Payne, McCord face off for at-large Currituck commissioner

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Joe Payne, candidate for the Currituck Commission.

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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Thursday, October 4, 2018

CURRITUCK — Currituck has three open county commissioner seats on the November ballot, but only one of them will be contested.

The race for at-large commissioner features a Democratic first-time candidate and a former Republican commissioner who’s seeking to return to the seven-member board.  

Joe Payne, a 59-year-old excavation business owner, and Kevin McCord, a 44-year-old Currituck sheriff’s patrol sergeant, will face off in the Nov. 6 general election. The winner will join Republicans Owen Etheridge and Mike Payment, who won the District 5 and District 3 seats, respectively, in the May GOP primary and are running unopposed in November. 

Payne, a Democrat who describes himself as a “straight country boy with common sense,” says he’s running for commissioner because he believes he can help change the way county government operates. He claims current board members lack practical judgment and that there’s too much bureaucracy and red tape in county government.

“They're trying to run the county themselves, instead of listening to what the citizens of Currituck County want," Payne said of current commissioners. "I mean, all the common sense has gone out the door. And they forgot the word 'county' and they're trying to turn it into a city. ... Things just need to be done different up there."

McCord, who served on the commission board from 2012 to 2014, is pledging to be business friendly. He said he’s running on his longtime record of community outreach and service, particularly as a recreation league coach and law enforcement officer.

"I'm your go-to guy," he said.

Payne said another reason he’s running is because he believes the county has too much power to tell people what they can do with their land. He cited as an example his desire to sell a piece of property behind his house for development of a house. He said he hoped to use the proceeds to help his daughter, who recently got married.

According to Payne, when he tried to sell the land, county officials told him he would have to create a family subdivision. He said he can develop the land, but only if he builds an expensive driveway to the lots.

He believes his treatment by the county is unfair, especially compared to the county’s treatment of large developers.

"The poor man can't put one house up," he said. "That ain't right."

Asked about challenging McCord, Payne said that while he doesn’t plan to criticize his opponent, he is concerned about McCord having resigned from the commission once before to take a job as a magistrate. He also noted that McCord then resigned from his magistrate’s job to return to his former job as a Currituck sheriff’s deputy. 

"He has been up there before and quit. He also was a magistrate and quit," Payne said.

Payne believes voters should only allow McCord one shot at representing them.

"If you are on that commissioners board and you're getting a paycheck from Currituck County, you should not be allowed to do it twice,” he said. “In other words, you shouldn't be able to be on Currituck County's payroll more than one time.”

McCord said he’s explained his career moves before, but he’s fine with talking about the reasons he first left the Board of Commissioners and then his job as a Currituck magistrate. 

After winning election as a commissioner in November 2012, McCord said he decided to resign from the board in the summer of 2014 to take a job as a Currituck magistrate.

McCord, who was then working as a sheriff’s deputy, said he saw the opening at the magistrate's office as something that comes up once a decade. He took the job but doing so required him to resign from the Board of commissioners.

McCord said he offered to continue serving as a commissioner without pay. However, state officials told him it would have been unethical to do so.

It didn’t take long for him to discover that taking the magistrate’s job was a mistake, he said. 

"I took a chance and I didn't like it," McCord said. "It didn't fit. I mean, it is what it is."

By the summer of 2015, McCord decided to resign as a magistrate and rejoin the Currituck Sheriff's Office.

McCord also said, to avoid any complaints about a possible conflict of interest, his landscaping company doesn't seek any more contracts from the county.

“I gave that up in 2013 – five years ago,” he said.

Asked about Payne, McCord said he doesn't see his challenger at community events, donating money or volunteering his time in Currituck.

"People don't know him. I mean, he has lived here 59 years and people don't know him," McCord said.

Conversely, McCord said he’s lived 33 of his 44 years in Currituck and is well-known because of his community involvement.

McCord also accused Payne of being a one-issue candidate. He said it’s his understanding that Payne wanted to rezone some of his property, got mad when he couldn’t get what he wanted, and is now running for commissioner.

McCord said he's running because citizens asked him to do so.

"I love this county and I'm running for the betterment of the county," he said. "He's running because he got told 'no' from the county. That separates us."

Another thing that separates the two candidates is their political affiliation. Payne is trying to win a commissioner seat as a Democrat in a county that hasn’t elected one — other than former Sheriff Susan Johnson — in 12 years.   

Payne said he’s a registered Democrat because when he registered to vote long ago, a person in Currituck had to be a Democrat to be able to vote.

"It’s probably going to hurt me, but if people do like they should do and vote for the person they think is going to do the job, then them words shouldn’t matter," Payne said, referring to his and McCord’s respective party affiliations.

McCord said he, too, hopes Currituck voters cast their ballot for the person instead of their party — because it will help him.

"If he wants to put his résumé up against my résumé and vote for what I've done in this community compared to what he has done in this community, I hope they do that," he said, referring to voters.