The three candidates for two Wilkes County commissioner seats on the ballot are Democrat L.B. Prevette and Republicans David Gambill and Brian S. Minton.
Voters can vote for two or just one of the three. All commissioner terms are for four years.
Gambill and Minton were winners of the Republican primary. Prevette was the only Democrat who filed for a commissioner seat.
Gambill, 39, of North Wilkesboro, is seeking his third term. Minton, 45, of Wilkesboro, and Prevette, 28, of North Wilkesboro, have never held elected office, but Minton was a commissioner candidate in 2016. They’re all Wilkes natives.
About L.B. Prevette
L.B. (Laura Beth) Prevette grew up on her family’s poultry farm in southeastern Wilkes. She graduated from Wilkes Central High and dropped out of Wingate University to resume working on the family farm after her father died. Prevette later studied integrated marketing at the University of Nevada. In her job as a trainer at Lowe’s Companies Inc., she helps co-workers hone their soft skills, be more effective leaders and in other ways. She worked at Starbuck’s before joining Lowe’s in 2014. Prevette is single, is part of the Millennial Action Council in Wilkes, is in the Disc Golf Club and has organized activities for young adults in Wilkes. The county hasn’t had a Democratic commissioner since Luther Parks (2002-2010), or a woman since Republican Fay Byrd (2004-2008).
About David Gambill
David Gambill graduated from East Wilkes High School and worked for his grandfather, the late Hobert Gambill, at Hobe’s Country Ham until he completed Wilkes Community College’s basic law enforcement training program and became a Wilkes Sheriff’s Office deputy in 2002. Having to resign as a deputy when elected a commissioner in 2010. Gambill managed Scenic Memorial Gardens and other cemeteries until he became an Ashe Sheriff’s Office deputy in 2017. As an Ashe deputy, Gambill is Ashe County High School’s school resource officer. Gambill is married, has children, is an active member of Fairplains Baptist Church, coaches youth sports teams and is a member of the North Wilkesboro Masonic Lodge.
About Brian S. Minton
Brian S. Minton is a graduate of Wilkes Central High and attended WCC for two years. He started working at Blueberry Farms at age 14, then Walmart and later at Lowe’s Companies Inc. for 23 years in several areas, including corporate credit, merchandising, logistics, inventory and information technology. He was manager of the Goodwill store in Wilkesboro and now is broker/owner of the Oz Group Realtors in North Wilkesboro. Minton is a state director in the Wilkes County Association of Realtors, a member of the Charlotte Regional Realtor Association and was in the Keller Williams Agent Leadership Council. He was Wilkes Young Republicans president, Wilkes Art Gallery secretary and served on home owner association and State Employees Credit Union boards. He is a member of Flint Hill Baptist Church, single and has no children.
Why do you want to be a county commissioner?
Minton said he wants to be a commissioner because his passion is for the people of Wilkes. “I care for the county as a whole, but my work and service starts with a one-on-one relationship with each citizen and their concerns.” He said he cares for each person and community in the county. “I want this to be the best place to raise a family and start a business which will enable us to retain our youth, who can then help make Wilkes County grow and prosper.”
Prevette said she has strong opinions, hopes and dreams and chose to turn them into political action, partly because of news reports in the New York Times and elsewhere depicting Wilkes County’s decline. She said these angered her, aroused her pride in Wilkes and inspired her to work to restore the county’s economic vibrancy with more opportunities for people here ready to work and young people interested in returning to Wilkes when they finish college. She said the resolve, entrepreneurship and other strengths that helped build strong companies here can be summonsed again with the right leadership and investments.
Gambill said he first ran for commissioner because he saw needs and believed he could help address them. “People have forgotten how it was before I ran, and I’ve been part of the growth,” he said, adding that the progress includes county employee raises, a stronger fund balance, 2-cent lower property tax rate, new county jail and more jobs in Wilkes. Gambill said his background in law enforcement has proven valuable. He said he is interested in the possibility of building a new county government center on county land near the courthouse.
Why should voters vote for you?
Gambill said, “I hope the voters have seen that I support the values of most of the people in this county and that I try to do what is right.” He mentioned his support of repealing an ordinance prohibiting concealed handgun permit holders from having guns on county government property and a resolution endorsing an N.C. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. The handgun action passed unanimously, while the same-sex marriage resolution passed 3-2. N.C. voters passed the amendment but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional.
Prevette said the county board would benefit from a young adult and a female voice. “It’s not that they (current local officials) don’t want to hear from my generation. They just don’t know how to bridge the gap and reach us.” Prevette said her goals include helping to make that connection. “We (younger people) need to start getting into office to learn from the experience of current government leaders,” she added.
Minton said his work experience in the corporate world and being a small business owner instilled in him the belief that government should be run like a business with limited authority over its citizens. “Government should be transparent in every regard and held accountable to the people. This would be the endeavor of my service to the people of Wilkes County.”
What is your candidate platform?
Prevette said she wants to more effectively market Wilkes, build a stronger economy with more opportunities and give younger voices “a seat at the table.” She said more could be accomplished if the county had a presence on social media to better connect with an age group with disposable income. “We aren’t telling our story,” said Prevette. “How can we change our image to make people want to live here? That responsibility rests with leadership.”
Minton said his top issues are having limited government and less taxes. “I believe government should be run like a business with limited authority over its citizens. Government must be transparent in every regard and held accountable to the citizens.”
Gambill said, “I will just continue working hard. If the people chose to elect me, I’ll continue doing my best to serve the people well. I am available to the people by phone and when I’m out in the community. Gambill said he supports continued progress with career technical education in the Wilkes schools and WCC.
What do you think the county commissioners should do to bring about greater economic prosperity in Wilkes?
Minton said the county, towns and Wilkes Economic Development Corp. (EDC) should work in unison to attract new businesses and help existing businesses grow, including with funding when needed. He said small businesses drive the economy and provide many jobs in Wilkes and must be supported. Manufacturing jobs are on the rise, but different skill sets are needed in technical engineering and robotics. “We have to make our students and displaced workers aware of what is available (training at WCC) to them.” Minton said a skilled workforce is crucial.
Gambill said, “We’ve got to stay open minded. We’ve got a lot of tools in our toolbox and the airport is one of them. The college (WCC) is another. The presence of Samaritan’s Purse in the county has been huge.” He added, “I have mixed feelings about the EDC. I do feel they have a strong board. What they are attempting to do is hard but we have to keep trying” to bring about economic growth.
Prevette said economic development efforts in Wilkes focus too much on trying to bring back production industry, but this typically results in limited wages and sending profits elsewhere. What can we do to promote small business start-ups?” She added, “I want to see us market ourselves as an outdoor destination.” She noted that Wilkes has some of the best mountain bike trails and disc golf courses to be found, W. Kerr Scott Reservoir, Stone Mountain State Park and more.
What other aspects of quality of life in Wilkes are you most concerned about and what should the commissioners do to impact this?
Gambill said, “Wilkes is in a different ballpark from other counties when it comes to trails, with W. Kerr Scott Recreation” and other recreational offerings. I don’t know of anything else we could do” regarding quality of life.
Prevette said, “I am inspired by the work that North Wilkesboro has done with its farmers’ market (Yadkin Valley Marketplace) and that Wilkesboro has done with its commons area.” She said she supports these types of initiatives. She also said more money needs to spent on addressing the causes of substance abuse and on treating people who are addicted.
Minton said more funding is needed to better address substance abuse and other mental health issues in Wilkes. Substance abuse is an individual decision, he said, but it effects entire families for generations to come and creates more poverty, more health issues and potentially more crime. He said it increases funding demands for law enforcement, social services, healthcare and emergency services and takes away from county employment benefits, investments in youth and overall success of the county.
Are there any segments of the population in Wilkes that you want to see become more involved in county government?
Prevette said, “When I started running, my goal was to get younger people interested and get them involved” in the election process. “I have been humbled at how much that is appreciated.” She said young adults need to use their voting power and a way to bring their ideas to the county commissioners. Prevette added that the current commissioners have been very welcoming to her.
Minton said, “I am not aware of any segments of the population being excluded from involvement in county government. As a community, it is incumbent for all citizens and government to work together which will allow our county to grow and prosper.”
Gambill said, “I would like to see young people more interested, like I was when I was 31, and first ran and was elected a county commissioner.”
What should the county commissioners learn from the Wilkes Transportation Authority’s financial problems? Do you agree with the current county commissioners’ decision making themselves members of the WTA board in place of people they appointed?
Gambill, commissioner member of the WTA board from 2011 to early this year, said he didn’t think the board “was presented everything correctly” by WTA administrative leadership. “I don’t think that leadership had their heads wrapped around things as well as they should have. When we got information (about WTA financial problems) we acted, but I don’t think the information presented to me was real good. We thought we had addressed the issues and moved on, but we were not given the full picture.” He said the commissioners needed to assume governance of WTA to fully understand the issues.
Minton said checks and balances are needed, including monitoring and auditing, to ensure governmental entities are fiscally responsible with tax dollars. He said the current commissioners voted unanimously to put themselves on the WTA board in place of people they appointed based on information they were provided. “If fiscal accounting principles were not being followed, there may not have been another option. It would be difficult to answer this question not having the information provided.”
Prevette said good stewardship wasn’t exercised with WTA finances. “We don’t know where WTA was losing money and how much,” but added that hopefully the audit underway will provide answers. “I think that in the interim, the county commissioners stepping in to head it (as the WTA board) is a good move.” Prevette said she otherwise supports having a WTA board consisting of people with public transportation expertise.
Should the WTA be merged with one or more public transportation entities outside Wilkes as a regional organization?
Prevette said she doesn’t oppose having WTA part of a regional public transportation entity, “but it might be a missed opportunity” because WTA might be financially successful remaining a county entity if operated efficiently. “I think there should be ways to make WTA profitable,” including adjusting rates and with public transit.
Minton said, “To ensure some type of public transportation I believe that all avenues should be explored.”
Gambill said, “I am open to suggestions. I will take into consideration what the consultant tells us.” A consultant is looking into the possibility of establishing a regional public transportation entity with WTA.
What are your views on county government’s financial support of the Wilkes schools?
Minton said the county’s rank for education funding has improved but is near the bottom. He said Wilkes ranks a little better in school capital outlay spending and debt service, but is lower than neighboring counties. “Can we do better? Yes. Education and economic development go hand in hand, and to have a sound economy, we must be willing to make education funding a top priority…. for the future of our county.” Minton said school safety should remain a high priority.
Gambill said the current commissioners have a very good relationship with the Wilkes school board and school system. “I think we’ve been open and honest with each other. I feel comfortable with our current level of funding for the schools.”
Prevette said, “Our public schools should always be a top priority. Improving the quality of life for our residents starts with a quality education. Before making changes to our current budgets, we need to see the results from our audit at the WTA and identify other areas where our tax dollars are not being handled appropriately. This seems to be a good time for the county to reassess our spending and ensure the institutions that receive tax dollars are putting the betterment of our residents at the core of every decision.”