Early voting in the 2020 Primaries is underway through this Saturday, February 29th. Election Day is next Tuesday, March 3rd. In the race for New Hanover County Commissioner, six Democratic candidates are competing for three open seats. Don Betz, Leslie Cohen, and Travis Robinson are half the Democratic slate.
Leslie Cohen ran for the North Carolina House in 2018 – challenging Republican Representative Holly Grange – who held on to her seat. But a host of major local issues drove to her run for the county board – including the possible sale of New Hanover Regional Medical Center.
LESLIE COHEN: The sale of the hospital needs to be the very last option on the table because once it is sold we can never get it back and we have one of the last large public hospitals in the country and it's profitable. So let's find ways to keep that going... We could be a model for public hospitals across the country.
Don Betz served as Mayor of the City of the Wilmington for 10 years, sat on City Council for six, and later managed two towns: Holly Ridge and North Topsail Beach. He also served as Executive Director of the Lower Cape Fear Water and Sewer Authority and recently received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine for public service.
Betz also has questions about the possible hospital sale, traffic and the effects of the new comprehensive zoning plan.
DON BETZ: It's creating increased density in a situation in which we do not have the infrastructure in place to absorb it. So my position is that these things can be approved contingent upon the infrastructure of roads and water and sewer and storm water and schools and all the other infrastructure that goes with increased densities in place. If it's not in place, why is it being improved?
Travis Robinson, who served as a New Hanover County Sheriff’s Deputy for 29 years, is also a recipient of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine. He says traffic issues, affordable housing, and properly funding Wave Transit are high on his agenda.
TRAVIS ROBINSON: When you ask them to have a certain amount of money in reserve, in case things happen to where they can pull from that and they don't get enough money from the state, federal governments because either the budget issues are going on or there's a delayed reimbursement. If that's revenue that they depend on but doesn't come in, then of course they've got to make cuts just like any other business.
Robinson says leaders should also consider other funding options to preserve WAVE transit.
All three candidates agree the Board should operate with more transparency; in fact, Cohen calls the current Board “dysfunctional”.
LC: We can disagree about anything, but we have to talk. Right now, we have three commissioners that are working behind the scenes with no agenda meetings and they just come to the meeting with it decided what they're going to do without including the other two commissioners. That's not how democracy works.
Don Betz says if he’s elected, the current dynamic, which he labels a power play, will change. He’d also like to schedule meetings in the evening – as he did years ago on city council – so more interested citizens could attend. At the 9 AM meetings…
DB: …When you look around who's there, it's mostly staff people. Very few citizens can attend them. And doing a four o'clock meeting in the afternoon for working folks?... That's really not listening to people. It’s not being accountable to people. And in many cases, it’s not being transparent.
Travis Robinson says he hopes citizens will pay close attention to the NHRMC sale exploration process.
TR: When you have a five-person board and three of the folks can decide the future by their vote, you know, the public hearings and the public information that's going to be put out there -- hopefully a lot of people go in and look at all the options and make their recommendations as citizen to the boards.
This article has been corrected to reflect Robinson's 29 years with NHCSO, not 22.