November 01, 2012
Guilford County voters have a wide variety of candidates to choose from in the Guilford County soil and water conservation district race.
The five candidates seeking the one open seat are Harold Woody Alexander of Liberty, Ray Briggs from High Point, and John Andrews, Ross Dunham and Ron Tuck all from Greensboro.
All five candidates seem highly committed to preserving the quality of the county's soil and water no surprise given that it's a low profile, non-paying position.
The main duty of the board members is to provide oversight of the county's soil and water conservation staff, and to weigh the benefits of and approve or reject the projects that staff brings before the board, such as proposals for cistern recycling systems or fences around streams to keep cattle waste out.
The board has five members who each serve four-year terms. Three are elected while two are appointed by other board members.
Dunham, 42, is a building contractor who said he's learned a lot about the conservation programs since he got into the race, but he admits he's relatively new to the field.
"I've been to a couple of meetings to see what it does," he said.
Dunham said the other candidates are retired or semi-retired, and he sees it as an advantage that he's a relative newcomer. He said that, in his opinion, some of the other candidates are "over qualified."
"I think the board could use a fresh set of eyes," he said.
On the other end of the experience scale, Andrews, 69, has worked much of his life in soil and water conservation. Andrews worked for 32 years for US Soil and Water Conservation Services 23 of those in Guilford County where he worked out of the Guilford County Agricultural Center in an advisory role.
Like Andrews, Alexander, 67, said he has a great deal of experience with soil and water preservation efforts. He said his family has had a farm for over a century and that farm has been on the receiving end of many conservation programs.
"I was born and lived on a farm," Alexander said.
He said that, growing up, he saw first-hand how government programs can help create conservation-friendly farmland.
"It started with the WPA [Works Progress Administration] in the '30s," Alexander said.
Another candidate, Briggs, is the only one from the High Point area.
He said his son serves on the Soil and Water Conservation District Board in Forsyth County. Briggs added that he learned a lot two years ago when he ran for this same position but lost. In that race there were two incumbents.
Briggs said he thinks his chances will be better in this year's race.
"This time there are no incumbents," he said.
Tuck, 59, got interested in soil and water preservation while working on the family farm trying to stay in shape for football.
"My family were farmers in eastern Greensboro," he said.
Tuck, who went on to play some pro football, was an All-American defensive lineman for A&T, and he's now in that school's football Hall of Fame.
He said bailing hay was a great exercise for football and he became well informed on many issues that affect farmers, including soil and water preservation.
"I got in the race through my concern for farmers," Tuck said.
He is a general contractor "a plasterer by trade" and Tuck said some people may know his name from his football career. He played in the World Football League and he said he once had a tryout with an NFL team, but unfortunately Reggie White who was in 1998 named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year was also after the same job.
Tuck said that once, right after a pre-workout prayer, White turned to him and said, "I'm going to kick your [deleted] in the name of God."
White beat him out for the position and Tuck eventually came back to Greensboro where he worked as a general contractor; however, he said, he never lost his ties to farming.
Dunham said he's running in hopes that he can help preserve soil and water quality in the county.
"I see running as my civic duty and I thought I would give it a shot," he said.
He said he hopes he'll be able to serve on the board and use the position to inform county citizens of the importance of these issues.
"Education is the biggest thing," he said.
Dunham argues it would be beneficial to have someone like himself from outside the soil and water conservation community to offer the perspective of a businessman and contractor. He added that, though it's an office that doesn't get a lot of publicity, the job is extremely important due to water pollution issues.
Alexander said he's been interested his whole life in these issues since his family has owned a farm for over a century.
He said this is a local position but the issues involved have implications worldwide.
"I'm well aware of the importance of conservatism," Alexander said. "By 2030, estimates are that agriculture will need to produce 50 percent more to feed the world."
He said that, locally, urban sprawl had major implications for soil and water quality.
"Farmers need to be able to coexist with a growing population," Alexander said. "They need to be good neighbors."
In addition to his work on the family farm, where his family raised cattle, he worked much of his life as an executive with Sears.
He said there are 70 to 80 different types of conservation methods the board administers. He added that it's important to get people to be proactive and take voluntary measures so that there might be less future state and federal legislation mandating how farmers and others manage the land.
Of all the candidates in the race, Briggs is the most talkative about the issues. Briggs said he really wants to win so he can represent High Point and the surrounding area.
He said that, if he isn't elected this year, that entire corner of the county won't have a voice on the board.
"One goal is to have a representative from all areas, and there is no one from Jamestown, High Point or western Guilford County," Briggs said.
He said he's been shadowing his son while his son carries out his duties as Forsyth County soil and water district supervisor. He said the two have gone all over Guilford and Forsyth County looking at cistern systems and other creative ways to preserve and recycle water.
Briggs said he wants to extend the best management practices to all parts of Guilford County.
After his unsuccessful run against two incumbents two years ago, Briggs said he feels better prepared this time. He added that working with his son has provided him a window of insight into the job.
"We did the research," Briggs said. "I went with him on different projects."
Briggs said he's enjoyed meeting people in his quest to win a seat on the board.
"The soil and water district supervisor is grass roots politics at its most grass roots," he said. "It's about the issues."
He said the fact that it's an unpaid position makes the seat a service job.
"You won't see signs you can't afford to spent a lot," he said.
Like the other candidates, Tuck said he's in it to help the community. He said that, after three decades working as a plasterer and a general contractor, he'd like to give back by spreading the word about soil and water conservation to young people....continued on page 2