By Catharin Shepard
Former Board of Education member and Hoke County attorney Harry Southerland announced this week he plans to seek a seat on the Hoke County Board of Commissioners next year.
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.
Southerland said he decided to run for commissioner as a way of offering service to the people of Hoke County.
“I’ve been away from home for awhile, I moved back. I’ve been living in Fayetteville and Raleigh, Durham and Los Angeles. I think honestly that I’ve been called to serve, that’s my call in life is to serve, some type of service,” he said. “I think the time is right for me to come back home and to give this service to them because I believe that I could, the cliché is make a difference.”
Southerland was born and raised in Hoke County. While attending Hoke High, he played basketball and football and graduated with the Class of 1985. He went on to attend North Carolina State University and then earned his law degree from North Carolina Central University in 1994.
Southerland, who once served as the county attorney for Hoke, was disbarred in June 2004 following a disciplinary hearing before the North Carolina State Bar. According to the bar’s announcement of the action, “the commission found that Southerland misappropriated client funds.” In 2002, he refused to repay the county for money he spent on a trip to Washington, D.C. that he made after he was no longer a contracted county employee, according to News-Journal archives. That same year, the county and the state bar association also investigated allegations about Southerland’s handling of county foreclosures while he worked as the county attorney.
Asked about these previous issues, Southerland said he made mistakes and learned from them.
“Those are mistakes I made within my law practice, and I accept those mistakes, I ask forgiveness for those mistakes, and I learned a whole lot from those mistakes,” he said. “I think that’s what I take from it, and I ask people to forgive me from the mistakes I made, but going forward I plan to take what I’ve learned from the mistakes with the help of God and my family to kind of move things forward. I don’t sit and try to blame anybody for what happened.”
Southerland now works as a sports agent and owns a health company based out of Whiteville. He also advises and consults clients in business development and entertainment.
His work in business came with failures and successes, he said, and Southerland said it taught him leadership skills.
“I had failures and success. I think all of that provided me with some good leadership skills to take the county to the next level,” he said.
If elected, Southerland said he would like to focus on managing the growth in the county, bringing jobs to the area and supporting public safety.
“I really believe I can help recruit more businesses to Hoke County and give us the economic development that we need,” he said.
Southerland said he would also like to work on supporting education.
“A lot of times for kids, education is the difference between jail and a career. It’s just that fine line,” he said. “I want to help and I want to continue supporting education.”
Supporting SandHoke Early College High School is one way he would like to do that if elected, the candidate said. He praised the “net-zero” energy-efficient Sandy Grove Middle School and said he supported such efforts. He also said he would support building a new high school for the county.
“We need it, we really do. We’re growing by leaps and bounds,” Southerland said.
Supporting the sheriff’s office is another goal if Southerland is elected. Looking at gang issues in particular should be a priority, he said. Providing parenting classes that teach ways to identify whether children are in gangs could also be a good idea, he said.
“We’re losing them when they start killing each other at 16 and 17,” he said.
Jobs are the biggest issue facing Hoke County right now, Southerland said.
“I think that’s a major obstacle. We lost about 900 jobs at the House of Raeford and haven’t found a replacement for those or any type of substitute for that,” he said. “It’s hard to replace jobs. That’s income.”
Southerland and his wife have four children: eldest daughter Te’Era is a Chapel Hill graduate and pursuing an acting career in Atlanta; LaShena graduated from William and Mary University and works as an accountant in Washington, D.C.; and Aliya and N’Diyah attend school in Hoke County.
Southerland plans to file to run as a Democrat.
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 including races for sheriff and three seats on the Hoke County Board of Education will be held in November 2014.