Don Mial

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District 1 Challenger- Democrat Don Mial is a Vietnam War veteran and was called up from the National Guard to serve in both Iraq wars. He works in the juvenile justice system.

You have a very impressive military service record. You’ve participated in both Gulf Wars. How old were you this last time, when you got called up from the National Guard?

Mial: Well a lot of people say I was too old. It was in 2005, so I was 53 years old. I decided to retire after that, but the actual age limit is 62 years old, so believe it or not I still could be over there… I went in the military when I was 18 years old, straight out of high school. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Then after four years in the Air Force, I went straight into college. The military motivated me to do something else.

In reference to the school board crisis, you have often pointed to the fact that you are a product of Wake County schools. Did you attend a segregated school?

Mial: I started out in segregated schools. But, then my parents moved me to Daniels and that’s when I had my first taste of integrated school.

What was that like?

Mial: It was an adjustment. It truly was an adjustment. But the great thing about that was the people that I met didn’t treat me badly. It wasn’t like I had problems or anything like that. It was a different experience, but it wasn’t bad. There were only about 25 minority kids at Daniels at that time and my brother, my sister and I were three of them.

How has it made you feel to watch the school board’s actions unfold over the past year?

Mial: It has been disturbing. We don’t need to change anything about the direction of our schools if what we truly want to work on is student achievement and that’s the premise of what the opposition is saying, with all the talk about the graduation rate. Did the previous school board make some mistakes? Probably. Does the school system need improving? Yes. But, do we need to tear it completely up in order to make the necessary changes? No. And that’s what I see this new school board trying to do, trying to destroy the whole concept.

Do you think that is part of the sacrifice we have to make as a community to have good schools?

Mial: Absolutely. Everybody is going to have to sacrifice. But one thing we could improve, that is driving parents nutty, is getting every kid who is in the same household on the same track. If you have siblings on different tracks then when it comes time for the parents to try to set up a family vacation, it’s almost impossible.

You are in favor of a gang task force. How do we actually break the cycle of children turning to gangs in our communities?

Mial: So many of these kids are caught up in gangs, because that’s where they believe they need to be, they believe the gang is what’s going to take care of them. Unlike adult offenders, all of the juvenile offenders will return to the streets. From that perspective, it is in society’s best interest to do everything we can with those individuals while they are in our system, to provide them an education, and deter them from being in gangs once they get out. We need to try to redirect them. We’ve got a task force now, which local law enforcement is involved in. But, it’s going to take more of a community effort. This is a community problem. You can put all the police on the streets you want. But, there are limits to how close they are going to be able to get to the different people who are part of a gang.

Do you think they will be able to strike at the root of the problem?

Mial: I think the community along with law enforcement can do it. There are some things law enforcement can address. But there are more things which people from the community are going to have to start dealing with. Community, family, schools, and peer groups are the most crucial components of a young person’s development. If those four variables are working strong then you won’t have anything to worry about. But, if there is a problem with two or three of those variables then you can predict that that kid is going to have an education problem, like he’s not going to graduate or he’s going to end up in jail.

Do you think you’re opponent Commissioner Bryan has done a good job as county commissioner?

Mial: I think he has missed some opportunities. Look at mental health, for instance. Why are we just now building this facility that’s about to open. That’s something we needed to be sorting out a long time ago.

Everybody seems to agree that mental health care is a disaster.  Where do we go from here on solving our mental health problems?

Mial: Everybody agrees it’s a disaster, but nobody’s willing to make the sacrifice it takes to fix things. Everyone is pointing fingers at one another, saying “it’s his fault” or “it’s her fault.” We all need to come together at the table and draw up a plan that will work towards solving this issue. If we don’t take an active role in this now, it’s only going to get worse. Same with gangs. It’s not going to go away. We can’t stick our head in the sand, like an ostrich. All these issues are going to remain on the table until we come together as a community and say, “We are going to solve this problem.”

It seems like legislators can only do so much when they are not backed by the community. Is part of the problem that our community is not willing to sacrifice and take ownership of these problems?

Mial: Well, I think that plays into it. One thing that we- the county commissioners- can do is to help bring the community together.

Would you support a referendum on the half-cent sales tax for public transit in 2011?

Mial: Absolutely. There are three things that play into our economic development: education, transportation, and health and human services. If we don’t have a strong education system, we won’t be able to supply the workforce that it takes to attract employers. If we don’t have a strong transportation system, no company is going to want to locate here.

How do we continue to attract growth but at the same time play catch up on infrastructure needs like water and transportation which come from past growth?

Mial: There’s an old saying: “We’ve got to grow better, not bigger.” We’ve got to plan and we’ve got to be strategic in our planning. That’s going to require all our municipalities sitting down at the table and coordinating. What takes place in Knightdale, will affect Raleigh. What takes place in Cary, will affect Holly Springs.

Would you support impact fees or transfer taxes?

Mial: No. The builder would just pass that cost on to the consumer and that would price some people out of being able to afford their own house.

Then, how do we get builders and developers to help pay for sustainable growth?

Mial: That’s an age-old problem. They are going to have to step up to the plate. How we get that done? I don’t know. So many individuals are taking contributions from the builders. For instance, my opponent has taken quite a bit. If you go back and look at his disclosure from 2006, you will see that a vast amount of his money is coming from builders.

We talk about sustainable growth a lot, but where was that concept a couple of years ago? It seems like our building economy was a bonfire, which brought lots of families in, but hasn’t necessarily brought in the long-term money for the services that those families need.

Mial: Growth happened because we do have a good thing going here. We had a strong, vibrant school system. We don’t want to cut into the builder’s profits but we have to figure out a way to get them to realize that if we don’t work together here, we’re going to kill the golden goose.

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