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 Dr. Derrick Hickey.
encore (e): Why do you want to serve in public office?
Derrick Hickey (DH): We have seen an increase in pay-to-play politics over the years. The donor class is well-represented in government, but the people as a whole have lost their seats at the table of local government. We see evidence of this sentiment in the groups of citizens who have banded together to voice their concerns regarding runaway growth and congestion in our county. I have lived in this community for 13 years with my family and want to see it grow in keeping with what has made it special from the outset: first and foremost its people, but also its beaches, its inlets, its environment, and its support of education and higher education. In order to accomplish this, we need to attract businesses that support a diverse economy. We need county systems, policies and procedures that are hospitable to this goal.
e: What is your leadership philosophy? How does it apply to government service?
DH: A thriving community is one that has a government that is responsive and responsible to that community. It is not a few elected leaders that should decide how a community should grow; it is the people that live in the community. Growth is necessary, but it must not happen at the expense of quality of life. We need to encourage a diverse group of businesses to come and grow in our community, but not at the expense of what makes this area special.
e: If elected, what priority issues will you address in the next two years? Five years?
DH: The two most immediate issues the county must address is the crime problem that we have in our community, and jobs. These two issues go hand in hand, as one of the first things businesses and people consider when choosing a location is how safe it is. We must employ a holistic approach, including education, enforcement and rehabilitation to address the gang violence and opioid epidemics. This will require significant time and investment, but is well worth the effort.
NHC needs good, well-paying jobs. Updates to the zoning ordinances must support this goal. This should include a robust Special Use Permit, including required community meetings. This will protect the attributes that are valued in our community, such as our environment and our beaches, while supporting positive growth so that the industries that are represented here grow and so that we attract new industry and build our job base.
e: Wilmington is ranked as the number one city nationally for opioid abuse. What can the county do to combat this issue?
DH: As a physician, I have seen an increasing number of patients that have suffered the consequences of opioid abuse, including injection abscesses and/or physical injury. While law enforcement certainly plays a role in combating the problem, the county has not taken full advantage of its resources in combating this scourge. Our responses have been more reactive than proactive, and once opioid dependence has been established, it is very difficult to treat. The county oversees the health department, funds the public schools system and sheriff’s department, and appoints board members to the hospital. We should pursue a comprehensive strategy of education, enforcement and treatment.
e: How should the Special Use Permit continue to change or come into play in the aforementioned growth?
DH: The Special Use Permit plan has a vital role in our community. It is the means by which residents can be involved in how our county grows. I support personal property rights. You should be able to do as you wish on your own property. But our property rights end at our property line. It is not acceptable to do damage or otherwise diminish other people’s property or their rights. The Special Use Permit will be revised over the next two years. It should be made clear and transparent so businesses that wish to locate or relocate here have a clear path to doing so. It should also include mandatory community meetings to promote greater community involvement and awareness.
e: In your opinion, how strong are community relations with the board? Explain how you would maintain or improve them.
DH: The Board of Commissioners can always improve their relationship with the community. Making the board more accessible to the public, including changing meeting times and times for public comment to be outside working hours, is certainly something the board should consider so all people can be involved and participate. People need to feel they are being heard, and also need to buy in to decisions that their county government makes.
e: What actions or incentives should the board pursue to encourage economic growth, while protecting the environment, property values and tourism industry?
DH: Government does not create jobs. What government can do is create an environment that is hospitable to investment. This starts with keeping taxes low and streamlining permitting. We must ensure our infrastructure supports the growth we are encouraging.
This starts with providing water and sewer for our industrial corridor but also includes schools and roads. The traffic problem we have in our county must be addressed. While the maintenance and development of the roads does not fall under the county, we can promote positive growth by having ordinances that ensure our infrastructure will support it.
Our beautiful beaches and inlets are the reason many of us live here. These amenities are the basis of our tourism industry. We must be committed to provide beach renourishment and inlet maintenance.
e: Where do you stand on HB2 and how do you think it has impacted NHC?
DH: It is unfortunate this issue has become one that has so polarized our state. First and foremost, I believe all people deserve to have their rights respected and to be treated respectfully, period. I believe our politicians on both sides of the aisle have let us down in failing to find a satisfactory resolution to this issue, and instead have chosen to use it for cheap political gain. People of good faith should be able to forge an agreement which respects the rights and dignity of all persons, while protecting the safety of women and children.
e: During a divisive time in politics, how might you help find middle ground on the board?
DH: The divisiveness in America’s politics is at a historic high. Unfortunately, this is also reflected within the current Board of Commissioners. When elected, our leaders need to remember they represent all the citizens of NHC—not just Republicans or Democrats. Elected leaders must remain accessible to the community they serve and ensure that the concerns and issues of the people are heard.