Patrick Harris wants to serve the citizens of Johnston County in a new way: as a county commissioner.
Harris is Smithfield’s fire chief, and he is chief executive of two companies that he and his wife own: Urgent Care of Smithfield and Smithfield Crossings Family Healthcare.
Harris is running against incumbent Cookie Pope for the District 5 County Commissioners seat, which reprsents the Cleveland community, East and South Smithfield and a swath of Elevation Township.
“I’ve spent the majority of my career in public service for state and local government,” Harris said. “I feel like it’s just another way of serving the citizens of Johnston County.”
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If elected, Harris said, he would focus on economic development and growth. Johnston County is well-positioned to grow, thanks especially to its interstates and rail.
“But it needs to be done in a careful and thoughtful way,” Harris said of growth. “We don’t want to overrun our county and our infrastructure.”
Harris wants to prioritize each service the county offers and then ask: “Is this program important to the citizens? If it is, let’s continue to fund it. If it’s not, let’s look at scaling it back.”
For instance, Johnston County government gets most its money from the property tax and sales tax. It would be worth asking, he said, if there is a better way to fund government.
Harris doesn’t know if anything should change, but “there’s always the possibility of a better way of doing business, and I think we owe that to the citizens,” he said.
Harris wants to make sure growth reaches all of Johnston County, not just Clayton. The county needs to market itself more, he said, focusing especially on Johnston Community College, which can prepare Johnston residents to work in industries interested in moving to the county, he said.
In general, Harris said, anytime elected leaders hold office for a long time, they can become possessive. He wants to give voters another option and plans to “get back to the people.”
“It’s not my seat,” Harris said. “That seat belongs to the people.”
Harris said he often hears that Johnstonians are not engaged in their politics. He wants to travel the county and talk to people, see what’s on their minds and what they’re concerned about.
“Ms. Pope is a nice lady,” he said. “She’s run unopposed for many years, and now I think it’s just time to give the citizens a choice.”
“If they’re interested in change, then I’ll be your next county commissioner,” Harris said. “If they’re not interested in change and they’re happy with the way things are and they see themselves continuing on the same path, they’ll reelect Ms. Pope.”
Harris, 50, grew up in Hendersonville. He first worked for the N.C. Forest Service as an education ranger, earning multiple promotions until he became a manager in the Raleigh office. On the side, he did contract work for FEMA as part of the southeast regional response team.
Harris, who now lives in Smithfield, joined the Smithfield Fire Department in 1992. He became a fire inspector in 1994 and fire and EMS chief in 2003. The town has since turned EMS over to the county.
Harris and his wife, Victoria, a physician’s assistant, started their medical practice in 2010. He has a daughter, Taylor Anne, who just graduated from college.