By Catharin Shepard
Hoke County native and former state Senate candidate Allen Thomas announced this week he intends to run for a seat on the Hoke County Board of Commissioners in the 2014 elections.
Three seats on the Board of Commissioners will be up for election next year. Commissioners Ellen McNeill, Tony Hunt and Jean Powell currently occupy the seats.
Thomas, a Democrat who carried the Hoke County primary vote in his 2012 bid for a seat on the state Senate but ultimately lost to Sen. Ben Clark, said he decided to run for the Board of Commissioners to have a hand in shaping the future of Hoke County.
“As the fastest-growing county in the state, I believe we have a unique opportunity to shape our community,” he said.
Thomas grew up in Hoke County and later graduated from East Carolina University. He earned a master’s degree in executive leadership from Liberty University in December 2012. Today he works as a counselor for students.
Public safety, education and unemployment in Hoke County are the biggest issues he hopes to address if elected, Thomas said.
Additionally, Thomas said he was “deeply touched” by the shooting death last month of Hoke County High School student De’Andre “Papa” Ricketts. The 16-year-old’s death was a reminder of the need for safe activities and places for local young people, he said.
“I feel like we have to do what we can in our county to make sure our youth have access to fun and safe social activities. I think we can do that by looking to add to our Parks and Recreation Department and have the ability to take our students to the mall or the movies and the skating rink,” Thomas said. “…We have to make sure that we utilize his legacy to make other youth in our county safe.”
With a six-year-old niece at Don Steed Elementary, Thomas said he also appreciates and seeks to support teachers and education in the county. If elected, he would like the board of commissioners to consider offering local money as a supplement to teachers’ state salaries in an effort to retain qualified educators.
“We need to work to make sure that teachers feel appreciated for what they do for our county. Money isn’t everything but our teachers deserve to be compensated based on what they give our community and also the future they give for our children,” Thomas said.
Some other counties already use local money to offer supplements for teachers, he added.
“We need to look at, is this something we can write in our budget, a salary supplement,” Thomas said. “We don’t want our teachers looking to moving to other counties simply because we refuse to pay them.”
The continued growth in the county, particularly along the Highway 401 corridor, means there are also concerns about traffic and the county infrastructure, the candidate said.
“As Hoke County continues to grow, especially in our eastern corridor, I think we need to make sure we can shape that growth to make a county we can be proud of,” he said. Hoke should be “a county that our children can be proud of, saying I’m from Hoke County or I grew up in Hoke County,” Thomas added. Finding ways to offer opportunities for young people to get them to remain in the county is one issue he hopes to approach if elected.
There are issues with the local economy that need to be addressed, and if elected, Thomas said he would like to work with the board members, companies and economic developers to support business in the community.
“We also have a problem with poverty that we don’t talk much about, 22 percent of children in Hoke live in poverty,” he said. “I think anyone with a heart knows that’s unacceptable.”
When Thomas ran for state Senate in 2012, he was fresh out of school, but the experience inspired him and he said he’s learned a lot since then. The community rallied around his run for office then, he said.
“Running for office isn’t easy, being an elected official isn’t easy, but I’m willing to do that because I want to see our county succeed,” he said. “I’ve been in the community more and I’ve been able to meet more people and hear some of their concerns. Hearing what they love about Hoke County was very inspiring. We don’t want Hoke County as we know it to disappear, we just want it to be enhanced.”
Filing for commission candidates will run from February 10 to February 28, 2014. The primary election, if enough candidates from each party file to run, will be held in May 2014. The election includes races for Sheriff and three seats on the Hoke County Board of Education and will be held in November 2014.
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