Three incumbents and three challengers are running for three seats in the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners' District B in the 2020 General Election.
Republican incumbents Richard V. Linville, David R. Plyler and Gloria D. Whisenhunt are facing Democratic challengers Gull Riaz, Christopher Smith and Eric Weiss, who are all running for public office for the first time.
Richard V. Linville
Emergency services (EMS, fire, law enforcement, and so on) education, health-department matters, economic-development matters and keeping taxes as low as possible are among Linville’s top priorities.
“They are all basic important things to serve the people of Forsyth County,” Linville said. “Public education is always one of the most important things.”
He talked about the health department and its crucial services, saying COVID-19 has brought the department’s services to the forefront this year.
“They’ve done all kinds of things in regard to the virus situation,” he said.
He spoke of his position on all these priorities as a county commissioner.
“We try the best we can to support the needs of all them,” he said. “Supporting all of the needs can sometimes be differences of opinion about that. My basic philosophy is you try to balance all of the things.”
While providing these services for people in the county, he said, it is important to not overlook trying to balance taxation.
He said the virus has caused a lot of difficulties for people, including the loss of jobs and problems with paying bills.
“Taxes could turn out to be one of those things,” he said.
He added that keeping taxes as low as possible is something he has supported since the beginning of his service on the board.
David R. Plyler
During his tenure on the board of commissioners, Plyer said two new libraries — one in Winston-Salem and another in Kernersville — have been built and a third is close to opening in Clemmons. He is also proud of plans to start construction on a $110 million (in construction costs) Hall of Justice.
“That (new) courthouse is important for no other reason than to keep our people secure over there,” Plyer said.
He said that the board also needs to give support to Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough Jr.
In addition to completing construction on the new Hall of Justice and Clemmons Library, Plyler’s other priorities are education, including increased teacher pay; and positive economic development, which includes additional jobs.
He said the county was fortunate that voters approved a quarter-cent sales-tax increase during the March 3 primary aimed at boosting supplemental pay for teachers in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools.
He said some teachers are going to Guilford County and elsewhere to get more money.
“You’ve got to stop that,” he said.
Education is one of the issues at the forefront of Riaz’s run for county commissioner.
He said some of his friends who work in schools often talk about how they have to pay for supplies out-of-pocket.
“They should definitely have school supplies provided for already,” he said.
Teacher retention in the school system is also a priority for him.
Riaz favors a push for more mandatory life skills to be taught to youths in school, including cooking, being financially responsible and a good work ethic.
He said it is also important to have accountability and transparency from county departments by allotment of budget.
“A lot of people don’t know where their tax dollars are going,” he said.
In terms of public safety and support, Riaz said the county’s budget is different than what the county commissioners have been used to because of COVID-19.
After money is spent for salaries and other items, Riaz would like to see any extra money spent on other things such as COVID relief for families and small businesses. He would also like to see an audit to show what’s been happening because of the virus.
He said he is also for the environment and equality.
Initially, Smith ran for office to improve the youth upward mobility rate in the community.
Upward mobility is the capacity for rising to a higher social or economic position.
According to New York Times data based on a 2015 study by Harvard economists Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren, Forsyth County was ranked near the bottom nationally for youth upward mobility, Smith said.
When his daughter started kindergarten, Smith said he noticed inequity in Forsyth County, especially the haves and have nots in the public schools.
“There were areas that were better funded,” Smith said. “There were areas that had an active PTA. There were other schools that didn’t have anything.”
He said he is running to be an advocate for youth in the county, including working with the local school board about more trade programs in the high schools, and money for teachers and building infrastructure.
Smith said COVID-19 changed everything by highlighting and exasperating issues the county was already facing.
“COVID is devastating everyone, but, if you were hurting before COVID, you are hurting worse now,” he said.
He would like for Forsyth County to set up an opportunity task force, similar to what Charlotte did after the 2015 study, to exam the county’s issues and recommend changes.
Housing, racial justice and education are the biggest issues that Weiss said he sees in Forsyth County.
“My campaign slogan is, ‘Systemic change for systemic problems,’” Weiss said.
In terms of housing, he said there are many problems.
“The first one being that housing is too expensive for too many people,” he said. “There are too many people that are rent burdened and are spending more than 30% of their income on rent or mortgage.”
He considers housing a problem for county commissioners because this area has a combined city-county planning board and code.
Weiss said too many people are spending an excessive amount of money on transportation.
“We need to enable and create safe, dense, walkable, and diverse communities where one can live, work and relax without the requirement of having a car,” he said.
Changes he would like to see in the county include eliminating parking minimums; legalizing six-unit homes on all single-family properties; legalizing dense, walkable communities; affordable housing; more money for schools; at least a $15-hourly wage for school and county employees; and the removal of racial barriers.
He said he supports the Rails Coalition’s demands to defund police and seek repreparations for the Black community of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County.
Gloria D. Whisenhunt
Whisenhunt said her top priorities are to be an active, energetic commissioner and a voice for the taxpayers.
She said the most important thing to Forsyth’s economic development is to have the lowest taxes possible and good services.
Whisenhunt said the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners is still dealing with COVID-19 and its effects on the county but believes it prepared well for the pandemic and has spent COVID money from the federal government in a responsible manner.
She said the commissioners are still doing the work of the people of Forsyth County, including the start of a new courthouse and a new library.
She is proud that the board formed a Reopen Forsyth ad hoc committee, which she said she proposed, in the spring. She is also proud that she was instrumental in bringing Stepping Up to the county. The program focuses on reducing recidivism among women and men with substance abuse problems or mental illness in the county jail.
In March, when voters approved the quarter-cent sales tax, the commissioners kept their promise to reduce property tax by a penny, she said.
“Nobody had any idea how COVID would affect our sales tax, but, actually, the sales tax has been much better than anybody anticipated,” she said.
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