Primary 2020: Republican NHC Commission Candidates Talk School Safety, Other Issues

Feb 25, 2020

Change is coming to the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners. Incumbent Republicans Woody White and Patricia Kusek are not seeking re-election -- but there are nine other Republican primary candidates on the ballot, vying for three open seats. WHQR spoke to two of them.

Matt Rhodes and Frank Christopher Meares have very different priorities when it comes to addressing issues in New Hanover County. But there is one concern they have in common: school safety.

“Any internal threats, inappropriate behavior by staff towards students, is something that I want to address and handle and clean this mess up that's been going on for almost 17, 18 years.” 

That’s Matt Rhodes. He says emerging allegations of student sexual assault by county teachers have made safety in schools a critical matter. Frank Christopher Meares agrees that the issue is pressing and long standing.

“We knew it was a problem. We've known it was a problem back about 20 years ago.”

To further prevent these cases, Meares says the Board of Commissioners needs to be more involved and informed. 

“A lot of it is bureaucracy that protected people, and the boards were not notified or were given misinformation or information that just wasn't there. We are supposed to be the voice of the people. And if we feel something's wrong or if we're hearing from the citizens that, ‘Hey, you aren't really doing what we need you to do,’ then we need to step up and go get that information.”

Rhodes says the school administration needs to be held more accountable, and the investigation process as a whole needs to be reformed. 

“You have to make it very clear that if there's anything going on in the school system that's inappropriate with students, that it has to be addressed first and foremost by law enforcement, and then let them investigate and go from there. This is not an issue that you can handle internally.”

Commissioners recently approved the school system’s hiring of three new investigators. But Rhodes doesn’t necessarily think this was the right solution.

“I sort of thought that's what the SRO officers were for. So I'm not really sure why they needed to bring investigators in when we already have a very solid sheriff's department that can handle this problem already.”

Other concerns Rhodes wants to address include water quality, treatment and prevention for opioid addiction, and the future of New Hanover Regional Medical Center. He does not want to sell the hospital.

“If they sold the hospital, you would have an increase in price, and a decrease in the quality of care. You could potentially lose a lot of local employees working there.”

Priorities for candidate Frank Meares include strengthening the relationship between the county and Wilmington’s City Council, stopping overdevelopment, and improving infrastructure.

“The road issue is just so integral to everything that's going on. So we have to work on our roads, just getting them up to speed, making sure that we have the money and the resources to get those roads up to snuff, and with a lot of what's going on with the rail alignment projects we're having to look at our bridge construction.”

By focusing on infrastructure, Meares says the county can better plan for and prevent flooding.

“We can't have the issues that we've had during Florence where you had people without homes. We already knew how bad that was.”

Other Republican candidates running for the Board of Commissioners include Deb Hays, Joe Irrera, Harry Knight, John Lyon, Ricky Meeks, Skip Watkins, and Bill Rivenbark. Interviews with these candidates can be found on WHQR’s 2020 Elections page. Bill Rivenbark did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.