BERLIN – Longtime local NAACP head Eddie Lee wants to take over as Worcester County Commissioner for District 2 because, he said, residents need a more responsive and involved commissioner.
The District 2 Worcester County Commissioner race will be effectively decided by the Sept. 14 Democratic primary, with either Lee or incumbent Commissioner Jim Purnell gaining the district’s commissioner seat for the next four years. No Republican candidate emerged this year to seek the District 2 seat. The primary victor will win the general election as long as he receives more votes than any write-in candidates.
“I feel that the incumbent is not being responsive to the needs of the second district,” said Lee, who works in real estate. “He’s been distant. He’s been aloof.”
The incumbent is not addressing the lack of jobs, the lack of affordable housing and the under-use of the new technical school, Lee said, three critical issues that must be addressed.
The lack of jobs seems to be the number one concern in District 2 right now, Lee said. He suggested forging a relationship with the commander of Wallops Island spaceport and work on increasing the offerings at the new Worcester Technical High School to train local residents to work at the spaceport and for related companies. That could provide good jobs for young people coming out of school and lay the groundwork to bring other businesses in.
More immediately, jobs, small businesses and cottage industries could be created through the creation of heritage trails in the southern part of the county to increase tourism.
County government is not doing enough to support small businesses, Lee said. The county needs to promote the creation of new businesses through fee reductions, waivers, or abatements. More jobs and more businesses means more tax revenue.
Raising taxes is not on the table for Lee and nor is it off the table. When quality of life becomes affected, taxes become an issue.
Affordable housing must be addressed, Lee said, using models of government and private industry working together that have been successful, such as community land trusts.
“Almost unforgivable decisions have been made about land use and housing here in Worcester County,” Lee said.
The County Commissioners voted against impact fees during the housing boom, despite a consultant’s recommendation, and therefore have lost millions of dollars, Lee said.
The county needs to continue the quality of education it has, and address one of Lee’s perpetual concerns, the gap in achievement between African American students and white students.
“The issue of the educational gap is not going to be resolved until there are some realities addressed,” Lee said.
The missing part of the puzzle is the need for more qualified black teachers, black males particularly, as mentors for black youth.
Many black students feel the school environment is hostile and that they are not understood there, Lee said. Teachers are simply less aware of where black students are coming from, he said, although the schools have made significant efforts in staff development to bridge the cultural divide. Education does not end at 3 p.m., Lee said, and an ombudsman is needed to work with families and communities, especially through the churches, to help students.
“I’m pleased with the progress the school system has made,” said Lee. “It’s a good system that has been created.”
Lee embraces the county’s plans to preserve the bays, including the county Comprehensive Plan. The county needs to continue to monitor the health of the bays and make adjustments as necessary.
The Liquor Control Board needs to be re-organized and restructured. In 1998, when a referendum on the LCB was held, Lee worked to keep the LCB. If the LCB is disbanded, the lost revenues could be made up out of increased liquor licensing fees or fees on sales, said Lee.
The county needs to foster better relations with the town governments, Lee said.
“The other issue I think is paramount is transparency in government by the County Commissioners,” Lee said. “The voters who placed the commissioners in office can’t go into the commissioners’ meetings and have a voice and be heard.”
Transparency brings trust and working relationships, Lee said, but the incumbent commissioners do not want to hear from the people. Special interests, however, appear to have a voice. Lee supports broadcasting or recording meetings as well.
“I’m passionate in my beliefs and I will open my doors always to hear from people and listen,” Lee said. “I try to walk my talk.”