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.
Joe Irrera, Republican 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 grew up in Jacksonville, NC. My father was in the Marine Corps and we moved to Jacksonville in 1964. After graduating from Jacksonville Sr. High I attended UNC-W, where I met my wife Sheila. We have been married over 36 years and have four adult children, three adorable grandchildren and two wonderful daughters-in–law. After graduating from UNCW, I spent 30 years in the Marine Corps, retiring as a Colonel in 2014. I have extensive experience in the private sector within the pharmaceutical industry. I have sales, operations, management and marketing experience with companies such as PPD, Novartis and Chiltern. I worked in the defense industry as a trainer, in curriculum and exercise development and as a consultant. Lastly, I taught several International Relations courses in a Masters degree program.
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.
I would prefer not to sell the hospital but I am open to all options. I will review the RFP/RFIs when they are returned starting in March. Once I have the information, I can analyze the data, review different courses of action and make a well-informed decision on what direction is best for the citizens of New Hanover County.
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?
Development is the lifeblood of economic prosperity. This, in turn, allows for execution of strategies and initiatives. I will work in collaboration with each of the stakeholders to mitigate the gap between development and infrastructure. We have work ahead but the public focus on each of these items have forced people to the table seeking resolutions.
4. Speaking of housing, how would you address the state of affordable housing in the region?
Balancing supply and demand sounds like a simple solution but there remain complexities. Fair market value also plays a vital role for building, selling and buying. Work with developers through possible incentives to provide inventory in this market.
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?
The UDO is part of the resolution along with a focus of effort by all the stakeholders. Business and Civic leaders know this is an issue and are working to rectify the imbalance. Continued refinement of the Comprehensive Plan to seek efficiencies as times change. The strategic visions that are established set the endstate. We need to keep these discussions moving forward. I return again to the belief that a strong economy will enable the funding and execution of proposed strategies and initiatives. This is best accomplished via collaboration between county and city officials, our economic development entities and stakeholders such as developers.
6. How would you steer the county in addressing environmental concerns?
With both the river and the ocean on our doorsteps we must be cognizant of this delicate and finite ecosystem. I am enrolled in the Camp Lejeune Water Registry due to negligence, as are some members of my family. I do not want to see this continue in New Hanover County. Those responsible must be held accountable. I am a lifelong surfer and spend a lot of time on the water with my family. The river and the ocean are one of the incentives for people moving to New Hanover County. Development should mature in concert with our environment so we do not end up as a sister to Myrtle Beach.
7. What other county initiatives would you like to see created, continued, or scaled back?
Public health and safety are a critical part of good governance. A safe community inspires economic prosperity which allows for the funding and execution of strategies and initiatives. We need to continue the work on making our streets safe and continuing the decline in crime. Part of this equation also involves engagement in the opiate epidemic and continuing to mitigate the devastation it causes. Ensuring first responders have adequate resources and proper funding.
8. What else would you like voters to know?
My wife is from Wilmington and we chose to raise our children in New Hanover County and now our children are raising their children here. I wanted to be part of the decision-making process to keep New Hanover County such an incredible place for my wife, children, their families and all citizens here. I would also like the voters to know the first lesson instilled in marines is that you lead by example. Secondly, you accomplish the mission. I live by both those tenets and intend to continue as a County Commissioner. Lastly, execution is the only strategy that the public sees. You have to cross the threshold from concept to execution to be successful.