Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Election 2022: LeAnn Pierce campaigns for NHC commissioners seat

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Republican LeAnn Pierce is running for one of two seats available on the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners this coming election. She will be up against incumbent Rob Zapple (D), as well as candidates Tom Toby (R) and Travis Robinson (D).

Port City Daily has sent a questionnaire to every candidate appearing on ballots in the tri-county region, ahead of the Nov. 8, 2022, election.

PCD asked candidates to address issues pertinent to the county, from affordable housing to school safety, taxes to population growth.

Pierce’s stances on issues are discussed below. All answers are included in full; the candidate’s opinions and statements are not a reflection of Port City Daily. Responses are edited only for grammar, spelling and clarity.

The paywall is dropped on candidate questionnaires to help voters make informed decisions ahead of Election Day.

To prepare, here are a few dates for readers to keep in mind:

  • Absentee ballots will be available Sept. 9 and have a Nov. 1 deadline.
  • Registration to vote will open until Oct. 14; afterward, according to the state board of elections, same-day registration only will be available during one-stop early voting. 
  • Early voting begins Oct. 20 and remains open through Nov. 5 (3:30 p.m.).
  • Election Day polls open Nov. 8, 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Locations to vote early in New Hanover County include CFCC Health Sciences and Learning Center (415 2nd. St.), Carolina Beach Municipal Building (1121 Lake Park Blvd.), CFCC North Campus (4500 Blue Clay Rd.), Northeast Library/Board of Elections (1241-A Military Cutoff Rd.), and the Senior Center (2222 S. College Rd.).

Once early voting closes, voters will need to go to the location listed on their voter registration card.

To see a sample ballot for the upcoming election, fill in voter registration info here.

Port City Daily (PCD) Name three top priorities facing the county currently and how you propose to address them.
LeAnn Pierce (LP): Priority 1: Smart Growth — Finding the balance between our continued accelerating growth and the preservation of our coastal resources and natural beauty.

This is actually two priorities rolled into one. I believe in the property rights of our citizens and the investments they have made for their future. With that said, commissioners must carefully evaluate projects that require rezoning and increased density. We must have the infrastructure to support these projects. 

Smart growth is when we can provide housing balanced with open space and still preserve the beauty of our county. We cannot lose sight of what made this county an elite place to live in the first place. We are a beautiful coastal county and as we continue to grow, we must preserve the marshes, riversides and beaches that are so important to our identity. Our county’s path to success will require achieving both of these goals. 

Priority 2: Issues surrounding our schools: school safety, overcrowding, education and healthy communications.

The safety and education of our children should be of top priority to the school board and county commissioners. Although the school board votes on many of these decisions, NHC tax dollars are a funding source for our schools. Now that Port City United is in place, commissioners must monitor and evaluate its effectiveness. 

With our continued growth, we must have discussions concerning the influx of new students and where to build new schools. Healthy communications is the only way to success and that has been lacking. County commissioners, school board, teachers and parents must work together to address issues that impact our children’s safety and education.

Priority 3: Affordable Housing  — It will be impossible for New Hanover County to grow and maintain a top-tier quality of life if our workforce cannot afford to live here.  It is the supply-and-demand issue that has caused the increase in rents. Affordable housing has many layers. 

In regards to tax credit housing, NHC has approved and incentivized, in some cases, a few projects. I believe we need more diverse housing options for our citizens. This is where commissioners must wisely review each proposed project to evaluate its impact on the community. 

We must attract companies to our county who offer higher wages to our citizens. We need to get the rental prices where they need to be for our teachers, law enforcement officers, healthcare workers and everyone else to be able to live here without being cost burdened.

PCD: What is the current board of commissioners getting right? Wrong?
LP: During my time as mayor, I worked with and got to know our current board of commissioners and believe they are dedicated to improving the lives of our citizens. The issue is people may have different visions of what that looks like. I agree with the investments made in addressing mental health and opioid addiction in our county. 

I do not agree with the tax hike and expanding government after last year’s property reevaluation, which burdened citizens who were recovering from two years of pandemic hardship. 

I also believe decisions related to the west bank should have happened in more timely manner to exclude the possibility of another county having the ability to control land in New Hanover County.

PCD: Are there any county departments you consider underfunded or overlooked that would receive more attention if you were elected? Explain.
LP: That answer can only come after discussions with our county manager and department heads. I will be dedicated to being a good steward of our tax dollars and use a business minded approach in discussions during budget season. 

PCD: Tell us how you would address areas below that remain of high interest to constituents:
LP: Affordable/workforce housing: As said before, I don’t believe we can regulate our way out of this crisis with more rules and costs for the developers. If we can make it less expensive to build, we can make it less expensive to rent. We must encourage more diverse housing options. Moreover, I don’t believe that government itself is the silver bullet to solve the problem. Let’s make sure that we have advocacy groups and nonprofits, who know this landscape better than we do, at the forefront of the response

Population growth: Again, I think one of the most consequential issues for the county in the long-term will be our success at balancing future growth with our natural beauty and ability to preserve it. Let’s create incentive programs for projects that go above and beyond at preserving coastal areas and green space, let’s keep dedicating resources to programs and activities that allow our children and residents to experience our beautiful corner of the southeast. As we grow, if we can keep our natural beauty and identity as a coastal haven, this county will be successful. 

Taxes — We cannot tax our way out of any crisis, so I will vow fully to make every effort to minimize taxes to our citizens. The burden shouldn’t be on you to drag government out of past mistakes and missteps. I am committed to conservative spending and keeping our citizens hard earned money with their families.  

School funding and safety — The safety of our children is a top priority. Students were given a survey and they have told us what they need to feel safe. We should listen! They asked for more youth programs so they could remain engaged in the summers and after school. They need more trustworthy adults and counselors in school environments, school busses that arrive on time and clean, safe bathroom facilities. We must find avenues for them to express themselves and feel a part of something bigger without that being gangs. Let’s put our kids first and listen to them for the answers. 

PCD: Conversations are evolving in regards to the development of the western banks of the Cape Fear River. Do you support conservation and/or small or large mixed-use development in this area of Wilmington? Explain. 
LP: I think the right answer is somewhere in the middle. We have to recognize that property owners have the right to take action and the riverbanks won’t always stay in their current state. At the same time, I do not believe that 240-foot skyscrapers are what the people of our city want to see across the river from downtown Wilmington.

I recently visited a city with a riverfront very similar to ours who had industrial warehouses across the river. I don’t think that is the answer either and it’s certainly not very eye pleasing. We have the chance, with this conversation, to set us on a course for a modernized riverfront that will balance development with preservation. I look forward to finding a middle ground that maximizes both beauty and function on the other side of the river. 

PCD: How would you grade the county, A-F, in balancing green space with development? Do you have ideas on improving?
LP: I’ll give them a C+. The county commissioners have not established a position on riverfront development across from downtown after more than a year of notice that developers intend to build on Point Peter and Eagles Island. We need to move on this and set a more deliberate course that finds compromise between preservation and growth.

As for green space around the county, I’d look at incentivizing projects that preserve trees and marshes. I want to find innovative ways to add parks and open spaces for our residents to enjoy with their families.  

PCD: The Cape Fear Memorial Bridge is nearing its end-of-life span without a firm plan in place to build anew. What would you like to see happen and how do you propose its funding, as it’s not listed a priority on NCDOT’s 10-year STIP? Do you support a toll?
LP: First of all, it should be a priority on NCDOT’s 10-year STIP. This is a conversation that must be had between New Hanover County and Brunswick County, local and state elected officials. One of my strengths is managing negotiations and bringing different stakeholders together to find common ground. 

We have invested in deepening our port to allow more goods to move through this area so it only makes sense to prioritize the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge so we can continue to transport these goods. I do not support a toll bridge and will fight to find other funding sources.

PCD: Are there other top-of-mind infrastructure needs you would address as commissioner?
LP: Water and sewer infrastructure needs to be spread across the northern, less-developed part of New Hanover County as do roadway improvements. We cannot allow mistakes of the past to repeat themselves in locations where urbanization is yet to come. We all know how two-lane roads can stay two lanes wide long after the pastures on the roadside turn into big box stores and apartments. I do not want to see another infrastructure crunch happen in our county like the kind seen currently on Gordon Road. 

PCD: Do you support public-private partnerships, most recently Project Grace and the soon-to-open New Hanover County Government Center? Do you think it’s an appropriate use of taxpayer money? Explain.
LP: I do believe public-private partnerships can be effective. I was not privy to the conversations and negotiations surrounding Project Grace, but I certainly believe that a state-of-the-art museum and library, as well as the full on rejuvenation of that block of downtown, will benefit our county.

That said, I have a lot of questions in regards to the deal structure. I do not believe government is skilled to take on and manage such large scale projects. These are examples of where public-private partnerships can work with scrutinized structuring to best conserve tax payers dollars.

PCD: There have been concerns with a rise in homelessness in the area. Commissioners voted down an ordinance in April that would have made it illegal for unsheltered populations to sleep on county property. Do you support that decision? How would you propose the county step in to help some of the most vulnerable populations?
LP: From a public safety perspective, we must give law enforcement the tools they need to prevent open drug use and violence in public spaces around the county. As far as our duty, we need to help those of us who have lost everything and won’t be able to improve their status on their own.

To that end, I believe community organizations and nonprofits have a more expert perspective than the government and we need to engage them for solutions instead of growing government programs. If we do not address this issue, it will grow. 

[Ed. note: Since this questionnaire was sent, the county has established a joint partnership with the city to start a pilot program to address homelessness.]

PCD: Where can the county improve to provide more equitable opportunities and outreach to historically marginalized communities? 
LP: After school programs are key. If we can provide a robust set of activities, sports clubs, art programs and more for our children to enjoy after school, they will build strong relationships with trusted adults and stay more engaged in their educations. By maximizing efficiency and progress in every problem our region faces — infrastructure, healthcare, water quality, housing costs, etc. — we can create a more equal playing field and give everyone in this county an opportunity to succeed.

PCD: Is the county doing enough to hold Chemours accountable for PFAS pollution in the Cape Fear? Explain.
LP: We need to hold feet to the fire. Chemours is trying to avoid responsibility and that is not fair to our citizens who deserve the fundamental right to clean drinking water. This right should not be endangered by big company profits. I applaud the efforts of our state elected officials pushing to address this issue. We must continue to fight against pollutants in our water and hold those violators accountable.  

PCD: Citizens have expressed concerns regarding trust with the current board; what will you do to (re)gain it?
LP: Trust is earned not given. I have a proven track record of transparent leadership and open lines of communications with our citizens. I will work to build consensus across party lines with our municipalities, the school board and our citizens. 

I pledge to lead by showing respect to all citizens and my fellow commissioners. I am asking for your vote on November 8 to make this a reality.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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