Republican voters in Wake County will have a choice in next month’s primary election for the District 1 seat on the Board of Commissioners: a longtime public servant who has dogged the school system to be more transparent in its spending, or a political newcomer who says the county still wastes taxpayer money on schools.
Joe Bryan was first elected to the Board of Commissioners in 2002 and has served three times as its chairman and twice as vice chair. Before taking a seat on the board, he served as mayor of Knightdale and was on the Town Council for eight years before that.
Bryan is a financial adviser with Wells Fargo Advisors in Raleigh.
On the board, Bryan has been a courteous but consistent critic of the county Board of Education. He and his fellow Republican commissioners have pressed the Democratic-led school board to prove that it is making the most efficient choices in siting and building schools for a growing student population.
Bryan’s term expires this fall, along with those of three other commissioners, all Republicans. While they all have Democratic opponents in the fall, Bryan is the only one who faces a contender from his own party in a primary.
His challenger, Fred Puryear, has never sought public office before but says he considered it several years ago when he began to believe Bryan, his Knightdale neighbor, had been in office too long.
Puryear is a full-time firefighter in Wilson. He also is a fourth-generation Wake County farmer, serves as a volunteer firefighter at the Wake New Hope station and does some work as a plumber. If elected, Puryear said, he would likely drop the plumbing work to allow for the 20 to 30 hours a week it takes to do a commissioner’s job.
While not a regular at county commission meetings, Puryear has addressed the group in the past, once to advocate for full funding of the Soil and Water Conservation district, and once to oppose the annexation of his family’s farm land into the town of Knightdale’s planning district.
Puryear and Bryan agree that schools are the biggest issue for the county, but they’re concerned about different aspects.
Since voters approved a bond issue last fall for $880 million worth of school construction and renovation, county and school staffs have formalized a process for doing the work together, giving the county a larger role in decision-making and easing the conflict between commissioners and the school board. With that done, Bryan has said the biggest issue for the county now is improving students’ academic performance.
“When people move to this area, they expect a good strong public education for their families,” Bryan said.
Puryear says the question for him is: Who should pay for those schools?
If the board of commissioners approves a tax hike to cover the cost of the bonds, Puryear said, “The current residents, who get the tax hike, they’re not necessarily going to get that benefit. Their children are not going to go to these future schools. That will be for the new growth coming into the area.”
Puryear said he would like to see developers pay more of the cost of building new schools through permitting fees, which would be passed along to those moving into the area and buying homes.
Bryan said homebuilding is an important economic engine the region and that developers already pay more than their fair share.
Other priorities, Bryan said, are making sure the county continues to provide good human services, helping the 120,000 county residents who live in poverty; and providing public safety services, including law enforcement, fire and EMS.
Puryear said transit – or preventing public investment in transit – would be a focus of his.
“I think transit rail should be paid for by private industry,” Puryear said, “not by our tax dollars.”
Puryear has not yet set up a website, didn’t attend the Wake County Convention of the GOP last month and is not active in the East Wake Republican Club. Joe Taylor, organizer of the Moccosin Creek Minutemen, said Puryear had attended one of that group’s meetings in the past.
On its website, the Minutemen group says its members “believe in God, we believe in the Constitution, we believe in our individual freedoms as stated by our Founding Fathers. We also believe in self-responsibility, limited government, free speech, the Second Amendment, secured borders and a strong military.”
Bryan said facing an opponent in the primary has forced him to get out and introduce himself to people, which other candidates might not begin to do until much closer to the November election.
Donna Williams, chair of the Wake County Republican Party, said that’s always good for democracy.
“All the candidates who have primaries have said the same thing,” she said. “They’ve had to get busy getting their message out.”