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Chatham Coalition endorces candidates in fall election

Posted Monday, October 2, 2006

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Pittsboro, NC - The Chatham Coalition, a grass-roots political action committee, today announced its endorsements of candidates running for the County Board of Election, Soil and Water District Supervisors and Board of County Commissioners in the November 7 election.

The Coalition endorsements are as follows;

  • Board of Education District 3: Kathie Russell, an attorney, parent and community volunteer from Moncure.
  • Soil and Water Supervisor: Richard Hayes, a long-time state soil survey expert from northern Chatham
  • Board of County Commissioners, District 3: Tom Vanderbeck, an organic farmer who defeated current Chairman Bunkey Morgan in the May Democratic primary, running on a platform promoting sound land-use planning, balanced economic development and open government.
“Both Kathie Russell for the school board and Rich Hayes for soil and water conservation supervisor stood out on the basis of their professional experience, knowledge, and passion about the issues, as well as their commitment to open government,” said Coalition Vice-Chair Sally Kost. “Likewise, Tom Vanderbeck showed during the spring primary campaign that he is a man of integrity who is committed to policies that would enhance and preserve our resources, improve our schools and bring openness to our government

The Coalition is not formally endorsing any of the five candidates running for two seats on the Board of Education in District 4. One of the candidates did not answer the Coalition’s questionnaire and another has withdrawn from the race. After analyzing the answers from the other three candidates, the Coalition steering committee agreed that two had strong positions on several important issues: retired Marine Gerald Totten of Bonlee and incumbent and former board chair Deb McManus of Siler City. All answers of school board candidates who responded to the questionnaire are available online at

In addition to their position on issues directly related to their own seats, all three of the candidates endorsed by the Coalition, as well as Totten and McManus, are opposed to the district voting referendum. The Coalition and Citizens for Countywide Voting, a referendum committee, are leading the effort to defeat the referendum that would turn back the clock to the voting method used before 1975, when no African Americans or women were able to be elected to the county board of commissioners or school board.

School Board District 3

“There was no doubt in any of our minds about endorsing Kathie Russell for the school board based on her answers to our questions compared to those of her opponent,” stated Coalition Treasurer Jan Nichols. “In addition, Russell is an attorney with extensive experience in construction contracts and is the mother of three school age children.”

Russell is opposed by Ken Harris, a Moncure resident, who has been a strong backer of Bunkey Morgan. Harris supports the district voting referendum and said he would even support district voting for the school board.

Russell supports developing a procedure for the school board to provide input to the Board of Commissioners on residential development requests that affect the schools. She also strongly supports a code of ethics that would require officials to declare their business and financial holdings. Harris opposes this requirement. Russell strongly supports energy efficiency and sustainability as school construction requirements. Harris seemed concerned only about the cost of initial school construction. Both candidates questioned the proposed Jack Bennett Road school site as an appropriate location for a new northeastern Chatham high school.

Though her name still appears on the school board ballot, Andrea Batsche has withdrawn from the race and is now managing Russell’s campaign.

Soil and Water Supervisor

“Rich Hayes brings extraordinary professional experience, knowledge and passion for soil and water conservation and farmland preservation to his candidacy for one of the two Soil and Water Supervisor seats,” said Coalition steering committee member Sonny Keisler, who was one of the founders of the Friends of the Rocky River.

In addition to 20 years as a soils scientist for the N.C. Division of Environmental and Natural Resources, Hayes has been a local advocate for protection of farmland and natural resources as a board member for Chatham Citizens for Effective Communities. Hayes is one of three candidates running for two non-partisan seats of the five-member Board of the Supervisors for the County Soil and Water Conservation District. His opponents include poultry farmer and incumbent Johnny Glosson -- who ran a full-page ad during the May Democratic primary supporting the Bunkey Morgan, Tommy Emerson and Mary Nettles slate -- and poultry farmer Blake Lindley Andrew Jr. whose Snow Camp farm won a 2004 environmental stewardship award from the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association.

“Chatham voters should not pass up this opportunity to put a professional soils scientist and conservation advocate on this important environmental board,” Keisler said.

School Board District 4

While both Gerald Totten and Deb McManus are both clearly knowledgeable about the critical issues affecting our county school system, the members of the steering committee of the Coalition had some concerns.

Totten showed strong support for fiscal controls, competitive bidding, redistricting school boundaries and special needs students, and he raised good questions about the location of the proposed northern Chatham area high school. The Coalition steering committee had concerns about his lukewarm support for instructional technology and parent and teacher involvement, and about his understanding of district voting.

McManus showed impressive support for parent and teacher input (such as having a parent board at each school), the needs of average students in the middle schools, instructional technology, sharing facilities with the county and working closely with county officials, and she is opposed to district voting. The Coalition steering committee had questions about her support for the current northern Chatham high school site, her willingness to depend on central staff for budget recommendations, and her inability to present ideas for improving programs for special needs children.

A third candidate who answered the questionnaire was Doug Burke of Goldston. The Coalition had concerns about his responses on several key issues. For example, Burke said he would refuse to disclose his business interests for a code of ethics and was a strong supporter of district-based voting for county commissioner and school board seats.

Also listed on the ballot are Clyde Harris of Bonlee and Chuck Grubb of Pittsboro. Grubb notified the Coalition that he is no longer actively seeking office. Harris, who was an assistant principal in the county school system, did not answer the Coalition questionnaire. Harris, as a county planning board member sided with Morgan in approving virtually every development request that has come before the board, regardless of the impact on the schools. Harris also accepted a personal loan supported by Morgan.

Related info:
Chatham Coalition
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Related info:
Chatham Coalition
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