EDITORIAL: Gaskins in Ward 1

Oct. 29, 2013 @ 11:15 AM

Editor’s note: this is the first of two editorials featuring The Herald’s endorsements in the contested Sanford City Council races in Nov. 5’s general election. Today, we look at the city’s Ward 1 race between incumbent Sam Gaskins, a Democrat, and Republican challenger Bill Oberkirsch. On Wednesday, we’ll address the at-large council race between Republican Max Dolan and Democrat Chas Post.

The seat: Four-year term on the City Council representing the residents of Ward 1, an area encompassing most of southwest Sanford

The candidates: Sam Gaskins, 66, a chemistry professor at Guilford Technical Community College and retired manufacturing manager and plant engineering supervisor at Coty, who’s seeking his second term on the council; Bill Oberkirsch, 48, a programmer-data analyst at RTI International, headquartered in Research Triangle Park

  Four years ago, Sam Gaskins sought a seat on the Sanford City Council motivated largely by his desire to repeal the city’s Business Privilege Tax. Since taking office and successfully working to eliminate that tax, Gaskins has proven to have been a studious, “thinking man’s” councilman.

On a council that has traditionally had a goodly number of “Silent Sam” representatives — members who speak out very little while issues are being debated — you can always count on this Sam to say something, to express an opinion of some kind, that’s logical and reasoned.

In seeking re-election, Gaskins faces a challenge from Bill Oberkirsch in the city’s first-ever partisan general election. Oberkirsch, in contrast to Gaskins, generally prefers to talk about one thing: cutting the city’s property tax rate. And in the eyes of Oberkirsch, Gaskins & Co. are, for the most part, a bunch of spendthrifts who aren’t suited to represent the people who elected them.

It’s a stark distinction.

Oberkirsch doesn’t shy away from a perception as a one-issue candidate. While saying that addressing the city’s high unemployment rate is also high on his list of to-do’s, Oberkirsch is most focused on the city’s property tax rate. He says he moved to Sanford a few years ago because property taxes were low, but in campaigning has chided the “closed-minded,” narrow-thinking council for “biting the hand that feeds them” with tax and fee increases. He says lowering taxes and fees can be accomplished, and he’s the man for the job.

But how?

It’s hard to remember any race in Lee County pitting two candidates with such different approaches to the job as councilman as this one. Among all the other things Gaskins does to be prepared for his job representing Ward 1, he did something we’re not sure any other councilman has ever done: During the city’s budget preparation earlier this year, Gaskins prepared an extensive Excel spreadsheet recreating the budget, then analyzed and questioned key variances. In doing his analysis, Gaskins made more than 15,000 entries and peppered city staff with questions about expenditures, then presented ideas for cuts.

It’s what you’d expect from man of science who, in a previous career, oversaw operating budgets in the millions and was responsible for massive production and engineering tasks.

Oberkirsch works as a data analyst, but for his part, when pressed for details about how he’ll accomplish the tax cut he’s campaigning on, he comes up short-handed. He says he’s not looked at a detailed copy of the city’s budget and told The Herald’s editorial board he’d figure out how to cut the tax rate once he was elected to office.

In addition, if that wasn’t red flag enough, the challenger, in his first foray into candidacy for public office, contradicted himself on numerous occasions during an interview with this newspaper’s editorial board. Some of what he said just didn’t make sense. He took his party’s line (remember, this is now a partisan board) to denigrate incentives, comparing that to gambling with other people’s money — but in follow-up questioning, it was clear he didn’t understand local incentives policies or practices. He declared himself “open-minded,” then said the only way to “really get to know someone” was by finding out their political party affiliation. He said the council needed to have an equal balance of Democrats and Republicans in office, forgetting, it seems, that each member gets elected by citizens of Sanford — not appointed by the parties.

There’s more about Oberkirsch’s vertigo-inducing platform that didn’t make sense, but you get the picture.

Gaskins is clearly the best choice for residents in Ward 1. “No more taxes” makes for a nice sound bite, and no doubt some voters will take the bait. But the intractable Oberkirsch quite simply doesn’t have any semblance of a grasp of the issues, or ideas for real solutions to the problems he presents, or even a modicum of a track record of community service on which to build a candidacy upon.

Gaskins, by contrast, is vested in the community and the council; he possesses all of those things Oberkirsch lacks, and so much more. He’s by far the better choice for a second term.