Ward, 65, who faces political newcomer Rebecca McCall for the District 4 seat, was a two-term commissioner in 1994-2002 before barely losing reelection to fellow conservative Mark Williams.
Both current candidates have an extensive business background. Ward, a 1970 East Henderson High School grad, is a third-generation apple grower and packer. He owns Ward Brothers’ Tractor sales and repair that his father Jack Ward began in the early Seventies. He said at the debate April 12 that he learned spending restraint with his own money on the line, and would apply that to taxpayer money. “The business world is about making mistakes, but correcting them” and avoiding them in the future.
Don told The Tribune he has much more time now to serve as commissioner, with his nephews mostly running the tractor business. He told the debate crowd that “I set my own schedule… Today, I sprayed apple trees.”
Don and Donna Greer Ward’s adult children, Rusty and Stephanie, work with their family. Rusty has taught, and is a West Henderson assistant varsity basketball coach.
P.T. Ward, Don’s great-great-great grandfather, as a county commissioner was instrumental in getting the Historic Courthouse built in 1905. The Wards have been in this state for over two centuries.
Don Ward has been Blue Ridge Apple Growers president. He was local Young Businessman of the Year in Agriculture in 1991, then Henderson County Farmer of the Year in ’92. He served six years in the Army, including during the Vietnam War. He was chairman of the N.C. Committee to elect Bob Dole as president, in 1996. Ward has recently helped run local adult softball leagues.
Tommy Thompson is relinquishing the D4 seat, after two terms. It represents areas such as Edneyville and Dana, in northern Henderson County. The GOP primary May 8 decides who succeeds Thompson, since there is no one running in any other party in the general election.
Voting is county-wide, not just in D4. Those registered as Republicans or unaffiliated can vote in the GOP primary. McCall said she does not seek people crossing over back and forth, for their race.
Ward said he welcomes Democrats to re-register, in order to vote in this election. That “gives you the chance to vote for the person, and not the party.” He added, “I was born and raised a Republican. But I have no problems pulling the lever for a Democrat, who is the right person” for the position. Ward noted he lost by merely 14 votes, in 2002, so every vote counts.
Ward’s main campaign issues include re-establishing closer city-county “cost-analysis” planning on school projects which he said with his backing saved much money two decades ago. He was on the first joint facilities committee on school building projects, that oversaw six school projects in his eight years as a commissioner. The group examined options such as facility size and amenities, weighing near and longer-term needs with cost-reduction ideas.
Such closer coordination might also strengthen communication of the county with the school board and City of Hendersonville, and lessen tensions that emerged over the new Hendersonville High project the county is moving ahead with, Ward suggested at the debate. If so, “we wouldn’t have these problems.” He felt “disheartened” by the conflicts. He stated on Facebook that commissioners “should be working with the school board co-operatively, without threats or ultimatums. I’ve done it before successfully as a commissioner, and am committed to doing it again.” He said at the debate that “schools, teachers, kids” are a priority.
A debate question was on opening school project bids to architects, rather than stick with the Asheville firm affiliated with the county. Ward is for open bids. McCall agreed, especially for larger contracts.
Ward said, “I can do the job. She can do the job. We mirror each other quite a bit,” though differ on some key issues.
Two notable distinctions between them are on the law enforcement training facility — which McCall supports though not necessarily in the latest site (99 acres off Macedonia Road, in Saluda near I-26) — and in how much reserve money to save versus spend for priority needs.
Opposition to the Saluda site last week was visibly strong first from nearby residents, and now Saluda officials and Polk County commissioners who notified Henderson leaders they do not want any joint site in Polk County for training.
Also last week, Henderson County commissioners at their meeting indicated they may back off from the site in Saluda, at the edge of neighboring Polk. It takes three of five members to decide on a vote. Bill Lapsley and Charlie Messer said they do not want a noisy outdoor facility there, nor perhaps elsewhere in the county. Lapsley is reluctant to do isolated spot rezoning, to allow the facility in residential areas. He noted the R2R zone it now is in disallows a shooting range, even with a special-use permit.
In contrast, Grady Hawkins is still for an outdoor range and indoor facility and rezoning to enable a special-use permit to authorize it. He wants the Saluda site still considered.
Swing votes are Chr. Mike Edney and Thompson, who indicated they are now leaning against Saluda as the site and hope to find a better one. Yet they are for following through on contracts for studies of the site’s environmental impact and feasibility.
Earlier, commissioners shaved the proposed project’s scope and cost from $20 million to less than $6 million, for a less-costly but noisier outdoor range and an indoor facility. The outdoors facet enables tactical maneuvers and dog tracking the indoors-only Justice Academy cannot provide, Sheriff Charlie McDonald has noted. The D4 candidates differ on the need for the facility. McCall sees it as crucial, Ward as “unnecessary.”
Ward said he is firmly opposed to any new training facility at any cost mentioned thus far. He prefers money saved for it instead goes for such uses as more school resource officers to boost security, and other immediate “needs of schools teachers” for “more significant impact.”
On reserve funds, McCall sides with standard fiscal policy of having a healthy rainy-day fund beyond the 8 percent the state requires and the 12 percent the county has an absolute minimum.
Ward wants more excess money used, instead of raising taxes or to possibly lower the rate. In the debate, he called for “justification” of the approximate $20 million in spare cash. He figures that with county reserves at more than $50 million, instead of about $30 million at 12 percent.
Some reserves are limited in their use, though. Further, some caution that if it is for a new and ongoing expense, then it will eat up chunks of reserve money that might suddenly be needed for unforeseen huge burdens. Others counter that the “fund balance” thus can best be used for one-time or time-limited spending.
“Revenue-neutral” tax rates also came up at the debate Ward said he and Grady Hawkins, who is back on the board, got that as a policy in 1994. The county reassesses properties in the county every four years. They usually rise in value, except in down economic times. When up, they bring in much more money with the same tax rate. Thus, a revenue-neutral rate drops to bring in a similar amount —typically slightly more to account for inflation.
Both candidates have impressive resumes. McCall, 61, also an East Henderson alumnus, points to her vast experience in business related to finances. She is now production manager for Norafin (Americas), overseeing “functional details” in its new factory in Mills River. The corporate professional is a former business owner, and points to 40 years of experience in business management, accounting and engineering.
She wants to bring her money-saving acumen in private industry to county budget decision-making, along with negotiating and problem-solving experience. She has a B.S. in business administration from Montreat College.
She had much responsibility and achievement with G.E. Lighting locally, then Hubbell Lighting in Greenville, S.C. Her G.E. work included in application engineering, international sales and as customer service manager.
She progressed to be among its very first “Six Sigma black belt” specialists. This enabled her to “resolve problems — and save them $800,000 a year.” She deployed statistical analysis, to find solutions and “improve processes.”
She cross-trained to also specialize in mechanical drafting and tool and die design. She realized there was greater pay in such a “man’s job.” In time “I took it to the next level, and worked with fixtures” as a Hubbell product manager. She led cost-savings in developing multi-million dollar projects, and dealt with facility construction. Early on, she was the controller for Industrial Contracting.
Ward said he earned a business administration degree online. As a commissioner, he served on 24 county advisory boards, such as emergency services and on health. As Blue Ridge Health Clinic’s assistant director, he helped keep the clinic for lower-income people afloat. He said the county’s achievements in his era include establishing a hospital authority for county-affiliated Pardee that helped it return to “making money,” and seeing that “it can’t be sold.”
In recreation, he steered development of parks in Etowah and East Flat Rock and upgrading of Jackson Park which is named after his opponent’s grandfather. Ward chaired panels on agriculture and also travel and tourism. He served on the WNC Regional Water Authority.
Both candidates are for preserving many rural areas, such as scrutinizing where water and sewer lines go since as Ward noted that “controls growth.” He noted sewer service is costly, but water is profitable for Hendersonville. He said the city manager is “willing to negotiate” water rates for those outside city limits.
McCall and Ward are wary of DOT’s planned Balfour Parkway. Ward said, “We don’t need roundabouts that take out business.” Both expressed concern about the rising opioid epidemic. Ward said “once a week, we pick up needles” littered by his family’s apple packing house.
They each said they might support county restrictions on sales of some semi-automatic guns, but need to further study the issue. They were also asked about beefing up school security with armed officers, perhaps beyond regulars to others getting special training.
Ward cautioned an armed protector is not a guarantee during stress of an actual attack. He told how during Vietnam combat, a “fully-trained” colleague was “attacked on patrol. He could not pull the trigger. If you hesitate for a second, you’re dead. And the guys next to you are dead also.”
On a light note, Ward quipped that in politics the Golden Rule is that “It’s the people with Gold who Rule.”
For more on Ward’s candidacy, search on Facebook for “Elect Don Ward County Commissioner.” McCall’s campaign website is rebeccamccall.com. The web link to her Tribune profile is: http://www.thetribunepapers.com/2018/04/19/commission-hopeful-rebecca-mccall-ably-crunches-numbers/.