Change Address

VOTE411 Voter Guide

New Hanover County Board of Commissioners {_getChooseLabel(this.selections.length)}

The 5-member Board sets the policy for the county, determining the strategic vision for the county, appoints a county manager, attorney and others to serve the county, adopts ordinances, including zoning, and establishes an annual budget, which includes setting the tax rate and calling bond referendums. Commissioners are elected at-large in even-numbered years; all serve staggered 4-year terms.

Click a candidate icon to find more information about the candidate. To compare two candidates, click the "compare" button. To start over, click a candidate icon.

  • Candidate picture

    Jonathan Barfield, Jr.
    (Dem)

  • Candidate picture

    Leslie Cohen
    (Dem)

  • Candidate picture

    Deb Hays
    (Rep)

  • Candidate picture

    Kyle Horton
    (Dem)

  • Candidate picture

    Bill Rivenbark
    (Rep)

  • Candidate picture

    Skip Watkins
    (Rep)

Biographical Information

What is the most important issue the County Commission will have to address in the next two years? (YouTube video link or 700 characters max if text)

What is the most effective role the county commission can play in improving the local schools? What policies or funding will you suggest when elected?

What policies will you propose to improve the economy of your county?

What policies would you propose to improve the quantity and quality of social services in your county?

Age (optional) 54
Contact Phone (910) 233-8780
Twitter @jbforcommish
YouTube video
Position/philosophy statement Serving the needs of others is my motto. John Maxwell says it best "Everything rises and falls on leadership"
Housing affordability. As I read article after article about the lack of affordable workforce housing across the country and the effects that shortage has on economic development and attracting millennial's to our community. We must find ways to collaborate with the development community and other community partners to find ways to reduce the cost of construction of new homes, whether it be offering financial or other incentives, reducing the cost of fees, providing certain infrastructure to the development etc. There are some communities across the country that have banned all single family zoning in favor off more density. To attract a quality workforce the cost of housing must fit.
About a third of the county's budget is invested in public education. In the 2020 budget $116.2 million is dedicated to funding education from Pre-k to 12th grade. This amount includes debt service for all buildings and new construction operations cost, funding the teachers additional salary supplement and funding an additional 600 plus positions beyond the state mandate to make sure our schools are equipped with enough staff to help facilitate a quality education. We help fund the Wilmington Early College in conjunction with CFCC and the new Sea-Tech Vocational and Technical High School which provides detailed training to high school students who may want to pursue technical or trades path and graduate with certificates that will open the door to job opportunities upon graduation from high school. We work very well with our local school board with their funding request. Since I was elected in 2008 we've increased our allocation per student from $2200 to $2800. This is a significant increase in funding and demonstrates our commitment to public education. We attend a legislative luncheon with the school board every year where they layout many of their needs for the upcoming year. We are now starting to talk about another bond as the need for more schools is quite evident based on our growing population.
We have done a lot to encourage job growth and development in the county since I was elected in 2008. Everything from having an incentive policy that mirrors the City of Wilmington's so that we are speaking the same language, to contracting with Wilmington Business development to assist in the recruitment of industry to our area, to Wilmington Downtown Inc to help grow the business and jobs base downtown. We heavily invested in water and sewer infrastructure along the 421 corridor in hopes of spurring more economic development in that area by having those utilities already in place. Our local airport continues to pursue and add more direct flights to cities that are important to business travelers. The county owned airport is one of the key factors for many looking to relocate their business to this region. Several years ago we updated our special use permit process for I-1 and I-2 zoning all in an attempt to atrract the right kind of industry to the region.
In the past year we combined both the Department of Social Services and Public Health's boards into a Consolidated health and Human Services Board and Agency and built a new $21 million dollar building to house both in the hopes of providing synergy between the two agencies and delivering a better quality of care and service to our citizens. Our hope is to reduce the overlap that many experience as they may need services from both agencies. I chaired the Department of social Services Board prior to the joining of the two agencies for the past 4 years and our focus was always on how to deliver high quality of service to our citizens and being the safety net for our community. We continue to provide ongoing customer service training among other training to equip our staff with the tools needed to provide exceptional service.
Age (optional) 54
Position/philosophy statement I am tired of leaders who either don’t know, or don’t care that their decisions actually affect the lives of real people so I am stepping up to run.
The proposed sale of our hospital is at the top of everyone’s list of concerns in New Hanover County and I know whatever comes out of the proposals will affect the lives of our citizens far into the future. I do not support selling the hospital. All data indicates that the trend toward consolidation of healthcare facilities leads to higher costs for patients and decreased quality of care. I am very uncomfortable with the way the process has played out and with the lack of transparency. I attended public input sessions and am disturbed with the way that citizens and their concerns were summarily dismissed. The hospital is financially strong. We should keep our hospital for us, by us.
Providing a strong education to citizens is the most important job our government does. While the County Commission is limited in this role, the commission does have the power to fund specific items. I will work to improve pay and pay equity for bus drivers and bus monitors, folks who play a critical role in our children’s lives. These dedicated employees know and love the children and families that they serve, but they are struggling. We can do better. I will work to expand the number of pre-K slots available, improve opportunities beyond 4-year colleges for our students, increase the number of school nurses and social workers, and grow our excellent CFCC system.
Growth and development are the primary responsibilities of the commission. I am passionate about finding ways to meet our inevitable growth with innovative solutions to create a more inviting New Hanover County that is walkable and bikeable, with neighborhoods that are safe, beautiful, and surrounded by green spaces. We need to ensure that our small businesses have a place to thrive and where people can afford to live so that they don’t have to commute from surrounding counties. We need a robust public transportation system for a safe and sustainable future, but also so that people can choose to live here without owning a car. This is a difficult balance but we are up to the challenge.
The two biggest challenges that we face in New Hanover in terms of social services is the lack of sufficient affordable housing and the shortage of social services case workers. New Hanover County has continuous vacancies open for human services caseworkers and social workers. I will work with developers to create realistic incentives for more affordable housing for both rent and sale. I want to look at successes in other communities thinking outside the box like tiny houses, accessory dwelling units, and repurposed structures. I will seek partnerships with businesses and nonprofits like the current partnership between the county, CFPU, and Habitat for Humanity to find creative solutions.
Age (optional) 61
Contact Phone (910) 232-0505
email address DebHaysForNHC@gmail.som
Twitter @DebHHays
Position/philosophy statement • Passionate Public Servant • Proven Leadership and Dedication • Positive, Knowledgeable, Experienced • Deb Hays Listening to YOU!
INFRASTRUCTURE – congestion, stormwater, parks, water/sewer, health care, Schools. HOUSING AFFORDABILITY for our Workforce – this can be greatly resolved with JOBS. JOBS/Careers – this starts with welcoming strong mid-sized and incubator companies to our area to grow (as evidenced by Tek Mountain, nCino, etc..). We need to be focused on the type of companies we want, can attract, and can grow with our community. The basis of providing the workforce will be EDUCATION. EDUCATION – technology helps provide alternatives to how we educate. A College Degree isn’t for every high school graduate. Technical careers are in high demand. Keep students in school, reduce the dropout rate.
Strong proponent for all our Education Staff; have been heavily involved in all levels of our public schools from K to 12. We have an incredible college and community college that provides us with excellent Teachers but we lose them due to low pay. We need to incentivize our Educators to continue their own education by bringing back and enhancing teacher pay for advanced degrees and specialization certification. We need to insure our Educators have the best tools available for teaching and have a healthy environment in which to accelerate the educational process. we need to embrace technology at all levels but not let it take the place of learning through socialization Teachers need to be able to build excitement for learning; which will grow continued excitement from our students leading to a higher graduation rate. Provide alternative learning styles starting as early as possible to reach and keep all students engaged. The promotion of technical education as an alternative to the college career path, for those students that aren't interested or ready for college, providing good jobs and career paths upon graduation...and much needed in the current workforce.
FOCUSED APPROACH - a united marketing and economic development effort including all our Tourism Authorities, Economic Development Entities, Chambers, Associations, and the Airport Authority to adopt and present a comprehensive and common marketing approach for our area. This would deliver a collaborative and consistent theme about our quality of life, the enjoyment lifestyle, our history, arts, festivals, film, food, theater, beaches, riverfront, music, sports, education, real estate, etc... and showcase an impactful reoccurring message for all to use whether it be for recruiting companies, jobs, tourists, students, etc... FOCUSED EFFORT - research and realize what type of companies and jobs we need and want then target our efforts accordingly. For example, our area is not competitive with larger metropolitan areas and as such we cannot attract those "big" companies and employers. So, go after the small to mid-range companies (that others are not focused on) that have proven to thrive in our county - nCino, Tek Mountain, Live Oak bank to name a few - that can grow and spawn tech startups to provide a continual incubator. A supportive Education plan must continue to provide the skills needed for the industries targeted - a collaborative effort between New Hanover County Schools, Cape Fear Community College, and UNC-Wilmington. All the while, continue to support and enhance those companies that have made our county their home.
This is a complex and complicated issue that is tied to both state and federal funding, and hence their rules and regulations. However, what we can work on is what we have locally, funded with city and county dollars as well as private investment. We have a wealth of volunteers and non-profits that are amazing in their efforts to assist our under-served. Having served as a Commissioner on the Wilmington Housing Authority for over 12 years and currently serving on the WARM Board of Directors, I have seen first hand the issues with social services, housing, aging in place, homelessness. Continued efforts must be made for public - private collaboration in housing for the aged, homeless, veterans, and lower income citizens. Focus on adult education for our illiterate and English as a Second Language population. One of the biggest underlying themes for dependence on social services is substance abuse. Joint efforts between the health care community, law enforcement and first responders, courts, and substance abuse clinics must provide collaboration for continued analysis and strategy to address the chronically addicted (Quick Response Team - QRT, for example...on a two year state funding allocation and have within the first year assisted 202 individuals and families). Jail is not always the best option; placement in a mandatory treatment program has proven positive results in other states. We are all citizens of our county...we must care for all!
Age (optional) 40
Contact Phone (910) 250-8099
email address Info@electkylehorton.com
Position/philosophy statement We need decision-making that is transparent and available to the public—no more backroom deals, surprise votes, or ignoring the will of the voters.
The most important issue is the lack of accountability, transparency, and adherence to principles of good governance. One example was the decision to open up NHRMC to a sale despite the will of the voters and even many doctors. Another was the recent surprise vote to defund Wave transit. And now with the cancellation of the Agenda Review sessions, the public’s access to the business of the county has been significantly reduced. As commissioner, I hope to restore the public trust through ethical and honest leadership. We need leaders with the courage and vision to do the right thing or else we will keep repeating the same mistakes of the past which violate democratic norms and principles.
New Hanover County is the 6th wealthiest county in the state, but is ranked 20th in funding public schools. We are fortunate that our teachers and staff are incredibly talented and dedicated. Our graduation rates and test scores are solid. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. We’re losing talented teachers because of low pay. Infrastructure in some of our schools is crumbling and many buildings are stretched beyond capacity while our students use out of date textbooks.

The county commission should address infrastructure needs and build more capacity in our schools to accommodate for growth. They need to make critical investments in processes for reporting and investigating abuse to keep our kids safe. We should invest in RO systems to ensure clean drinking water for all of our kids in their drinking fountains and by their athletic fields. We need to address the lack of teacher’s aides and insufficient pay for both teachers and staff. Pay should reflect the value to our families and the dignity of work for staff like our bus drivers who are the 1st contact with our kids to ensure their safety through the school day.

Every year we turn 3 and 4 year olds away from critical early education due to inadequate funding. We must fully fund these programs to make sure our kindergartners are ready to learn. Families deserve the confidence of knowing our public schools are among the best in the state—our county commission needs to step up and fully fund public education.
Right now our economy is expected to grow in coming years, but that growth will likely favor lower wage jobs in the service, recreation, and tourism industries. To improve our economy, we must diversify and make every effort to attract higher wage jobs to expand our tax base. We must be more strategic to grow and develop in a smarter and more resilient way. This means respecting infrastructure limitations as well as our unique geology and geography. Because of our unique and fragile ecosystems, we should be focused on job creation in cleaner, more sustainable, and healthier industries like tech, healthcare, education, and film.

In order to attract these industries, we will need to make critical investments in our infrastructure which is already proving inadequate given ongoing issues like traffic and flooding. We will also need to invest in education to ensure we have a qualified workforce to meet the needs of these cleaner industries we hope to attract. The county commission must address the affordable housing crisis as this is hampering our economy—even our teachers and first responders struggle to afford to live where they serve. It is critical going forward that we fiercely protect our healthcare safety net, as costs often rise when larger healthcare monopolies are created by mergers or acquisitions. Given that these higher costs can have devastating consequences on our economy and small businesses in particular, know that I’ll fight to save our hospital.
There are several critical social services issues that amount to crises here, including the lack of affordable housing, the lack of public transportation options, and inadequacies in the healthcare safety net, especially for mental health and substance abuse care. On the affordable housing side, we should look at bond funding and incentives to promote the development of new units. The displacement after Florence exposed the tremendous inadequacies in housing in our area—to afford the new market-rate apartments downtown would require working roughly 90 hours a week for those making minimum wage. Housing support needs to be a primary focus going forward.

We must address the critical funding shortfall for Wave and safeguard public transit to protect lives and livelihoods. Folks should realize that access to transportation is the #1 factor in escaping a cycle of poverty. Saving Wave is a necessary step to save our economy.

A final crisis is that of opiate abuse in our community. To address the opiate crisis, we must fund post-overdose response teams, make Naloxone more available, and improve safety net services including both residential treatment and medication assisted treatment options. Voters should recognize that the outreach and indigent care investments by NHRMC may not be continued by an out-of-town acquirer. This may create new social services needs which will require future commissioners to proactively address gaps and disparities in care in order to save lives.
Age (optional) 66
Contact Phone (910) 547-7827
email address billrivenbark@gmail.com
Position/philosophy statement I feel we must become more proactive to adequately address the challenges facing our area both current & for the foreseeable future.
Affordable housing, growing a well-trained workforce, fully-funding a safe, high-performing school system, implementing a well-balanced land use plan and educated, informed decision making around our local hospital system are all key areas of concern that I feel the NHC Commission will be faced with in the next 2 years. Our area has experienced growth well beyond expectations & we must do better keeping pace with current growth as well as preparing for future growth. Planning, budgeting and executing improvement plans to address the issues above is a must if we are going to deliver high quality services for the tax dollars our citizens contribute.
Despite consistently increasing support by our current NHC Commission, our school system, like other areas of infrastructure, has not kept pace with the growth in the student population. Overcrowded classrooms, overburdened teachers and understaffed resources are symptoms of many years of lack of planning for what was predictable growth. We must repair, maintain, expand, update and build schools in order to provide a quality education to NHC students & recruit/retain the best teachers. This will require a bond issue and the solid support of NHC Commissioners. Continuing to support our collaborative programs with CFCC, UNCW, Seatech & local industry is a must if we are going to continue to develop a workforce that will attract quality, high-paying jobs to our area. Additionally, proactively seeking partnerships between the private sector & our public schools not only ensures our students are being trained appropriately for employers that provide the jobs in the area, it also enhances the public-school experience both system-wide and for the individual student. Not every child is college-bound & not every family can afford to send their student to a traditional college or university. Therefore, by working with employers in the community to implement enhanced skills training, we really build value for EVERY CHILD not just those that are college-bound. We can never, ever have too many champions, advocates and partners for our schools, nor mentors for our students.
Workforce development, public school/private sector partnerships, a fiercely aggressive school improvement plan, improving our infrastructure to meet the demand & a well-balanced land use plan are all areas that I would support. Great jobs are the foundation for a great economy. This place we call home affords us a highly desirable quality of life with our historic riverfront, beautiful beaches & mild climate. This paired with well-paying, stable jobs & a relatively low tax rate makes our area very attractive for both current & future residents. The overwhelming influx of new residents & NHCS seeking private sector partnerships in exchange for workforce development so employers can hire & retain quality employees for their organizations. We must bring our schools up to date, expand/build schools to accommodate our growing student population & protect our children from both internal & external threats. Partnerships with our business community are invaluable in helping us reach these goals. Strains on our infrastructure have created longer commutes & sewer failures that threaten our local environmental resources. Future development needs to be thoughtful & calculated to keep from added further strain on our infrastructure. A well-designed land use plan that is executed rather than expressed is key.
The recent consolidation of the NHC Health Department & the NHC Social Services into one location should improve the quality of services to our citizens that seek services from these two organizations. Affordable housing is a real challenge in our area especially since recent hurricanes damaged many of the multi-family housing areas in our community. Incorporating truly affordable housing initiatives into the land-use plan would bring great benefit to our elderly, low-income and service industry workforce. The lack of access to affordable healthcare, or any healthcare for our uninsured/under-insured population, continues to plague our citizens. As a NHC commissioner, I will work to encourage partnerships between our teaching facilities, private practitioners, our local hospital system & county social services to help improve access to care for those currently going untreated. We rank among the highest areas in the country for opioid abuse. We cannot be a healthy community & let this statistic go unresolved. We must continue to support & fund current initiatives to fight this crisis while always exploring every opportunity to improve upon our programs & activities. Our seniors long for companionship while we have children that need mentors. Our students need training & our employers need employees. We have high-quality educational institutions in our public schools, Cape Fear Community College & UNC Wilmington yet missed opportunities to expand programs that solve problems.
Age (optional) 61
Position/philosophy statement I believe in Common Sense governance. I will support a fiscally efficient budget while still properly funding County initiatives.
Currently the future of NHRMC is forefront in County issues. As the County's largest employer and asset, intense scrutiny and wisdom must be applied. I am very well versed in many of the issues surrounding the Hospital. I continue to gather information. Perhaps the main issue facing the County, however, is Growth and the associated issues such as traffic, storm water, and schools. The northern part of NHCo is relatively undeveloped. As water and sewer are expanded, I see that area growing immensely.
The County has supplemented teacher pay for a long time. I will continue to support those funds. Every year that I was on the Commission I supported the per pupil supplement and subsequent increases.

Capital expenditures for brick and mortar expenditures will be a growing need and request. As the funding source for the school system it is incumbent upon the Commission to dig deep and evaluate true needs vs wants.

While a Commissioner i met regularly with members of the School Board to discuss various topis relating to our K-12.
A vital economy is a function of many contributing factors. Quality of life is of great importance. Obviously our natural setting is spectacular. But our support of beach renourishment will continue to augment our coast. In conjunction with the City, green spaces and bike trails provide outlets for our dynamic demographics.

We must provide an educated and flexible workforce. I have always felt that some aspect of Vocational Education should be included in our K-12. Not necessarily as the final step in education but to give students additional experiences. CFCC is a great model. The new lineman program, our dental and nursing programs are leaders in the State. Community colleges have the latitude to create programs to meet the needs of local and regional employers. UNCW rounds out education in SE NC..

While I was on the Commission, we were instrumental in bringing funding to CFPUA to expand water and sewer to the 421 Industrial Corridor. NHCo's comprehensive plan, passed during my first term. This Plan NHC is vital in fostering economic development.

While tweeks might be needed the Plan NHC, passed in my term, is a guiding tool for economic growth.

Recruiting initiatives like the Wells Fargo Tournament and supporting the Chamber of Commerce and Wilmington Business Development will aid economic growth. A commission should stand ready to work with opportunities as they arise.
While a Commissioner I voted to consolidate the Health Department and Social Services office space. Both departments share most of their clients. This led to a consolidated board for both departments. This physical relocation and consolidation not only allows for growth of services but has made it more convenient to our clients. That is something I have already done.

An effective county commission must be adaptive to changing demands, laws and regulations without losing sight of Social Services as an advocate for the vulnerable people in our community and our concern for the plight of the individual client. I have a passion for those less able to care for themselves, children and seniors.