Battle for Bertie

Published 7:23 pm Wednesday, April 30, 2014

WINDSOR – Three-term Bertie County Commissioner J. Wallace Perry has always said that good government takes participation, and that it is every citizen’s right.

Currently, the chairman of the Board of Commissioners in the county, Perry hopes to continue to participate by serving a fourth term come this fall but he faces a challenge to his seat on the board in the upcoming May primary.

The former Sheriff will face off against Tammy Ashworth Lee as the Democratic candidate for the District-3 commission seat serving the county precincts of Colerain I and II and Mitchells I and II.

Perry is a lifelong Bertie resident who spent his entire career in Law Enforcement.  He served 30 years with the Sheriff’s Department, his final 16 years as the county’s ‘top-cop’.  Married with a son and three grandchildren, Perry resides in Colerain and attends Mars Hill Baptist Church. Perry is also a past president of N.C. Sheriff’s Association and past chairman of N.C. Sheriff’s Education Training Standards Commission. Currently he serves as chairman of the Bertie-Martin Regional Jail Commission.

Lee, a wife, mother and grandmother, moved from her birthplace of Tidewater, VA first to Perquimans County as a teen and later, after meeting and marrying her husband of 34 years, Vernon, moved to Colerain. Like her challenger, Lee has built much of her career in law enforcement with 17 years working with the North Carolina Department of Corrections where today she is a Correctional Training Specialist. Lee has also worked in the Bertie County School System as a cafeteria manager and in retailing as a manager for Red Apple Markets. Lee and her family are members of Askewville Assembly of God.

Lee has the opportunity to become the first female on the board since Patricia Ferguson declined to seek reelection over a decade ago.

At the April 15th political forum hosted by the Bertie County Democratic Party African American Caucus held at Bertie Middle School, the two candidates promoted their individual platforms in an appeal to the voters present and the ones who will make a choice in Tuesday’s primary.

Lee opened with a statement:

“I decided to run, to put my name on the dotted line after hearing some things that were going on within the county and seeing some things I wasn’t pleased with,” she remarked.  “So I decided to run and since I signed the dotted line I’ve had a lot of people come to me with differing views on the differing things that have been taking place in the county commissioner’s meetings.”

She pledged to work for the citizens and make job growth in Bertie County one of her top priorities.

“As your county commissioner I want to take your voice to the meetings, I want to do what’s best for our county for your tax dollars,” she emphasized. “I want to have priorities.  We need jobs, badly, in this county. So I want to take your voice to the meetings and do what you want done.”

Following her statement, Lee invited voters to visit her website, (,) and tell her what their views are.

Perry followed and cited what he considered the accomplishments made by the board during his tenure as commissioner.

“I have served you with honor and distinction,” Perry began. “We have made a lot of progress in Bertie County during this time. Through grants we have built a new recreation center. When the state Department of Social Services was threatening to cut our funds off we had to build a new Social Services Building and Health Department.”

Gesturing around at the Middle School media center Perry went in to cite both it and the soon-to-be completed new Bertie High School.

“Look at this,” he asked. “Isn’t this a nice school?  And what about the school up the street?  That’s just some of the accomplishments we’ve made in Bertie County since I’ve been commissioner.”

Perry cited a lagging economy of several years ago and putting a crimp in the progress he had hoped the county would make.

“We’d had it going until the downturn in the economy,” he added. “When the economy went south development stopped and our tax base was about to explode.  I think it’s coming back, it’s turning back up and we want to be ready for it when it comes.”

Later in the evening, during a question-and-answer period, both candidates were asked about the comparison of economic growth within nearby Williamston and Martin County, and what was necessary for Bertie to catch up.  They were then asked to tie economic growth with fighting poverty in the county.

“The difference is obvious why they’re so far ahead of us and what we need to do to catch up,” Perry cited in his answer. “Martin County has had Weyerhaeuser plant over there in Plymouth for years and years and they (Weyerhaeuser) have been a tax base in this world for Martin County. Williamston is a retail market, they have a Super Wal-Mart, and all kinds of retail businesses we don’t have here in Bertie County. They get tax money off those retail businesses and that puts them way ahead of us.  As far as their infrastructure in the county, I think we’re equal with them here in the county; but the town of Williamston, they get tax money and that’s the difference.”

On the question of uplift for those citizens in the county that are economically challenged, Perry said more cooperation was needed with Raleigh.

“We have got to work with our General Assembly, and at this time that’s nearly impossible,” Perry said. “I know the members of the General Assembly (from this area) by their first names and I don’t mind going to Raleigh and sitting down at their desks and calling them by their first names. I’m not above doing that and that’s what we’re going to have to do: we’re going to have to get some help on the state level for Medicare and Medicaid.  We’re going to have to do that.”

Lee coupled her answers.  She acknowledged the growth in Martin County, but said Bertie County needs stimulus and enticements for its own business growth.

“They got our Wal-Mart that was supposed to come here,” she pointed out. “They’ve built on with that Wal-Mart and other businesses have gone there because the Wal-Mart is there.  What we need in this county is to offer incentives to businesses to come to the county; free taxes for a certain amount of time, and land.  Part of the whole thing (with the prison) was the county had to purchase part of the land and give to the state to build a prison.  That brought tons of jobs to this county; good paying jobs with good benefits.  That’s what I propose, that we offer incentives to get businesses to come to Bertie County to help with the poverty level.”

Finally, the candidates addressed the pending question of curbside trash and recycle pick-up, and the fees that would be assessed, versus maintaining the operation of the trash convenience centers.

“Prior to filing, I put on my website that I was against trash pick-up because everything I had heard pointed to the citizens not wanting it,” said Lee.  “Since filing I’ve been around the county and talked to a lot of people and now it’s about even.”

Lee mentioned discussions she had with Merry Hill’s Coleman Holley and his 20-year-old county-wide trash pick-up service.

“He picks up trash all over the county, he picks up mine,” said Lee. “That is an option for the citizens if we vote the trash pick-up down. My vote would be no.”

Perry stated that based on people that have contacted him – including with calls to his residence – that people favored the convenience centers over pick-up and the fees attached.

“They were 80 percent – people that contacted me – against it; for different reasons people had disagreements,” Perry said. “A lot of them said they couldn’t afford it, and I believe them. My vote is the will of the people, and what they say weighs heavy on my decision.”

Both candidates encouraged citizens to vote in the upcoming May 6th primary.