Sanderson Farms debate resurfaces in Cumberland County

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The intense debate over bringing a chicken plant and its jobs to Cumberland County has been reignited. (WTVD)

The intense debate over bringing a chicken plant and its jobs to Cumberland County has been reignited.

"It appears to be an opening that Sanderson may be considering, reconsidering coming to Cumberland County, and we don't want to close the door on this," said Cumberland County Commissioner Charles Evans. "We want to make some effort to give them the opportunity if the citizens decide, or if we decide they should be here, that opportunity to come here."

Evans has submitted a motion for the commission to reconsider a public hearing on an incentives package for the Sanderson Farms chicken processing plant. Last week, Evans was one of four commissioners who shot down the hearing for the multi-million dollar plant. It was a roundabout way of voting down the chicken plant because incentives are necessary to move forward with the plant.

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"My decision to not move forward with the plans at that time was because the answers to my question were not addressed," said Evans. "They have since been answered. Some of them have been answered."

Evans said the county's economic development arm was requested to present the incentives plans well in advance of the commissioners' vote last Monday morning. Instead, Evans said they were distributed via email the evening prior to the vote. He said it didn't give him enough time to make an informed decision, and he still had questions regarding the hiring process, builder information, and whether minority contractors would be considered.

Evans said now that he has some of those questions answered, he wants to move forward with a public hearing. The motion, submitted Wednesday night, will be heard during the commission's Tuesday evening meeting.

Following last week's vote, Sanderson Farms officials said they were moving on from Cumberland County. Without the incentives, there was no way to bring a project of that magnitude, or its jobs, to the area, said Pic Billingsley, the company's Director of Development and Engineering.

It's unclear whether Sanderson Farms will play ball. A phone call to Billingsley was not returned Thursday.

Evans denied public backlash led to his change of heart about the hearing, but he said he'd never heard the huge concern about losing out on jobs until after the hearing vote last week.

"The only ones that showed up were individuals wearing red shirts," said Evans. "I can count one person that came to our forum to talk about jobs. I know we need the jobs, but there was only one person that stated we need the jobs."

EVANS - THE SWING VOTE?

Evans originally voted against the public hearing alongside commission chairman Kenneth Edge, Larry Lancaster, and Marshall Faircloth.

But in a scathing column featured in this week's Up & Coming Weekly, Publisher Bill Bowman highlights Evans as the swing vote and the person who "can request a do over." Bowman said Evans, a self-described champion of the underdog, "betrayed" his constituents, and had swayed from the ideals of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by slipping off the "solid rock of brotherhood."

"So come election time, perhaps more time will be spent judging the content of a candidate's character rather than the color of their skin," said Bowman, ending his column.

"For him to use Dr. King against me is very sad," responded Evans, pointing out he was one of four votes.

Bowman, via telephone, said the column was not racially charged. Instead, he said it spoke to Evans' "wishy-washy" ways on important issues. Bowman described it as "a character issue" for a man who's played both sides of the fence in the Sanderson Farms debate.

"He was the swing vote," said Bowman, a supporter of the Sanderson Farms deal. "He was not just one of four. He was the man."
Bowman said he hopes Evans' motion results in a win for Sandhills economics.

Evans said he's now ready for the debate.

"I have to make sure I do what's right for every citizen that I possibly can," said Evans.

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