In the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners races, District 3 seems fertile ground for Republicans. Five robust GOP candidates will face off in the May 8 primary, contending for two spots on the November ballot.
Encompassing a swath of western Buncombe County that includes Enka/Candler, Leicester, Biltmore Forest and parts of south Asheville, District 3 is the most conservative of the three new districts created by the state Legislature last year. It's also the only one with no incumbents. Not surprisingly, many Republicans see it as their best chance to gain representation on the board, which currently consists of five Democrats.
Democrats, however, aren't ceding the territory: Three candidates with strong credentials are competing for their party’s two slots in the November contest.
Party affiliation aside, all eight candidates are focusing on the economy and jobs, each claiming to offer the right combination of skills and experience to turn things around.
Here's a look at who they are and what they’re saying.
CPA Chuck Archerd says he’d use his professional expertise to cut the county's roughly $300 million budget. The 15-year south Asheville resident co-founded the Archerd-Bell Investment Group, which owns and manages 18 office buildings across the Southeast. Before that, he lived in Florida, working in finance and account management for the St. Joseph's Health System and at Dun & Bradstreet.
That experience, he argues, makes him uniquely qualified. "I believe I'm the only candidate who's worked in a senior management position with two companies as big or bigger than Buncombe County," says Archerd. "I've got 33 years of business experience, and I want to work … with the companies that could relocate here."
The two biggest challenges facing the county, he maintains, are high taxes and stifling regulations. "Our leaders don't listen to us, and we need to make some changes. We do not have a revenue problem: We have an expense problem."
Joe Belcher moved here from West Virginia 32 years ago. The regional manager for Clayton Homes, which produces manufactured housing, Belcher says he first considered seeking public office during the rancorous debate over countywide zoning several years ago. A top priority for him is relaxing the ordinance.
Allowing manufactured homes in more residential areas, he argues, would help "the people of Buncombe County … afford to live in Buncombe County." Asked about a possible conflict of interest, Belcher says he plans to retire soon, adding, "I believe the people of Buncombe County can make their own decisions regarding their property and should be left to do so."
What the county most needs, he asserts, is "leadership and character," citing his religion and his 36 years of marriage. "I've been a Christian for 40 years. I'm not ashamed of it; I love my Lord," Belcher declares. "I'm for faith, family and freedom."
The only Buncombe County native in the Republican primary, David King spent two decades in local manufacturing — planning, purchasing and supervising. He's also run small retail and real estate businesses and is currently a self-employed farrier.
King says he’d bring a deep understanding of Buncombe County and fiscally conservative values to the office.
"Spending is going to have to be scrutinized in a way it hasn't been in the past," he maintains. "I feel strongly about protecting those who don't live in municipalities."
Under the current board, says King, "the needs of Buncombe County residents have taken a back seat to Asheville’s political desires." He wants to change that — and bring more transparency to county government.
"I'll get the facts on all the issues that come before the commission before making a decision,” says King, adding, “You'll have access to why I did something, or why I did not do something.”
Semiretired CPA Robert Knapp, who moved to south Asheville from Memphis in 2007, also zeroes in on the budget..
"I want expenditures reduced," he declares, rather than continuing the board’s recent practice of using reserve funds to balance the budget. Knapp says he’d target employee pay and benefits, starting with County Manager Wanda Greene.
"I'd fire her," he says, citing her $208,600 annual salary. From there, he maintains, it “goes on down: All the county employees just want more.” By cutting costs, Knapp asserts, the county could lower property taxes while balancing the budget.
"I want homeowners’ taxes reduced” in the 2014 reappraisal. “Their values have gone down, but county employees continue to get raises and get their pensions funded.”
Knapp also blasts the commissioners’ quarter-cent sales-tax increase, narrowly endorsed by voters last year, to benefit A-B Tech. "Every percent you take out of my pocket defies my freedom and my liberty, and I resent that," he proclaims.
After working for two Fortune 500 companies, Linda Southard launched her own business, Work & Well, which manages employee medical leaves. She ran the company for 18 years, sold it in 2009 and moved to Candler.
"I want to be a strong advocate for our existing private-sector small businesses," she explains. "I talk to them every day, and they tell me they’re struggling. We need to help them grow and prosper so they can begin to hire and we can get some jobs back in Buncombe County."
The best way to do that, argues Southard, is to cut taxes and regulations.
"I also want [small businesses] to know they're going to have the ear of a commissioner and a seat at the table. I want to lead the charge to make Buncombe County their ally and not their foe," she reports, adding, "I want to be a watchdog on the commission for the wasteful spending of your taxpayer dollars."
Since 2006, Randy Flack has been Rep. Heath Shuler's liaison with local governments and businesses.
"What I bring to the table is … five years of dealing with almost every aspect of government and people and their problems," he reports. "How to sit down and come up with a decision in which everybody might not get what they want, but that’s best for the community."
Formerly the executive director of the Heath Shuler Foundation, a nonprofit student-leadership program Shuler started during his NFL years, Flack says he largely shares his longtime boss’s political philosophy.
"I'm probably just a little more left of center than Heath is, but I believe the vast majority of people in … this district are tired of what goes on on the far right and the far left."
Flack’s top priority, he says, would be “attracting jobs … not just big companies, but small-business people too" while also "protecting the environment” rather than “throwing the baby out with the bathwater."
Terry Van Duyn
Retired Biltmore Forest resident Terry Van Duyn has served on the boards of many local nonprofits. Partnering with these groups, she believes, helps the county “do things more efficiently and leverage the great work that nonprofits do.”
The former systems analyst says she’d take "a businesslike approach” to economic and budget issues that’s “fairly rare in the political arena: ‘What's the problem, what resources do we have to resolve it, and what are the steps we need to solve it?'" she explains.
Van Duyn says a lack of this common-sense approach, particularly in Raleigh, inspired her to seek office.
"The Republicans campaigned on jobs and have focused on everything but, from Amendment One to the water issue to the way we do our elections. It's all politics all the time," she maintains. “This water issue … is a great example: We start out with three solutions before we identify the problem, and that doesn't make sense."
In contrast, she hopes to “be reasonable, thoughtful and not reactionary."
Michelle Pace Wood
Enka High graduate Michelle Pace Wood stresses her diverse background, deep local roots and extensive community service.
Besides working in the service industry and in real estate, the Candler resident owned Magic Show Video for many years. She’s done stints on the Board of Adjustment and the School Advisory Council, and she’s currently on the Planning Board. Active in the local Democratic Party, Wood served as first vice chair.
All that, she maintains, would help her achieve her top priority: using constructive problem solving and community outreach to create jobs.
"I think I'm very good at talking across the lines and bringing that issue to the forefront," she maintains, citing her work with local groups to bring a new park to Candler and prevent crime in Leicester.
"A lot of people know me. … I think I can get the feel of the community and be someone they can come to and get behind."
— Jake Frankel can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 115, or at email@example.com.