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January 31, 2013

Charlie Harrell discusses career as commissioner with Golden K Kiwanis

TARBORO — Recently resigned Edgecombe County Commissioner Charlie Harrell enlightened the Tarboro Golden K Kiwanis on the good, the bad and the ugly of his 22-year tenure Wednesday.

Harrell, who resigned Jan. 7, was the guest speaker for the Kiwanis’ meeting.

The day Harrell filed for the seat, he recalled reading an article in the newspaper concerning Carolina Telephone Company moving its headquarters out of Tarboro. Other manufacturing plants soon followed including Black & Decker, Masonite, Carolina Enterprise, Ansell Edmont, Glenoit Mills, Runnymede Mills, Tom Togs, Long Manufacturing Co., Edgecombe Manufacturing and Polylock.

That was bad.

“Losing Carolina Telephone as a home office is the worst thing that happened in Tarboro and Edgecombe County,” he said. You don’t replace home grown jobs like that ... Job losses are the biggest tragedy that hit Edgecobe and many rural counties.

Harrell countered the jobs lost news with naming of the new industries

“We have QVC,  ASC, Keihin CST, Sara Lee (now Hillshire), Nomaco and the expansion of Superior Cable. We’ve had moderate success, but they don’t come close to replacing the jobs we lost. That’s the challenge going forward.”

That was good.

One of the ugly ordeals Harrell faced was the racial divide among the commissioners during the early years. Harrell recalled when he first ran, the seats were all at-large. Harrell, Steve Hoard and Jerry Spruell were on the board and lived in the same district.

“When I first ran, the election process was very racially involved,” he said. “It was white voting for whites and black voting for blacks. It got to be very tensed.”

Harrell said he advocated creating districts that helped eliminate that problem. Today, there are four blacks and three whites making up the board and two of the blacks are women.

That is good.

Another good that Harrell talked about was the countywide water system. The huge undertaking has taken than 20 years and the system still is not fully completed.

“It’s one of the best things we’ve done in Edgecombe County,” he said. “Now we have a $75 million water system available for at least 95 percent of the population and over half of the population is already signed on to it. And not one cent of ad valorem tax went to building this system. It is all loans, grants and fee base. I will be very proud to say that I  played a part in getting it completed once it is completed.”

A controversial issue Harrell said he supported was the county purchasing two Embarq buildings for $787,000. The tax value on the property at that time was around $4 million with renovations of the buildings estimated at $6 million. The purchase drew lots of controversy. The buildings were built for Carolina Telephone, which merged with United Telecommunication in 1969, became Sprint in 1993 and then Embarq in 2006. It was one of the largest employers in Edgecombe County.  

“Buying the Embarq Buildings was my idea,” he said. “To me, that is a good part of our history. To me, the last thing that we needed was another building in the town of Tarboro sitting empty and drying up.

“When I tried to sell the commissioners on buying the building, we walked through it with our architect. I envisioned spending $100,000 or maybe $1 million to get in there. I never supported or envisioned it stripped to its shell and having virtually a new building. But now, it’s there. You have a great asset that will be there for the next 30 years.”

In another issue, Harrell squashed the rumor that Sanderson Farms is looking for land in the Kingsboro Industrial site. Sanderson has been in the news lately in Nash County, where it attempted to locate a chicken processing facility. Despite gaining approval from Nash County, the Laurel, Miss.-based company eventually cancelled its plans because of ongoing opposition from Wilson County.

Before resigning, Harrell gained popularity among his peers especially those with whom he served. He acknowledged he enjoyed serving, but never considered himself a politician, just a servant.

“I don’t consider a local servant as being a politician,” he said. “Anything you do in local communities and it’s done from the heart, it’s certainly not done for the money. From that standpoint, I’m grateful to have served for 22 years.”

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