Public safety and a secure educational environment are at the top of the list of priorities heading into the Onslow County Board of Commissioners and Board of Education races.

The two local races have a number of seats open as candidates look to fill the gaps against a lineup of incumbents.

In the race for commissioner, four of seven seats are available as Republican incumbents Jack Bright of Hubert, Paul Buchanan of Swansboro, Royce Bennett of Jacksonville and Robin L. Knapp of Jacksonville have all reached the end of their four-year terms.

The Republican challengers are Cynthia LaCorte of Swansboro, William Argenbright of Holly Ridge, Walter J. Scott of Richlands, Barbara Humphrey Garrett of Jacksonville and Jonathan B. Delle of Jacksonville.

There are also three Democrat challengers, including Aleccia Sutton of Midway Park, Patty Diaz of Jacksonville and Velvet Scoggin of Jacksonville.

As for what commission hopefuls plan to do with their time in office, newcomer LaCorte echoed sentiments of funding for the county’s public service agencies.

“We need to make sure our EMS, our fire departments and our sheriff’s office are well-funded to keep our people safe,” she said. “What are we without our safety?”

Current board of commissioners chairman Bright spoke of the challenges facing the county and where priorities will be focused going forward.

“Looking ahead, substance abuse and mental health issues are at the forefront of what needs to be addressed,” he said. “Those are what drives the train on a lot of budget shortfalls, in particular our public safety and emergency services.”

A real estate broker since 2006, LaCorte said she has also heard the call for a curb in the raising of property taxes.

“Property taxes are a real burden on property owners,” LaCorte said. “The current board voted to raise the property taxes in the county, and that can’t happen again. I’m for smaller government and we need to cut where we can, but we don’t need to raise the property taxes again.”

There are also concerns with county infrastructure and public service buildings in need of expansion or renovation.

“One of the biggest physical infrastructure issues facing the county is the New River inlet,” Bright said, “where terrible erosion problems are restricting movement in and out for our commercial fishermen. We also don’t want to impede on the training missions from our neighbors at Camp Lejeune, who use the inlet often for watercraft exercises.”

LaCorte, who first came to Swansboro in 1990 as a military spouse, sees the need for growth in a few spots around town.

“The Swansboro Library has out-grown itself, and I think it’s time the county looks at that,” LaCorte said. “Downtown Swansboro is a fantastic tourist destination, I think more money could be put into it to make it even more desirable and get even more visitors to the area.”

In terms of projects already in motion from the board, Bright pointed to the group’s October, 2019 approval of a $4.2 million expansion to the county’s animal shelter.

“People are really passionate about their animals. That was something the board really wanted to see done. They’re breaking ground on that currently.”

LaCorte is one of eight challengers in the board of commissioners race, and one of five women filing as candidates.

“There are no women on the board of commissioners and there are seven members,” LaCorte said. “I’m not asking people to vote for me just because I’m a woman, but because I’m the right woman to be on that board and because of my background in business. I do think women have a different way of thinking about things and problem solving, so I think having better representation on the board would be helpful to the county.”

In the race for county board of education, there are four of seven seats up for grabs.

There is one Republican incumbent seeking reelection – 2018 appointee Ken Reddic – while there are three others planning to file as unaffiliated. Those incumbents are current board chairman Pamela Thomas, Paul Wiggins and Earl Taylor. The candidates must garner signatures from 1 percent of the county’s voting population in order to file as an unaffiliated candidate on the ballot. All three are currently working towards that goal.

As of now, there are only seven candidates on the board of education ballot, but there may be as many as 10 when the primary election begins.

The Republican challengers running for the board of education are Laura Deptola of Hubert, Eric Whitfield of Hubert, Joseph Speranza of Jacksonville, Crystal (Christy) Lopez of Jacksonville and Melissa Oakley of Sneads Ferry.

On the Republican ballot, voters will be asked to select four candidates.

The lone Democrat candidate is Takenya Kaprice LaBriado of Jacksonville.

While three of the four spots available are currently filled by longtime members of the board, newcomers like Deptola are imploring voters to ask more from its board.

“I don’t feel like the board has done a terrible job, but I also know there are members of the community who feel their concerns aren’t being listened to,” Deptola said. “Bullying should be a top priority, and many people feel like it’s just not. Bullying is a huge issue in Onslow County, and just about everywhere right now.”

Deptola, a Long Island transplant who has lived in Hubert six years, has two older children who attended school in New York and a soon-to-be kindergartner as she ponders her education options.

“I considered home schooling for a little while, because I wasn’t confident in the security and safety within the public school system,” Deptola said. “That’s why I’m entering the race, so that I have a voice I know will be heard in making the county’s schools a little safer.”

Regardless of the election results, Deptola plans on pursuing a solution to bullying in the county with help from the board.

“I think it would be helpful to bring in prior victims of bullying and let them talk to the students,” she said. “The students could ask them questions and get a better understanding of the impact bullying can have.”

The only incumbent running as a Republican, Reddic joined the board as an appointee in 2018 when newly elected Jonathan Merritt resigned.

“Collaboration and cooperation is the key to getting things, not just in education but really in any field,” Reddic said. “I’ve been fortunate to serve the board after 44 years spent in education. I hope to continue to help the board working towards an even better environment for our students.”

For more on this story, purchase a copy of the Jan. 29, 2020, Tideland News.

Email Zack Nally at zack@thenewstimes.com.

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