Johnston County’s two candidates for District 4 county commissioner both want to focus on improving Johnston schools, but that’s where they diverge.
Larry Wood wants to see the county return to conservative values, which he said leaders had drifted from in recent years. Wood said he thinks he can help put the county board back on the right course.
DeVan Barbour IV said to continue to grow and be successful, Johnston must have a long-range plan for county finances, economic development and education. He thinks he’s the candidate to help the county achieve that.
Wood, 40, is a husband and father of four school-aged children. Originally from Erwin, he now lives in Four Oaks and works in logistics for James River Equipment in Garner. Previously, Wood owned and operated two small trucking and wood-transport companies in the county.
Barbour, 32, is a Benson native who returned to town after earning a degree in political science from N.C. State University. The husband and father of a 7-month-old daughter is a benefits counselor for Pierce Group Benefits in Holly Springs.
Barbour and Wood, both Republicans, are vying to represent District 4 on the Johnston County Board of County Commissioners after Barbour’s father, DeVan Barbour III, chose not to run for another term. The winner of the March 15 primary will face no Democratic opponent in the fall.
Wood said he’s been interested in politics throughout his life, though he’s never held public office.
“I’ve always had an opinion,” he said. “Whenever our political representatives started not being conservative and doing things like funding Planned Parenthood, or getting more toward the middle, I decided I had talked about it long enough and needed to take action on my beliefs and get some of the conservative word out there.”
Wood said he was tired of Republican elected leaders folding to more moderate or liberal ideals.
The county has wasted money through its tourism office, school board and other spending, Wood said. That would not have happened if board members were “true conservatives,” he said.
Wood said he was disappointed too that county commissioners took so long to decide whether to stand with the railroad or people of the county when it came to the proposed $272 million CSX container hub. The railroad company had told property owners that it could take their land through eminent domain if they refused to sell.
“Every other day Johnston County is in the newspaper for something,” Wood said. “Outlandish contracts with the superintendent and the school board, $2,500 cakes ... I believe in small government that works for the people. I’m for less government, for government getting out of the way and for less government intrusion. I’m for less taxes, and I’m not really for the NC Connect bond.”
Wood said he’s focused most on education.
“Every politician in Johnston County and in the state is against Common Core,” Wood said. “I know it. But we still have it. I know it’s just another way to get money from the federal government.”
As youth director at Burnell Baptist Church and a PTA member at Four Oaks Elementary School, Wood said he cares deeply for students.
“We have to make better decisions for our children,” he said. “I have four school-age children, so their education is a priority for me. I’m real education-system minded.”
DeVan Barbour IV
Barbour, in contrast, is not running for the District 4 seat because he is dissatisfied with current or past leadership.
“There’s a lot of anger and division in politics today,” Barbour said. “I appreciate, admire and respect all the leadership all our elected officials have given us over years and years and years. I feel I offer something new and different for voters of Johnston County, and that’s just that.”
Though he has never held elected office, Barbour is no stranger to politics. He was assistant to the chief of staff for the N.C. Republican Party from 2003 to 20006 and ran Dan Mansell’s congressional campaign against Bob Etheridge in 2006. Also, he served as the Eastern North Carolina campaign manager for Fred Smith in his run for governor in 2008 and was finance director for the state’s commissioner of agriculture in 2008. Barbour has been a member of the state Republican Party’s executive committee since 2005.
“I love Johnston County,” he said. “This is where I grew up and, Lord willing, where I will spend my last day. Johnston County day is the greatest place to live in North Carolina, and with my political experience, I’ve been to all 100 counties multiple times.”
But to maintain that status as a great place to live, Barbour said, Johnston must have plans in place. He promised to bring a new, energetic and long-term vision for the county that will allow it to be “as prosperous as we can ever be.”
“When it’s time for my daughter to figure out where she wants to settle down and have her family, I want Johnston County to be at the top of her list,” he said.
To accomplish that, Barbour said the county must have a strategic plan that covers all facets of living and working in Johnston. He said his focus would be on county finances, economic development and education.
“Johnston County has had accelerated growth for years,” he said. “And we’re projected to have accelerated growth for years to come. Because of good leadership for the last 20 years, we’ve been able to manage that growth, but we have to make sure we have good leadership moving forward.”
Barbour said the county should have “solutions already in place” for problems that have yet to arise. By that, he means building infrastructure to accommodate future growth, planning for the arrival and expansion of industry, diversifying the county’s economy and helping small and local businesses.
“We saw an economic boom in the early 2000s, then in 2008 everything came crumbling down,” Barbour said. “That’s going to happen again. We can prepare ourselves for the valleys if we’re smart in the peaks.”
Education should be a key part of the strategic plan, Barbour said. “The community must work with the school board to make sure funding is at the appropriate levels and uses,” he said. “I would use my voice in the funding process for the school system when we are talking about funding our schools now and in the future.”
For students, the county must provide a modern learning environment, complete with equipment to aid all learning styles, such as iPads, smart boards and laptops, Barbour said. But the county must also give teachers the money they need, he said.
“Teacher salaries do not allow for disposable income for classroom supplies,” he said. “There is no reason we should be putting our teachers in that position.”
Finally, Barbour called on the county to not only build new schools but maintain them.
“We have to plan and project for growth in building new schools, but we cannot forget how important it is to maintain our existing schools,” he said. “The older schools are serving the same purpose as a new school. So even if it’s a new awning so kids don’t have to stand in the rain or a new carpet or coat of paint, we have to put just as much emphasis on maintaining.”
Abbie Bennett: 919-553-7234, Ext. 101; @AbbieRBennett
Want to vote early?
Early voting is underway in Johnston County.
The main early voting site is the First Baptist Church Ministry Center at 125 S. Fourth Street in Smithfield. Here’s the remaining schedule there: March 7-11, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; and March 12, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
Other early voting sites ar: The Church at Clayton Crossing, 11407 U.S. 70 West, Clayton; Archer Lodge Community Building, 14009 Buffalo Road, Clayton; Johnston Community College Cleveland Campus, 9046 Cleveland Road, Clayton; and the Benson American Legion Building, 605 N. Wall St., Benson.
Here’s the remaining schedule as those locations: March 78, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; March 9, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; March 10-11, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; and March 12, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
For more information, go to www.johnstonnc.com/joconcelections or call 919-989-5095.