NEW HANOVER COUNTY — The primary election on March 3 will narrow a crowded field of candidates running for the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners from six Democrats and nine Republicans to three from each party; winners in the primary will compete for three open seats in November.
Of three Board of Commissioners candidates with terms ending in 2020, only one — Jonathan Barfield — is running for reelection. Commissioners Woody White and Patricia Kusek have both opted not to seek additional terms.
All candidates in the 2020 primary were asked the same questions; candidates were not given word limits and were encouraged to broach any subject we didn’t ask about in the final two questions. Answers were edited only for typographical errors and for formatting.
Jonathan Barfield, Democratic candidate
1. Tell us a little about your background: how long have you lived in the area? What profession do you work in / come from?
I have been a resident of New Hanover County since the age of 1. My father is from Wilmington and my mom is from Columbus, Ohio where I was born. I am a product of the New Hanover County Schools having graduated from New Hanover High School in 1984. I have been a REALTOR® since 1997 and Broker\Owner of Barfield and Associates Realty since 2001. I served as president of the Wilmington Regional Association of REALTORS® since 2001.
2. Let’s tackle the elephant in the room first: Where do you stand on the potential sale of New Hanover Regional Medical Center. Weigh in on what’s already happened if you like, but please tell us where you would like to see NHRMC go in the future.
While I understand the need to look at and examine all options to make NHRMC financially viable for years to come, based on what I know having served on the NHRMC Board of Trustees for 4 years and having been on the Board of County Commissioners for over 11 years, I do not think a sale is the best option and is one that I do not support. I envision that some type of collaboration of affiliation with another hospital system may provide the flexibility needed while maintaining local control.
3. The county is completing its UDO, which will shape development on thousands of acres across the county. How will you balance a potential development boom with concerns about traffic, school overcrowding, and stormwater?
I am pleased to say that the county is in the process of establishing a stormwater utility for the unincorporated parts of New Hanover County that will manage all of the ditches and streams to ensure adequate flow and reducing flooding events. We have received a $4 million dollar grant from the federal government to clean out ditches and streams that lead to Smith Creek to eliminate water backing up which should eliminate the flooding that occurred in the northern parts of the county during Hurricane Florence.
We are having conversations now with the school board about the need for another school bond to build additional schools to keep pace with our growth. As an 11-plus year member of the Wilmington MPO [Municipal Planning Organization] I have been strongly advocating for an additional crossing across the Cape Fear River to ease traffic congestion between Brunswick and New Hanover counties. I also voted on the bypass that is being built around Market and Military Cut Off and I’ve fought for increased bike and pedestrian lanes as alternative modes of transportation.
4. Speaking of housing, how would you address the state of affordable housing in the region?
I voted with others on my board to establish a joint County\City Affordable Housing Committee to study this serious issue and make recommendations to our respective boards. We have appointed a dedicated staff person to lead this charge. The county owns 15 acres in the Wrightsboro area that we are donating to Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity as our affordable housing development partner. We partnered with them last year and provided water and sewer infrastructure for their community off of Gordon Rd. Housing affordability I believe is at the top of the list in terms of critical issues that need to be addressed if we want to keep millennials in our community and attract new jobs to our county.
5. Let’s talk about economic development. Years ago, the Garner report noted that the region’s economic development groups were ‘Balkanized’ — with overlapping and uncoordinated missions and a lack of unified direction. What would your approach to economic development be?
In recent years we have witnessed a more cohesive effort between Wilmington Business Development, Wilmington Chamber of Commerce and Wilmington Downtown Inc creating greater synergy between the three and benefiting the region as a whole. The Choose Cape Fear campaign had us all speaking with one voice. I hope this continues.
6. How would you steer the county in addressing environmental concerns?
With the advent of GenX we took the lead in engaging the NC DEQ and convened several meetings with the Secretary of DEQ to address how to mitigate the effects of GenX in our water. We need to increase our partnership with them and UNCW to more frequently monitor our bodies of water, and as we focus on economic development recruit companies that will have the least impact on our environment.
7. What other county initiatives would you like to see created, continued, or scaled back?
As we take a deep look at Wave Transit I’d like to see the county make a more meaningful investment in our public transportation system to help it reduce its headways from every 60 minutes to every 20 minutes. By providing greater frequency the system will start to see an increase in choice riders.
8. What else would you like voters to know?
As the senior member on the board of commissioners, I have lots of institutional knowledge about the organization which means that re-electing me would be re-electing a seasoned veteran that would not need to be brought up to speed, but instead I can be a great resource for the two new commissioners that will be joining the board.