District 7 Challenger- Democrat Jack Nichols is a former Wake County commissioner, who decided not to run for re-election after his first term in office. He is an attorney, who specializes in administrative law with Allen and Pinnix law firm.
Do you think we are at a crucial point in Wake County’s history?
Nichols: Well I don’t think that it’s just technology that’s important. I do think we’re at a crossroads both from a technology standpoint and from an economic development standpoint. Really in a lot of ways, we’re at this crossroads. I grew up in Charlotte and I’ve seen what’s happened to their school system and I think that Wake County is on the brink of having Charlotte’s same problems.
Nobody wants to stop growth in Wake County, but do you think we’ve got some ground to make up in terms of how we have kept up with growth over the past 10 years?
Nichols: Yeah we do. Some of our water and sewer problems and some of the maintenance for our treatment plants and the locations of our roads are things that should have already been taken care of. We need to have both a comprehensive and a coordinated plan for all the components. The county doesn’t do all the planning. You’ve got 13 municipalities that do the planning. But, you need to coordinate those plans.
Do you see that as the county commissioner’s role?
I actually was working on that when I was on the board of commissioners before and I had in place a plan to do that and then I didn’t run for re-election and the new commissioners that got elected in ’94 undid all the stuff that we started. So, that to me is unfinished business.
How much do you think you will be able to effect the direction of the school board as a county commissioner?
Most of it is job owning. So I’m not going to pretend that we have all this power that we don’t. We only fund a fourth of their budget. We’re not going to beat them over the head with a pocketbook. In terms of practical effect- and I hate to put this as a partisan matter- but if the Democrats win, there is going to be a mandate to work with the school board for change. If the Republicans win, they’re going to have a mandate to support the school board with what it wants. In a peculiar way, this county commission race has become a county wide referendum on the direction of our schools.
You have said, “All people who work full time should be able to support a family.” What do you think you can do as a county commissioner to make it easier for someone who works full-time on a minimum wage job to be able to support their families and have access to health care?
Nichols: Most people don’t realize that a lot of what we think of as state services are county administered, so we can control where the money goes. The county can’t pretend it has any more money than the state does. But what we can do is come up with public/private partnerships to help focus where things are going to go. Smart Start, which I helped start, is a good example of that. Across the county we improved the quality of child care.
Someone who is in a low-income situation needs childcare and transportation in order to get a job, not just the job. If you don’t coordinate all that together- which I believe is the county’s role- then even if someone had a job, they might not be able to get that job, either because they have to stay with their kids or because they literally can’t get there. Creating all those interstitial type things at the local level and making them work is what the county does best.