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Candidates for board of commissioners talk priorities

More than three dozen people attended last week’s candidates forum held at the Central Library.

Candidates for board of commissioners talk priorities
April 28
15:41 2022

At-large seats and seats in District A on the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners are up for grabs this year, and last week some of the candidates came together to discuss their platforms, while taking questions from voters during an open forum. 

The Forsyth County Board of Commissioners’ major responsibilities include adopting the annual county budget, setting the county property tax rate, establishing county policies and acting on zoning and other land use matters. The seven-member board also appoints members of numerous citizen boards, committees and commissions.

Board members serve four-year staggered terms. Six of the commissioners are elected from two multi-member districts and one is elected at large. Four commissioners are elected from District B and two from District A. 

The candidates running for seats in District A who attended the forum – incumbent Tonya McDaniel, Phil Carter, Shai Woodbury, and incumbent Fleming El Amin (who had a proxy in attendance to represent him) – were asked what would be their number one priority over the next four years if elected or re-elected.

McDaniel (D), who was elected in 2018, said she wants to see improvements made to the county’s facilities on Highland Avenue. The county’s Social Security, Health, and Human Resources departments are all located on Highland Avenue in Winston-Salem. She said the facilities on Highland Avenue should provide wrap-around services that benefit the entire community. 

“One of my priorities is to build back better Forsyth County,” McDaniel continued. “And what does that look like? … Highland Avenue. I want to see that look like a campus, I want to see that location be wrap-around services that transform this community.”

Carter (D), who is known throughout the community for his work with Housing Justice Now and other grassroots organizations, said his main priority will be ensuring that the budget works for all citizens. “My number one priority is ensuring that the budget gives you, the taxpayers, utility. 

“That it provides you with benefits, with usage, with profit that you can see in your communities. You can see it in your schools, you can see it in your health care. I want the budget to work for you and not just for those who are not everyday people,” Carter said. 

Shai Woodbury (D), who currently serves on the local school board and is the first Black woman to serve as chair of the board, said her main focus will be education and improving teacher pay. Currently Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools ranks 8th in the state for teacher pay and last among the larger districts in the state. 

“If we do not have a very strong public school education, we don’t have a strong county to live in. There is a reason why education is the number one line item for the county,” Woodbury added. “We need to make sure we are paying our educators … my number one priority will be to safeguard this county from the education standpoint and make sure that we pay our educators what they are worth.”

The proxy who stood in for Commissioner El-Amin (D) said his focus will be decreasing the death rate among local youth. He said the rise in violent crime is taking away from the quality of life. 

El-Amin, who was attending a conference in Memphis on the day of the forum, assumed office in 2016. 

When asked the same question about their main priority over the next four years, at-large candidate Terri Mrazek (R) said her focus will be on improving public safety as well. 

“I am so concerned with all this gun violence that’s going on,” Mrazek continued. “As a county commissioner, I would give our sheriff and his deputies as much support as he needs to do his job to keep all of you safe in Forsyth County.”

Dan Besse (D), who served on the Winston-Salem City Council for nearly 20 years, said his main priority will be improving local schools. 

“If I have to pick one, the top priority has to be our public schools and making sure that we do the job of funding them and managing them at a level that provides an excellent public education to every child and every family,” Besse continued. “Keep in mind that the purse strings on the local level for our school system are held by the County Commissioners. The school board can only spend what we give them, so we have to give them more.” 

Although the event wasn’t intended to be a debate, incumbent Ted Kaplan (D) responded directly to Besse’s remarks about the funding of local schools. Kaplan, who has held the at-large seat on the board since 2006, also mentioned the steps the county has made in recent years to increase economic development. 

“I know this isn’t supposed to be a debate, but there’s only so much counties can do for public schools; it’s really a state function, but we in Forsyth County do an awful lot. We actually do more than most,” Kaplan said. “The thing that I hear the most from people is economic opportunity, a way to move up in line and a way to provide for your families. We think about that all the time, that is the one thing that keeps us going and we keep trying to find ways to have opportunities for economic development.”

During the forum, candidates also answered questions about Ashley Elementary School, the local tax rate, and adding seats to the board of commissioners. 

The Candidates Forum was part of a series of nonpartisan events collectively planned by several partners including the Black Political Awareness League, the Winston-Salem Urban League, the Ministers’ Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity, the local branch of the NAACP and The Chronicle. 

The next Candidate’s Forum will be held on Thursday, April 28, at the Forsyth County Central Library, 660 W. 5th Street, and will feature the candidates running for seats on the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools (WS/FCS) Board of Education. The forum will begin at 6 p.m. and will air live on The Chronicle’s Facebook page. Videos from past forums will also be posted on The Chronicle’s YouTube channel.

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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