There are several issues to consider throughout the election year in NC, especially in New Hanover County: House Bill 2 and LGBT rights, economic growth, community relations, and the list goes on. In the weeks leading up to Nov. 8, election day, encore will publish Q&As with candidates running for local and state offices. Candidates running to represent NHC’s Board of Commission were all sent the same questions. This week meet candidate Nelson Beaulieu.
encore (e): Why do you want to serve in public office?
Nelson Beaulieu (NB): I’ve always wanted to pursue a career in politics. As for this specific seat and election, I’m an optimist. Despite all recent shortcomings at so many levels, I passionately believe people coming together to decide and implement public policy can be a source of immense good. More and more [of] our citizens are turning toward cynicism, and even believe government is inherently corrupt, ineffective and largely a waste of time. I want to show people it doesn’t have to be that way and offer voters something new
e: What is your leadership philosophy? How does it apply to government service?
NB: In order for local government to thrive, citizen participation is key. Most politicians talk about citizen input, but unless you are going to engage citizens on their level, this is little more than lip service. Public meetings need to be moved to times when more citizens can attend. (Current “public” meetings for the board are at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.) They also need to be moved around the community in order to allow more attendance from citizens who usually ignore local government. Without the participation of more citizens, a government is unlikely to hear the concerns and solutions it truly needs to hear in order to address problems.
e: So you think community relations should be stronger; how else would you maintain or improve them?
NB: By reaching out to communicate with our citizens more directly—when you go fishing, it helps to go where the fish are. I would make much better use of social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram because that is how many of our citizens are communicating now. It is not enough to simply put information on the county government’s website.
e: If elected what priority issues will you address in the next two years? Five years?
NB: In the next two years, I think [we] will have to address the prescription and illegal drug problem in New Hanover. What we are doing is simply not working. I want to assemble a task force of doctors, legal experts, law enforcement, parents, teachers, and community leaders to come up with concrete and innovative solutions for addressing this problem at a local level.
I think the big issue in the next five years will be over infrastructure. I want to work with Pender and Brunswick counties, along with our beach communities, to discuss the feasibility of an affordable and efficient mass-transit system in the Cape Fear.
e: Wilmington is ranked as the number one city nationally for opioid abuse. What can the county do to combat this issue?
NB: We desperately need to deal with this issue. We shouldn’t be waiting for state or federal directives. While I know several people who struggle with substance abuse, I realize my perspective is only one perspective. My first day as a Commissioner-elect, I will urge our county manager to begin to assemble a task force to offer solutions to this problem. This would not be a two-year study with no tangible policy at the end of it. I would set a deadline of three months for the committee to issue a report and recommendations. What we are doing on this issue is not working! We need to address this problem in a new way.
e: What actions or incentives should the board pursue to encourage economic growth, while protecting the environment, property values and tourism industry?
NB: The Garner Report identifies industries that are a match to our small coastal community. The airport is an outstanding asset that has not been fully utilized. I would aggressively seek out businesses to help us maximize the economic effectiveness of that asset. I would seek partnerships between prospective employers and CFCC in fields such as emerging technologies and marine and life sciences, to make sure they know the county can provide them with a knowledgeable and effective workforce. I would seek out companies in these areas rather than waiting for companies to consider our county.
In terms of the environment, I support the Special Use Permit. It is not a block to growth. It is a block to growth we don’t want. We must take into account our county’s unique size and environmental circumstances. Our natural environment is a big part of what makes our small county so special. No industry is worth risking the treasures we already have. Finally, I would offer more competitive incentive packaging. In 2016 incentives are a reality of economic development and are required to attract most employers. We need to offer the strongest incentives in Southeastern NC.
e: How should the Special Use Permit continue to change or come into play in the aforementioned growth?
NB: Just as every citizen that moved to an unincorporated has a right to vote before a city annexes that area, so too should every citizen have a right to a public hearing before being forced to have their neighborhoods rezoned or having heavy industry move in next door. The SUP is not only about business interests or environmental concerns. It is about giving citizens a say over what type of community they are going to live. I support it and will continue to fight for it. If we can streamline the permitting process to make it more attractive for businesses, then that is something we need to look at. But it is an important protection for our citizens and our environment. This place is truly special and more than just jobs.
e: Where do you stand on HB2 and how do you think it’s impacted NHC?
NB: I am firmly against HB2. It has hurt our county and our entire state by saddling us with a national reputation as a backward and discriminatory place. But more than that, it created a problem where none existed. In no uncertain or unequivocal terms, this law represents legislative bashing against a group of citizens that struggles mightily to understand themselves and their place in our society. It’s wrong; it’s not who we’re supposed to be. As a commissioner, I will publicly lobby for the law’s repeal and enlist other local leaders throughout the state to do the same.
e: During a divisive time in politics, how might you find middle ground on the board?
NB: I firmly believe the key to good public policy is wise elected officials, and the key to wisdom is humility. Politics is not a blood sport. Things really don’t have to be this way, and we shouldn’t accept it as political reality. We need to shape our own realities. Let me say, as a Democrat, there are lots of great conservative ideas that can help our county and move us forward in a positive direction. All that is required is the humility to listen. Ideology can blind people to possibility and limit curiosity. The first thing we need to do to find middle ground is begin with the premise that some actually exists, and be humble enough to listen to other perspectives with a curious and open mind. As a commissioner, I will make it my first priority to listen to others and put the interests of citizens ahead of any ideology or partisan agenda. I will vote with my fellow Democrats when I think they are right. I will vote against them when I think they are wrong. Above all, I will be analytical rather than ideological.