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.
Harry Knight, 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’m a three-decade Nuclear Industry career professional. About half of that time was spent with the DOE/DOD under contract with GE & Lockheed Martin. The other was spent here in Wilmington at the GE Nuclear Fuel facility where I am the former Environmental Health and Safety Manager as well as being an international project director. I’m originally from a small WV family cattle farm that worked my way through WVU’s engineering school and went on from there in the nuclear industry. I retired early and have spent the last four or so years co-founding and being the chairman of a fiscal responsible Political Action Committee so while this is my first time running for public office I am not new to politics
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.
The real elephant in the room is the fact that our relationship with the NHRMC is going to change. The current Board of Commissioners will be receiving a recommendation from the PAG and voting on the resolution by late this summer. Regardless of what that change actual becomes we need to take this opportunity to improve things
- One of the greatest faults of how we got here today with the hospital is a severe lack of communication and transparency and that needs to be permanently corrected
- The lack of transparency and the surprise at the beginning of this hospital situation has damaged the trust and credibility of the Board of Commissioners with the citizens and this process needs to help restore that
- The final answer can not be the establishment of an even larger health care “monopoly” whether that is public, private or some combination. To improve the quality and cost of care we must find a more transparent way for the hospital to conduct business with the residents of New Hanover County. We must be able to identify and eradicate waste, fraud, and abuse in the cost structure of NHRMC going forward
- The establishment of the PAG is a good step in the right direction but we must ensure that as much as possible all of the information being used by the PAG to make recommendations is public. After all the NHRMC is owned by the citizens of New Hanover County and the owners should be aware of the information needed to make decisions
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?
The reality of the development boom is we are expecting around a 50% increase in the population of New Hanover County over the next couple decades. That demand is going to continue to be there barring some unforeseen large scale economic downturn for the country or region. We must develop and execute plans to accommodate that increase. While most citizens probably don’t recognize it but about 80% of the funding for infrastructure comes from the state legislature, not the county. We must have county commissioners that have positive relationships with our state representatives in order to get the needed resources applied here in NHC instead of other places in the state. NHC actually has about $2 billion (yes, that’s a B) allocated to it over the next decade to improved infrastructure but we need people that can get that resource from on paper to actual work.
4. Speaking of housing, how would you address the state of affordable housing in the region?
Affordable housing in NHC is a challenge and will continue to be a challenge for the foreseeable future. We are fortunate to live an area such as this but that same reason drives a very high demand for housing with a relatively low supply. We need creative ways to incentivize companies to build affordable housing such as public-private partnerships that will allow developers to build homes at a lower price point
5. Let’s talk about affordable 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?
As most citizens know we are blessed with a robust service industry including the film industry which needs to continue. We are also blessed with a good population of highly educated professionals (doctors, lawyers and etc.). What we lost during the economic downturn was good full-time middle-class blue- and white-collar jobs (think GE Nuclear, GE Aircraft and Corning). We need to use the Garner Report mention above and its identified issues along the Chamber of Commerce to entice small and medium-size businesses to return to the area. We have the space and building available, we need the companies
6. How would you steer the county in addressing environmental concerns?
First and foremost we must get an understanding of the actual impact of PFASs (GenX) in our water. It is a non-natural component of our water as well as being a “forever” chemical. We need responsible policies and actions to prevent further contamination and the eventual removal of the material. Going forward we need to ensure that our business partners are appropriately managing discharges to our air, water, and soil so we are not repeating the same thing again later with just a different name.
7. What other county initiatives would you like to see created, continued, or scaled back?
This questionnaire didn’t specifically ask but we also need to resolve our issues with public transportation. Given the expected growth and development over the next two decades a reliable, user-friendly, and cost-effective means of utilizing public transportation needs to be implemented. Our current WAVE system is just broken and needs to be replaced.
8. What else would you like voters to know?
As I stated in question #1 I have a rather unique background. I come from humble beginnings and have lived an interesting and rewarding life. I would like to use that knowledge and experience to ensure that others have the same kind of opportunity to live the American dream that I had.