Smith faces first-time political opponent

Published 7:20 pm Wednesday, April 30, 2014

WINDSOR – For the first time in his political career, Bertie County Commissioner Charles Smith faces opposition for his seat on the board.

Smith, who was originally appointed to the board in 2007 following the death of J. Jasper Bazemore, did not face opposition in his first re-election bid in 2010.

Bertie County District-5 is comprised of the Indian Woods and Snakebite communities.

This year a fellow former educator, Ernestine (Byrd) Bazemore, is vying to not only unseat Smith, but to also become the first female member of the Bertie County Board of Commissioners since Patricia Ferguson did not seek re-election over a decade ago.

Bazemore is retired from the Bertie County School system where she served in various administrative posts from dropout prevention to teen court to in-school suspension, and even served as cheerleaders’ coach.  A member of Cedar Landing Missionary Baptist Church, she has been active in her lodge and other civic pursuits and has been cited as a two-time Extra Effort Award winner and winner of the President’s Volunteer Service Award.

Smith also spent a lifetime in public school education in BertieCounty, both as a teacher and administrator.  He currently or in the past has served on boards with social services, rural health, and crime prevention.  The Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church trustee also has gained a solid musical reputation as a crooner of songs from gospel hymns to rock-and-roll.

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

Bazemore says she is running because she desires to see change in BertieCounty.

“For many years I’ve talked about the various problems we’ve had in the area and decided it’s now time now to stop talking about it, and ‘be’ about it,” Bazemore said in an opening statement. “As I look at our median income level, I see that we are one of the lowest in North Carolina out of 100 counties (#96), and therefore we are eligible for a lot of grants. It takes someone like myself to go out and seek those grants.”

Bazemore also cited her concern about citizen safety in Bertie County.

“How can a county with such a large land mass only operate with 25 deputy sheriffs,” she claimed. “Those are just a few of the problems; and I look at the alarming rate of how we are losing our young children every day. We have to change. We have to do things differently and we can’t continue to do the same thing every day and expect the same result.”

Smith countered his opponent by touting his experience, and called on his background in education.

“I was a teacher, administrator, and an assistant principal, but nothing in my background compares to the education I have received since being appointed to the commission and then being elected to office,” he said. “I’ve learned that Bertie has great potential waiting to be tapped.  We have some issues here in Bertie County that we need to attend to, but we also have great people with energy and good ideas that we need to stand up, step forward, and speak up, not just at election time, but all the time.  We all want better jobs, better services, better education, lower taxes, safety and security.”

Smith pledged to work not only for his constituency, but to also work in a spirit of cooperation.

“Voting for me, or anyone else, won’t make any of those instances happen,” Smith implored.  “It takes citizens, young and old, working with commissioners, and the businesses, and county government to move Bertie forward.  I will continue to listen to you, carry your ideas forward, and keep you informed on all things you need to know about.”

Following the candidates’ presentations they were both asked during a question-and-answer period how, other than through the public schools system, they would use their office to help disadvantaged youth living in a persistent poverty county.

“That’s a hard question because so many have been in poverty for so long,” began Smith. “But we’re going to have to reach out to the state, to the people who do have something here in this county.  We’re going to have to have meetings and come together to try to work on what we can do to help these children, these families that control the children.  Until we come together it’s going to be a hard task to perform. But the main thing is we’ve got to form some committees, come together, and be truthful about it, that’s the whole thing.”

The quality of education for our students must be a high priority according to Bazemore.

“If I’m elected I’d like to seek out grants,” Bazemore said. “I understand our budget is low, therefore we have to use other resources to help the children of BertieCounty. We cannot just sit there and do nothing.  We have to go and seek out grants and other resources for our young people because that’s what it’s going to take for the children of BertieCounty.”

The audience queries closed with the District-5 candidates stating their positions on the question of whether the county would implement county-wide trash pick-up or remain with the concept of convenience sites.

“The reason I was against it in the beginning is the reason I’m still against it,” said Smith.  “We have a lot of poor people in this county.  When this trash situation first started, they were told that the people that were residents of this county wouldn’t have to pay to have their trash removed; they could take it to these different sites.  But if this is changed now, the people who are poor are going to be poorer. Some people can do it, they can pay.  It doesn’t cost that much to move trash from one place to another, but if they cut down these five sites that are there for the people to carry their trash any time they want to, it’s going to put a hurting on the pocketbook of the people that are poor.  That’s why I’m going to vote against it, and I’ll continue to vote against it whether I’m in there or not.”

Bazemore said more information on the topic needed to be known before her vote.

“It is my belief that in undertaking a major decision such as that I would have to do a feasibility study first to see if it is better suited for Bertie County,” Bazemore said.  “If it is then I would meet with my precinct and find out what the majority want.  It’s not about what Ernestine wants; it’s what the majority wants.”