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Complete coverage of Elections 2020. Reporting on major contested races in New Hanover and Brunswick Counties.

Primary 2020: NHC Commission Dems Want Smart Growth, Affordable Housing, Water Initiatives

Katelyn Freund / WHQR
Six Democratic candidates are vying for three open seats in the New Hanover County Commissioner Primary race.

The 2020 Primary is underway in North Carolina.  Early voting lasts through Saturday.  Election Day is next Tuesday, March 3rd.  WHQR spoke with the Democratic candidates competing for three open seats on New Hanover County’s Board of Commissioners. 

Jonathan Barfield is the only incumbent in the Democratic primary, facing five challengers including Steve Miller and Kyle Horton.   If Barfield wins, he would begin his fourth term on the Board. His number one priority?

Jonathan Barfield:  It's definitely housing affordability…The wages are not keeping up with the pace and cost of housing…So looking at ways to increase the affordable housing stock so that our teachers and firefighters and deputies and others can afford to live in this city where they’re working, to me, is critically important.

Steve Miller is retired but says his work on automobile emission control led to the mandate for catalytic converters in cars. More recently in New Hanover County, two issues caught his attention.

STEVE MILLER:  The first was the sale of the hospital, which has never been to this day, fully explained. And it made me aware of the power of the commissioners and that I thought the way the process that they were using – it really was not good at all.

The second issue arose when a rezoning request for a 52-acre site in Porter’s Neck caused Miller concern.

SM:  It's not growth and development per se. It is rezoning requests which are making the growth and development in certain places absurd. There’s going to be growth. It needs to be sustainable and well-planned growth. I'm not opposed to growth. I want to be very clear about that. I'm not one of these folks who says we should stop all development -- we should have a moratorium. No, that's not the case. I want it to be intelligent growth that makes sense.

Kyle Horton, who challenged Republican Congressman David Rouzer in 2018 for his U.S. House seat, says she wants to use her experience as an internal medicine physician with a business degree to inform the discussion about the future of New Hanover Regional Medical Center.

KYLE HORTON:  When you look at a lot of the macroeconomic literature, there's not a huge difference between a lot of these mega-conglomerates that are not-for-profit versus for-profit. And the example of Mission Health is one, I think, where they were promised the moon, people believed them.  They thought that they were going to get a good deal.

Horton says more public input – especially from doctors and nurses is an important part of the process. She also wants to use litigation more aggressively to deal with the contamination of the drinking water supply, and she wants to see medical monitoring.

KH:  We need to invest in reverse osmosis filtration, particularly in our schools in a bigger way so that all of our after-school sites and all of our drinking fountains are covered with clean drinking water for our kids. And then what I really want to bring as well is a conversation about how we engage healthcare providers and the County public health department to really ensure that we have more opportunities to better understand the health effects from these chemicals.

Horton says she also would like to make sure the county isn’t using vendors that manufacture or distribute PFAS. 

Incumbent Jonathan Barfield’s second major priority is stormwater. 

JB:  The storm water utility that we're putting in place that will be effective in July and making sure that we're mitigating flooding in our County as we continue to grow and expand.  Being the second smallest County in the state, it's so important that we make sure that water is flowing properly so that we don't have neighborhoods that are flooding and having those types of issues.

All three say the county’s recent move to abandon agenda briefings and limit public discussion needs to change. 

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 2 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.