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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE: Updates, resources, and context

Watch and listen to the New Hanover County school board candidate town hall

2022 New Hanover County school board candidates. From left: Josie Barnhart (R), Nelson Beaulieu (D), Pat Bradford (R), Dorian Cromartie (D), Judy Justice (D), Melissa Mason (R), Veronica McLaurin-Brown (D), Pete Wildeboer (R).
2022 New Hanover County school board candidates. From left: Josie Barnhart (R), Nelson Beaulieu (D), Pat Bradford (R), Dorian Cromartie (D), Judy Justice (D), Melissa Mason (R), Veronica McLaurin-Brown (D), Pete Wildeboer (R).

On Wednesday night, WHQR, WECT, and Port City Daily hosted all eight candidates — four Republicans, four Democrats, running for four open seats — for a 90-minute town hall.

The forum, moderated by WECT's Jon Evans, posed three types of questions, including 'umbrella' questions for all candidates to answer, and individualized questions for specific candidates generated from the three newsrooms and from the audience and public. Reporters Rachel Keith (WHQR), Michael Praats (WECT), and Brenna Flanagan posed those candidate-specific questions.

Listen to the town hall:

Listen to the 2022 Board of Education town hall:

WHQR's Morning Edition host Ken Campbell spoke with News Director Ben Schachtman about the forum.

KC: Last night WHQR, along with two of our media partners, held the candidate town hall for New Hanover County Board of Education. WHQR News Director Ben Schachtman is here this morning to talk about it. Ben, thanks for being here.

BS: Happy to do it.

KC: Tell us a little bit about last night's event.

BS: Sure. So this was an event we put together with WECT and Port City Daily, similar to what we did for the primary election. Now we're doing it for the general election and this was for candidates for New Hanover County's Board of Education. We have eight candidates, four Republicans, four Democrats running for four open seats.

KC: Okay. And one of the contentious issues in the primary election was the board's relationship with the superintendent. What did candidates have to say this time?

BS: Well, our incumbent Nelson Beaulieu described Dr. Charles Foust as an ethical man but someone who's not always the warmest and friendliest. That's the closest to sort of a public criticism we've heard from him. But he said he still thinks Foust is the right guy for the job.

Judy Justice, the other incumbent, along with Pete Wildeboer Judy said, you know, she's having a hard time working with him, but sort of drew the line there just said that she wants to keep working with them but it's been difficult.

Melissa Mason, a Republican challenger candidate, was the most outspoken saying she thinks he should be fired, like point blank said that she believes there are grounds for termination. The rest of the candidates kind of fell in the middle of saying that they have some concerns and they want to hold him accountable.

KC: From WHQR's reporting, it seems there has been a lot of debate over cultural issues. Was that part of last night's forum?

BS: It was a heavy-duty part of it. Yeah. Incumbent Pete Wildeboer talked about his concerns over how the 1898 massacre and coup-d'etat is being taught. He's very concerned it's being politicized. His main concern is that Republicans were you know, in simplistic terms, the good guys and Democrats were the bad guys. Obviously, those parties have changed drastically over the last century or more. He also expressed some concerns that a critical race theory was being taught in schools, despite the fact that they're both local and state officials have been pretty clear that that's not the case.

Pat Bradford is another Republican challenger. She was critical of social-emotional learning. I think her the big takeaway for her was that it is taking up time she thinks should be spent on core academic issues: reading, writing, arithmetic, and civics. Bradford did, by the way, try to back away from comments she made last year calling stuff like social-emotional learning evil. She claimed she didn't say that — Rachel Keith, our reporter who was there, actually reminded her the exact timestamp of when she said it during a public meeting. So I don't think she got away with that.

And lastly, Melissa Mason doubled down on her claims that there is pornography in the school — and we'll have more on that some in some reporting this week.

KC: Okay, so were there any surprises last night?

BS: One big surprise for me, this was sort of an off-the-cuff question from an audience member for Pete Willdeboer, who's a conservative, asking him how he felt about the prospect of teachers unionizing. This is outside of his bailiwick, it's not adecision he could make, but we're curious what he thought about it. He said he was emphatically in favor of teachers unionizing — he described moving down here from New Jersey and taking a serious pay cut. Because unlike in New Jersey, there's no unions here in North Carolina for government employees. And he said he's all in favor of teachers getting the best compensation they can.

KC: So really quickly, where can people watch the full event if they want to dip into it?

BS: Sure. Right now you can find it on our Facebook page. We'll also have an article later this morning where you could see the whole video and in about a week, we'll have a whole hour of The Newsroom dedicated to breaking this down adding some context and doing some important fact-checking.

KC: And what's next for Election coverage from WHQR?

BS: Well, this Friday on The Newsroom, we'll be talking about the transportation sales tax. And then the next two Wednesdays we'll have two more town halls, one for county commissioners and one for our state reps.

KC: Ok, thank you. News Director Ben Schachtman, thanks for being with us this morning.

BS: Absolutely.

Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature. He loves spending time with his wife and playing rock'n'roll very loudly. You can reach him at BSchachtman@whqr.org and find him on Twitter @Ben_Schachtman.