CARY — Politics from the Wake courthouse to the White House popped up repeatedly as candidates for county commissioner sparred on school-related issues at a forum Wednesday night.
The event's sponsor, the Wake Schools Community Alliance, stayed away from the school system's student-assignment plan as too hot to handle in the context, said Kristen Stocking of the alliance. But there were plenty of other issues to chew over, including who should take blame for looming shortfalls in the state and Wake schools' budgets for 2011-12.
"The biggest problem we have is that we have a Democratic governor and a Democratic legislature that have passed on a $3 billion problem," District 7 incumbent Paul Coble, a Republican, said of a projected statewide shortfall and its potential effect on Wake schools.
"If we cannot prioritize our spending, we are going to be in deep trouble."
Not at all, responded irritated Democrat Don Mial, a District 1 candidate who is out to unseat Republican Commissioner Joe Bryan. According to Mial, the shortfall should be laid at the feet of former President George W. Bush, who Mial said inherited a surplus and left during a recession.
"We've got greedy CEOs, and we've got Wall Street, and we've got politicians that are doing their business," Mial said.
Bryan proposed a solution for the coming hard times: "Government is going to have to be transformed."
Each of the eight candidates on the Nov. 2 ballot for the Wake County Board of Commissioners appeared at the forum, held at Bond Park community center. Moderator Kim Genardo, a reporter and anchor from NBC 17, firmly posed questions, some quite technical, for the candidates, including three incumbent Republicans, one incumbent Democrat and a challenger for each slot.
"I am very disturbed at some of the actions and comments that have been heard tonight," Lindy Brown, the Democratic incumbent in District 2, said of the political flare-ups.
Her Republican opponent, Garner businessman Phil Matthews, said: "There's enough blame to go around everywhere."
Coble's opponent in District 7, former commissioner and Democratic Party county Chairman Jack Nichols, accused Coble of failing to see the big picture on taxes and spending. A facility that Coble worked against, the Five County Stadium, was the scene of a recent Republican political rally, Nichols pointed out.
"Are you going to be penny-wise and pound-foolish?" Nichols asked voters.
Where they agree
The candidates mostly agreed on a number of questions: The county board should take over buying land and building schools from the school board, and mandatory year-round schools should be avoided.
Nichols and District 3 Democratic candidate Steve Rao both said the county will have to consider impact fees or other means to meet school construction and renovation demands that could easily run to $2 billion in the next 20 years. The Republican candidates firmly opposed impact fees.
"I think it's unrealistic to say that taxes can't go up," Rao said. "Our backs are to the wall."
A question of allowing the school board its own taxing authority got no support.
"Who would want to be on the school board? Not me," said commissioners Chairman Tony Gurley, incumbent in District 3 and Rao's opponent.
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