Wake County Manager finalists met with vexing issues at forum

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Three finalists are vying for the Wake County Manager job.

It was loud and jam-packed inside the second-floor meeting room in the Wake County Justice Center. But things got quiet when the dozens who showed up Thursday night got to hear from the three finalists for the county's top job.

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Bonnie Hammersley, Barry Burton, and David Ellis - all vying to be the next Wake County Manager - offered snapshots of their experience. But this crowd came seeking specifics on some of the toughest issues facing the county.

"I believe the proof is in the pudding," said Kimberly Muktarian with PACT, the Police Accountability Community Task Force.

For her, the pudding is criminal justice reform - slowing the pipeline from county jail to state prisons and boosting Wake's social service budget.

"We'd like to see real reforms, real jobs, real income, real employment that would help curb the incarceration rate," Muktarian said.

Wake County school board member Christine Kushner was here to meet the finalists for the position which comes with a tremendous amount of control over county dollars for county schools. Kushner and the rest of the school board have been part of what's become a perennial battle for more county cash to fund an ever-growing school system.

"I'd have to say our public school system is the economic engine of our county," Kushner said. "And I would hope that the next county manager places a high priority on supporting our public schools."

Community advocate Diana Powell wants the next county manager to understand how to make the community feel heard.

"To listen, it's so important to us," Powell said.

Amidst an affordable housing crisis in Wake County, Powell said she tried to convince more low-income neighbors to show up. It was a tough task.

"It's hard because they're stuck in their own struggle. They're trying to figure out where they're going to lay their heads tonight," she said. "They're trying to figure out how they're gonna pay their light bill; how they're gonna keep a roof over their head especially with so much gentrification going on."

Everyone who attended the meet and greet left with a small white card that leads them to an online survey to offer their opinions on who county leaders should select.

All three candidates will be back at the Justice Center on Friday for a final all-day gantlet of interviews.

A final decision could come by Friday evening, but will likely take a little longer.
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