By Catharin Shepard
Former Hoke County commission and state General Assembly candidate John F. Harry announced last week he will run for one of three seats on the Hoke County Board of Commissioners in the 2014 elections.
Harry filed last week to run for the commission, but said he had also considered running for a state office this year.
“I was being courted to run for state by the Republican party out of two other counties. After spending months of looking at issues, I felt I could serve the community better by running for county rather than being at the state level because everything we have in the county, our taxation, our property evaluation, it’s at the county level, it’s not at the state level,” Harry said.
Ultimately, he decided to run for office in Hoke in hopes of getting more accomplished.
If elected, Harry said he hopes to address a number of issues including the identity of Hoke County, economic development, land use and zoning, spending, county debt, and school infrastructure budgeting.
“We have issues in Hoke County, one is the identity of Hoke County. What does Hoke County want to be, rural, urban or both?” he said. “…I would like to address that, what is our identity and how will we progress in the next decade.”
Supporting small businesses in the county is another area of particular concern.
“The business environment in Hoke County, we have a lot of small business. We have issues there with taxation; we have a property usage that would confront a small business. It would also confront development in Hoke County. I know there’s been, I’ve voiced this in the past, I still voice the same principles, we need to look at land usage. We need to look at the taxations that come forth from the county when it comes to the rural and non-rural,” Harry said.
Part of that involves looking at local school funding. Harry said that in the past, the commission and county school board have used “the back door effect” in connection with school funding issues.
“By law, all bond issues are supposed to go to the people at the state and local level. Our county commissioners have bypassed that and the school board has bypassed that,” he said. The commission and school board “are not coming to the people” with local school funding matters, he said.
In another school funding issue, the state school voucher program is another concern for Harry. In a campaign statement, Harry said that he is “appalled” at the current county board of education, as well as commission candidates Michael Lindsay and Harry Southerland, for their stance against the school voucher program.
“I will support our board of education on any issue but this one as it relates to charter schools and vouchers,” he wrote in the statement.
If elected, Harry said he would seek to promote transparency and to continue to be available to people in the community.
“I’ll be in the community, you’ll meet me on the streets, you have my phone number,” he said. “…Our current county commissioners are not that way.”
Identity is definitely the biggest problem facing Hoke County right now, the candidate said. With the growth in the eastern part of Hoke, decisions made in the upcoming years will have a major impact on the county’s future identity. The last decade and last five years have brought a lot of change
“I’m not into identity (as in) saying we control what you want to put on your property, but we need to look at the ideas that neighbors are neighbors. Let the neighbor develop his own property, and if it affects their neighbor, listen to your neighbor. Don’t ram it down and start building all these communities, little communities,” Harry said.
Right now, the county commissioners are allowing developers to dictate about growth in the county, he added.
“Developers are dictating to us where they want to go and how they want to do it,” he said. “Identity, it’s always identity. What do we want to be?”
Harry said that voters should cast a ballot for him because he believes in and lives by principle.
“I believe in principle. To me, principle has been my way of life. That’s how I make my friendships, that’s how I choose my place of worship and that’s how I chose my mate principle,” he said.
Harry is a retired educator with a master’s degree in adult education. In 2010, he ran for a seat in the state House of Representatives and in 2012 he ran for a seat on the board of commissioners; he previously ran for school board in 1988. He has been a part of many community organizations including the Stonewall Volunteer Fire Department, the Hoke County Honor Guard, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Disabled American Veterans and the Purple Heart Association.
Harry and his wife have lived in the Antioch community since 1993. The couple’s two children Holly and David graduated from Hoke High School, where Harry said he worked with several others to found a soccer program in 1997.