well. Where would you choose to send your children if you wanted to insure their future education?
We have to do better with schools. Yeah, I realize I’m running for commissioner, not School Board, but I’m speaking as a commissioner candidate in relation to the need to attract better business. I’ll leave the rankings as they pertain to educational performance to the school board to handle. But if we want larger companies to come here, to build offices and headquarters here, we need to have an educational system capable of supporting their families.
What do you recognize as the county’s top three assets and how can Stanly better promote them to the county’s advantage?
Pfeiffer University, Stanly Community College, and Morrow Mountain are three assets I believe bring a lot of attractiveness from outside our area. We are already doing great things with them, but we could spend some time examining how we could improve visibility and reach to bring more people to Stanly.
The ACTUAL Answer:
Personally, I think that was a lame question and the space could have been used for something that actually mattered. It’s a fluff question and the entire panel of constituents answered accordingly, myself included. It was all some variation on:
- Our people
- Our natural beauty
- Our colleges
- Morrow Mountain
- Adequate roads
- Our lakes and parks
In reality, I’m not willing to give that particular question any more answer than I already have. All the things the candidates mentioned in their responses were pretty decent answers and no one had any idea how to better promote them in fifty words or less. They newspaper could have used that space to ask something that mattered. Who came up with these questions?
What county commission decision or action within the last two election cycles caused you the most agitation and why?
The CHSA Board consolidation was 100% opposed by the community. Many, including myself, spoke at that meeting, laying out the reasons it was a bad idea. Four of the commissioners voted that in to give themselves more authority. That’s not the representation we need. However, if elected, I will support the CHSA in providing needed services
The ACTUAL Answer:
Oh boy.. I could go off on this one for days!
I wrote two separate articles on the the Stanly County CHSA mess that the Burr/Burleson team pulled last year. You can read them here if you’d like:
- Article 1: Stanly County Board of Commissioners Proposes Change – Why?
- Article 2: Stanly County Board of Commissioners August Meeting – Consolidation Discussion
Long Story Short – I think my opponent, Joseph Burleson, and a few of his cronies wanted more power than I think the board of commissioners is supposed to have. They got away with it. It’s done. If I am elected, my job will be to work within the framework of that new board to make positive change for Stanly County and not to abuse the authority the newly empowered board has chosen to give themselves.
And do I really need to go into the Sales Tax Referrendum? Burleson and his cronies tried to single-handedly gut over half the municipalities budgets in Stanly County and move that revenue into their control and their budget. He’s been quoted as saying in plain English “It’s OUR money.” It’s NOT his money. It’s the money the municipalities use to operate and in this case to even continue to exist. Had that gone through, entire swaths of Stanly County would have closed up shop.
Why are you the best candidate for county commissioner and what prompted you to run for office?
I’ve successfully owned and run businesses my adult life. I’ve had the pleasure to work across three countries, two continents, and I understand business, technology, a need for growth, and how to make those things possible. I contribute my success to honesty and integrity. I would appreciate your vote!
The ACTUAL Answer:
This was the easiest question I’ve been asked since the day I decided to run for office. I decided to run because I’m tired of seeing this county run in a manner that only continues to benefit a few. The sales tax referendum only benefited their agenda, not the county as a whole. The CHSA board consolidation only benefited my opponent’s agenda because it gives him more power.
I’m tired of seeing whatever Justin Burr wants to achieve being regurgitated through the board of commissioners in the form of Joseph Burleson. He’s plainly “Justin’s Guy” and that’s ok. He’s not ashamed of it and I don’t think he’d deny it. You can’t drive down a street without quite LITERALLY seeing their names side by side on everything. And it would be ok if it were just ONE of our commissioners, but everyone in this county knows Joseph has a majority all his own. Three of the board members are going to vote right alongside him almost every time. No single person on the board of commissioners should have that much power. I’d be OK with it if it continued to occur because he was making decisions that benefited us and it simply made sense for them to agree, but that’s not the case. They’d follow him off a cliff-edge…. and metaphorically speaking, they might already have.
Our republican party is fractured to the point of being a joke! We have no headquarters. We have zero finances. I raised more money today from ONE campaign contributor than the entire Stanly County Republican Party had in the bank all year. I’m pretty sure they doubled the bank account the other night at the convention when they passed around a hush-puppy basket to raise funds. Nope, I wouldn’t make that up… a hushpuppy basket. When all your financial contributions will fit in a hushpuppy basket, it’s time to order from a different menu! We need to replace Joseph Burleson, Justin Burr, and pretty much anyone affiliated with their way of doing things.
People in Stanly County have zero trust in Justin, Phil, or Joseph and every person I hear clamoring in my ear screams we need a new unified Republican party in Stanly County. Fine. If that’s the case, they have that opportunity, to quote someone at the convention, “On or before May 8th.”
I don’t have a local last name as my opposition pointed out the other night. I wasn’t born here. I’ll admit that freely enough. I chose to live here. I’d like to think that counts for a little extra if you want to put it on the scales and see how it weight against me. My wife chose to live here. We chose to raise kids here. My mother moved here to be closer to us. My brother moved here to be closer to us. Even one of my staff members moved here to be closer to us because of how amazing Stanly County is. Friends visiting from Atlanta Georgia visited us here, saw how much we loved it, and bought a house here less than three months later. My sister is considering moving here to be closer to us. This is a great place to be! I don’t consider it a negative that I didn’t start out here by accident of birth. I consider it a PLUS that I chose to be here because of the beauty and potential I see in this County and I wanted to move here to be part of it.
I’ve lived more high tech and I’ve lived more rural. I’ve run a business successfully. It’s not as enormous as some but it’s been done without ever borrowing a dollar to do it, and I’m proud of that.
My accomplishments in life thus far in life might not prove to anyone that I’d make the absolute best candidate for commissioner, but my opponent’s actions as commissioner certainly prove to me, and hopefully to others, that its a step in the right direction from what we have currently.
I hope I can count on your vote on May 8th. If you have any questions, you can reach the campaign at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Members of the media, please direct your inquiries to email@example.com
Very well said Tommy and you for sure have our vote.