Today, the moment voters and candidates have been waiting for has finally arrived.
Contested races for both Rockingham and Hamlet city councils and offices of mayor mean this should be one of the most interesting municipal votes in recent memory in the county.
In addition, Ellerbe and Hoffman voters have uncontested races for both town council and mayoral positions that will go to the vote today.
There will be six voting precincts open in the county from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. today, with two apiece in Rockingham and Hamlet, and one each in Ellerbe and Hoffman.
Rockingham’s First Precinct will vote at Browder Park, while Rockingham’s Second Precinct will vote at Leath Memorial Library.
In Hamlet, Precinct One will vote at the First United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall on Charlotte Street, while Hamlet’s Precinct Two will vote at the First Presbyterian Church Fellowship Hall on Rice Street.
Ellerbe and Hoffman will both host their voting precincts at their town hall.
The mayoral races in Rockingham and Hamlet feature opponents who are stark contrasts of one another, both personally and politically.
Rockingham Mayor Gene McLaurin is seeking to retain the elected position he’s held since 1997, while challenger Bruce Stanback has run an unconventional, grassroots-based campaign that shunned traditional media.
The vision for the city McLaurin has expressed throughout his tenure as mayor, as well as during the race, is one of investment to build a new economy, while maintaining sound financial policy and suppressing the taxpayers’ burden.
In an interview with the Daily Journal, McLaurin said one thing he will change if re-elected is marketing the investments the city is currently making to draw development and job creation.
Stanback declined to grant interviews to the newspaper since declaring he would run for mayor.
However, at an appearance at Rohanen Primary last week, he pointed to his experience on the Richmond Count School Board and various other boards to signal his qualifications. He also said his tenure as mayor would be focused on creating job opportunities to draw Richmond County youth back home after college.
While Stanback faces an entrenched, popular incumbent, perhaps his biggest obstacle to being elected has come from his service on one of the boards he previously chaired.
Following his term as Chairman of the Rockingham Housing Authority Board of Directors, Stanback has come under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office In Greensboro, in connection with alleged financial misconduct that took place at the agency.
In Hamlet, Mayor Jeff Smart and challenger Jesse McQueen also offer an interesting juxtaposition of characters, and a legal case to serve as a backdrop to the election as well.
McQueen is currently engaged in a lawsuit against the City of Hamlet, claiming his work conditions at the city’s police department were made untenable after coming into conflict with city administration.
He also serves as a Hamlet City Councilman, where he was the only member to vote against the city’s budget this year, and has voiced his opposition to spending on projects like the Railroad Depot Museum and the Tornado Building in downtown Hamlet.
In a previous interview with the Daily Journal, Smart pointed to some of his successes in revitalizing the downtown area of Hamlet and removing abandoned structures to make his case for re-election.
The city council races in both Rockingham and Hamlet also offer races pitting incumbents versus challengers.
In Rockingham, three seats are up for grabs.
The three incumbents are all seeking re-election. They are investment banker John Hutchinson, business owner Steve Morris and school principal Shirley Fuller.
In separate interviews, each pointed to the financial status of the city, the fact Rockingham is in the lower third of comparably-sized cities in the state in relation to its tax burden and progress that has been made on quality of life projects, including Hitchcock Creek and the new recreational complex.
The three challengers are Perdue Farms Human Resource professional Travis Billingsley, educator Teressa Beavers and business manager Jerry Austin, and each of these candidates have run on a platform of change.
In separate interviews with the Daily Journal, each called for lower taxes.
Billingsley also pointed to workforce development as something the city should be more involved in, while Beavers cited recycling and cultural enrichment as areas to be addressed and Austin called for job creation to improve the quality of life in Rockingham.
In the Hamlet City Council race, McQueen is not seeking another term on his seat, meaning the only incumbent for the two available seats is retired Richmond Community College Department Head Abbie Covington.
The two challengers in that race are former Richmond Community College President Dr. Diane Honeycutt and CSX railroad clerk Jonathan Buie.
Covington pointed to her knowledge of grant letting, saying she will seek to find alternative sources of funding for municipal projects.
Honeycutt cited her experience at the college and on other boards, saying her major issues will be clean-up efforts in the city and business recruitment.
For Buie, perhaps his biggest issue is citizen-involvement in city government, and he has pledged to restore the television broadcast of the city council meetings.
In Ellerbe, mayoral candidate Olivia Webb’s name will be the only one on the ballot for mayor.
The same is true of Hoffman, where incumbent Jo Ann Jasper-Thomas’s name will be the only one on the ballot.
The council races in both of these towns feature only incumbents, and each of the incumbents in the two towns are running for re-election.
n Staff Writer Philip D. Brown can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 32, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.