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

Elections 2020: NHC Commissioners - Hays, Rivenbark, Barfield

Early voting is underway in North Carolina and runs through October 31st.  More than half of the seats on New Hanover County’s Board of Commissioners,three of the five, are open this year. 

WHQR spoke with all six candidates as part of the 2020 CoastLine Candidate Interviews.  Here are three of them.


Deb Hays has served on Wilmington’s Planning Board and is the current Vice Chair of Wilmington Downtown, Inc.  Her professional experience as a real estate broker also shapes her view of affordable housing and what that means.  

Deb Hays:  Affordable housing has become a buzzword and it should not. It's serious. It's real.

One way to create more of it, she says, is to ask developers to set aside a percentage of units specifically for this purpose.

DH:  We establish a program whereby we give 10% off in their rent.  That may not sound like a lot, but that can make the difference between somebody being able to live there and somebody not being able to live there. 

It’s also a way to create income diversity and avoid blocking out whole neighborhoods as subsidized housing.

DH:  The beauty of this is nobody knows who is what in that development. Nobody knows that that person over there and, and Apartment 3B is getting assistance. Everybody's just living, working and playing. 

Bill Rivenbark is a current member of New Hanover County’s School Board, but he says he could better serve the region as a County Commissioner – which is why he wants to jump from one board to another halfway through his term.

Bill Rivenbark:  If you've never been on the board of education, you don't understand the importance of the relationship between the two and we're going to have a lot of new people on there. And I would like to be one of them, so I can keep that communication open between the board and the commissioners.

The school system has recently been rocked by public disclosures of a pattern of abuse – perpetrated by employees on children.  After the recent dismantling of the top brass and the hiring of a new superintendent, Rivenbark says other improvements, such as the Title IX program and the Ethix360 app for anonymous reporting will do a better job of keeping kids safe.  

BR:  But we’ve done that.  We've set programs in place for elementary, middle school and high school. And it's where we teach kids what's acceptable, what's not acceptable as far as touching, talking, what a teacher says to you.  We've gone way overboard -- more than most every county in North Carolina -- doing things to make it right.

Jonathan Barfield is the only incumbent running for reelection this year.  He’s served since 2008 as both Chair and Vice Chair multiple times, and he remembers the early days as particularly effective for one major reason.  

Jonathan Barfield:  We all had a really good working relationship.  There was never much talk about partisanship.  We just got the work done… I became chair my third year on the board on a majority Republican board. And we never really talked about the partisan aspect of things as I find that most of the issues that we deal with at this level really aren't Republican or Democrat issues.  They’re people issues.

He says he keeps front-of-mind the example he’s setting for other kids in the community – especially at-risk kids that he’s worked with through the Blue Ribbon Commission and in his volunteer work with the schools. And it reminds him how important it is to create more affordable housing.  

JB:  You know, affordable housing is housing that does not exceed 30% of your income, including utilities… How do we keep the millennials and the younger generation staying here when housing affordability is so out of reach for what the salaries are?...You know, I want to keep my young people, my children in this community.

Jonathan Barfield is one of three Democratic candidates for the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners.  Deb Hays and Bill Rivenbark are two of three Republicans. 

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.