The Preacher vs. the Professor

Published 5:27 pm Sunday, May 4, 2014

WINDSOR – When John Davis stood up to address voters at the April 15 political forum hosted by the Bertie County Democratic Party African American Caucus held at Bertie Middle School, he sounded like just what he is: a college professor.

When his opponent, Rev. James Clemons, stood to address the assembled he sounded like what he is as well, a Missionary Baptist minister.

Neither profession primarily matters to Bertie County citizens who listened to each candidate sound off on what really matters: espousing their individual platforms in an appeal to the voters who will make a choice in Tuesday’s primary election.

One will possibly emerge as the Democratic candidate for the Bertie County Board of Commissioners from District-2. ‘Possibly’ because the district’s current commissioner, Rick Harrell – though he has announced he is not running for a fifth term, nor has he campaigned – will still have his name on the ballot, and could emerge as the top vote-getter as a write-in.

But that did not concern the other two gentlemen vying for the seat when they spoke last month.

“My priority will be economic development,” said Davis.

Davis is currently a professor in the College of Business at his alma mater, East Carolina University, in the Leadership and Professional Development Program. He is a former vice-president with the Stanley Tool company.

“I have a sheet that shows Bertie County, out of 100 counties in North Carolina, dead-last in economic development; that was shared at a recent economic meeting,” he continued.

Davis claimed his research showed that from 2005-to-2010 the four counties that surround Bertie collectively spent $2 million for economic development while Bertie spent $351,000.

“So they got most of the jobs and we got less than 10 percent of the jobs in our five-county area for around 10 years,” Davis said. “We’d like to invest in economic development without a tax increase.  Sometimes when you need to do good things you have to try different things.  We’re going to have to find a way to do some economic development in our county.”

Davis says Bertie County is the “Saudi Arabia of biomass” because of the abundance of timber in the county, timber he believes will be used instead of fossil fuel in the future.

“Most of the wood in the (Enviva Wood Pellet) plant in Ahoskie comes from us,” he declared.

“So if McDonald’s is successful on the corner, or if you see a Burger King coming soon, or maybe a Taco Bell, we need to do that here,” Davis said. “We need to find a way to energize economic development.  We need to get more people involved and we need to get more money involved.”

Clemons is also seeking the representative’s post for Whites and Merry Hill, and he is pastor of Lily of the Valley Baptist Church in nearby Everetts.   A Bertie native, Clemons re-located back to his home county five years ago, and expressed disappointment in the county’s lack of what he considers economic growth.

“You can’t buy a new pair of socks in Bertie County,” he said. “There’s one supermarket in Bertie County, something is wrong; it doesn’t take a politician to see that.  If elected I will work with the state officials, and you all, to let’s together we can move this county because it hurts me dearly to see most of the people who go to work have to go out of Bertie County to go to work.  What’s wrong with Bertie?”

Clemons called for a spirit of cooperation between the citizens and government.

“If we work together as state officials and you, the people, we can move Bertie,” he continued. “There’s nothing wrong with us. We’re just as smart as anybody else, so why can’t we do it? It would be my pleasure to work for you to make sure Bertie County gets everything it deserves and needs.”

The pastor also said increasing law enforcement and higher education was also a part of his platform.

“We need to support our local sheriff because if we have chaos in our communities no businesses are going to come,” Clemons said. “We have to support law enforcement in order that we will be able to get businesses here. If we get businesses here, people will come, people can work here.  We need to have some trade schools; everybody’s not going to college to be a doctor or a lawyer.  We need some mechanics, we need some electricians, and we need some plumbers. We need these people here.”

During a question-and-answer period Davis re-iterated that his campaign will emphasize economic growth, but also spoke on how his stand impacts the question of curbside trash and recycle pick-up, and the fees that would be assessed, versus maintaining the operation of the trash convenience centers.

“We spend a gallon of gas on average (driving to the convenience sites), and that’s about 7-to-8 hundred thousand dollars we’re spending out of pocket now,” Davis stated. “Ten dollars a week is going to allow us to move half a million that we’re spending now.”

Davis said he canvassed homeowners about curbside trash in one area of the county, knocking on the doors of 38 homes one morning and everyone was for it.  However, he also said residents in his Midway-Merry Hill precinct had voiced opposition at the public hearing held in Windsor back in October.

“They’re against it, about 70 percent of them,” Davis acknowledged. “But I think that it’s something we’re going to have to look at in the county pretty hard. I’m probably going to vote for it. I don’t do the same thing the same way and we can’t do that either. We’ve got to get out of the box and I need your help.”

Clemons said he opposes curbside pick-up, joking that the math of savings doesn’t add up.

“What does the system that we have now cost? About $500, 000,” he wondered. “What would the new system cost? $800,000. If it’s going to cost $800,000, how are you going to save us $500,000?

Clemons said from the meetings he’s attended, there is much opposition to making the change.

“The main thing is do what the people want,” Clemons said. “97 percent of the people at the meetings said they didn’t want it. You have to do what the people want.”

In conclusion, Clemons said wasn’t running on any past experiences, he was running as a voice of change.

“There are a lot of people who have been on committees and have been elected officials, but I have seen where Bertie has gone backwards. I love Bertie and that’s why I moved back here, it’s home, I grew up here.  It’s a sad thing to move back home and see that your county has gone backward; and I know we can do something about it.  I’m going to do everything I can to change that trend of going backward so that we can have something in Bertie County.”