Caldwell County Republican candidates voice platforms

Mar. 26, 2014 @ 10:04 AM

Caldwell County Republican candidates gathered Tuesday night at Caldwell County to discuss the upcoming May primary, which is all but certain to decide the races for sheriff, district attorney and county board of commissioners because no Democrats filed.

The Caldwell County Republican Women hosted the forum that allowed candidates a five-minute introduction and three audience questions for each group of candidates.

Dozens of citizens were on hand to hear the candidates’ platforms and concerns, starting with Jay Gaither, incumbent district attorney for the 25th District, which covers Catawba, Caldwell and Burke counties. Republican challengers and attorneys David Learner and Scott Reilly followed.

Gaither spoke about his experience as DA, clearing backlogged cases and lowering the crime rate, especially in Caldwell County, where he said the rate of violent crime in 2011 was the lowest since 1993, and 2012 was the second-lowest.

Learner spoke second, touting his 30 years of experience as a trial attorney, saying he wants to bring efficiency to the office. He attacked Gaither for not spending time trying cases himself and making too many plea bargains and said the 25th District “deserves a prosecutor, not a politician.”

Reilly leaned on his 34 years of experience as a trial lawyer, saying he has spent nearly every day in a courtroom, trying cases in all three counties in the district. He said DA should not be purely an administrative role but a prosecutor in the courtroom.

In answer to a question about the overcrowding of Caldwell County’s jail and speeding up the process for those awaiting trial, Gaither cited things he said he has already implemented in Catawba County, such as a deal with an in-county medical facility for blood-alcohol screening, rather than sending samples to the State Crime Lab, which saves time getting blood test results. He also said that if his opponents were to spend as much time in the courtroom as they said they would, they would be liable to get further behind.

Learner said he would speed the process by establishing deadlines for cases to be resolved and would push his staff hard, and that he’d get the head jailer in each county to call him personally when the county jail is at more than 90 percent of its designed capacity.

Reilly said he would make resolving felony cases his top priority. He said that currently time in the district’s courtrooms is not utilized in an efficient manner.

In the race for Caldwell County sheriff, only incumbent Alan Jones attended the forum because Republican challenger Lance Wilson, an N.C. Highway Patrol State Trooper, was on duty at the time.

Jones touted his accomplishments while in office, saying that in 2012 the department made 3,358 arrests, and in 2013 made 3,240. He also cited efficiency -- in 2012 the department gave back $312,000 of its allocated budget, and in 2013 gave back $329,000. He said the county’s crime rate dropped 4 percent from 2011 to 2012, and that today it has the 20th-lowest rate among the 100 counties in the state.

Jones said the jail is overcrowded “because we’re arresting people and doing our job.”

The four Republican candidates for two seats on the Caldwell County Board of Commissioners rounded out the forum.

Incumbent Chris Barlowe spoke of the county’s accomplishments during his four years on the board, including lowering the property tax rate from 65.99 cents for every $100 of value to 60 cents, lowering the county’s debt, increasing its savings, increasing pay for county workers and allocating more funding each year to the county’s schools and community college.

Ben Griffin, who served on the board from 2008 to 2012 but lost his bid for re-election, said that when he served on the board he kept his promises, reducing the county’s debt from $59 million to $39 million, reducing the county’s budget from $78 million to $66 million, and leading the county to buy three used ambulances rather than new ones, at a savings of about $500,000 to county taxpayers, and creating a five-year budget plan.

Incumbent Mike LaBrose also spoke of lowering the tax rate and increasing funding for schools, as well as the county buying new vehicles and equipment for the sheriff’s department and a new ambulance, which is scheduled for delivery soon. He said he would focus on job creation with stability and that his “only agenda is to be a leader.”

Donnie Potter, a former member of the Sawmills Town Council and the only candidate who has never served on the county board of commissioners, said his focus is not on what the county has done but what it will do. He said he plans to create a capital improvement plan for the county to lay out future expenditures, and would insist on long-term planning, which he said the current board hasn’t been doing.

The candidates were asked what new ideas would they bring to the board to help propel Caldwell County into the future, and keep up its growth.

Barlowe said his focus would remain with the county’s Economic Development Commission, working closely with it and supporting it with adequate funding, to not only bring new jobs, but retain the ones already in the county.

Griffin said that a main concern of his going forward would be schools, he touched on his experience as a commissioner, and he said he supports re-using unused commercial buildings for things like court space and office space to save money.

LaBrose said that maintaining jobs in the county is paramount to increase the tax base, saying the environment is different today than in years past, and that he plans to be an independent voice, presenting different ideas to help the county’s economy grow.

Potter said that the county needs jobs, but the commissioners need to work to make the county a better place too, and that he plans to focus more on retail jobs to bring in more taxes.