SMITHFIELD — The November ballot in Smithfield will have just one contested race – the District 4 tilt between political newcomers Andy Byrd of Longview Drive and Roger Wood of Whitley Drive. But, in all, voters will elect four new faces.
That’s because four incumbents chose not to seek re-election – not only Zach Crocker in District 4 but also District 1 Councilman Charles Williams, District 3 Councilman Vic Ogburn and Mayor Daniel Evans.
In all but District 4, the newcomers who filed face no opposition. They are John Lampe for mayor, Marlon Lee for District 1 and Travis Scott for District 3.
Evans and Williams had announced publicly that they would not run again – Evans after one term as mayor and three as councilman and Williams after six terms as councilman. Ogburn and Crocker quietly decided to bow out of politics.
Crocker did not wish to speak over the phone but sent the Herald a statement saying he no longer had time to serve. “It has been a pleasure to serve as councilman, but it takes a lot of time,” he wrote in an email. “Right now I don’t feel like I can focus on being a councilman and everything else I have going on.”
On the day before the filing deadline, Ogburn said he was considering running again. But he did not file, and he has not responded to requests for comment.
Scott is a Johnston County paramedic. For him, the most compelling issue before the council is the town’s relationship with its employees. He said morale is low because of the 2011 pay-raise scandal, in which some employees received double-digit raises while others got nothing.
“I think it’s time to roll our sleeves up and be good stewards not only of the taxpayers but of the employees,” Scott said.
Scott was critical of how the council conducted a survey that asked employees which benefit they valued more – taxpayer contributions to their 401(k) retirement accounts or taxpayer support of health insurance for employees’ families.
The survey drew the ire of firefighters, who refused to choose between one or the other, and it worried public utilities workers, who crowded the council chambers at a budget meeting. Both groups of employees had the impression the council was ready to end at least one of the benefits.
Council members said they were simply trying to gauge which benefit employees valued more.
Scott said the council needed to do a better job of communicating its intentions. “I think you have to be specific when you do that and define your objectives clearly,” he said.
The council can find middle ground between saving money and meeting employee needs, Scott said. “I don’t have the answer to how that’s going to work,” he said. “It’s just going to take patience to learn what the needs are and how do we meet those needs?”
District 4 is West Smithfield, and bringing that area back from economic ruin is the top priority of both candidates there.
Byrd, a business owner, and Roger Wood, a manager at the Coca-Cola distribution center in Clayton, describe themselves as conservatives who want to bring economic development to West Smithfield.
When he filed, Byrd said the town needed to be more open to low-wage employers who come knocking on Smithfield’s door. Wood said he’d focus on promoting West Smithfield’s assets, including the airport and access to Clayton via U.S. 70 Business.
“I don’t think there’s any reason why we can’t promote our area,” he said. “It’s well trafficked.”
Wood said the town council might one day need to curb employee benefits, at least for new hires.
“People are concerned with the 401K contributions and employee health benefits,” he added. “Through my campaign I’ll be reviewing that – where we stand.”