July 3, 2012
John Fletcher, 74, who will be Ocracoke’s next
commissioner, wants to rein in government


John Fletcher likes to tell a Chinese fable of an old woman and a tiger as it relates to his philosophy of government.

Fletcher, 74, of Cedar Road, is the apparent new county commissioner from Ocracoke, beginning Jan. 3, having bested incumbent Darlene Styron, 45, in the May primary for the Democratic nomination.  There were no Republican candidates.

No one from Ocracoke had filed a petition by June 29 to run against him unaffiliated, according to Cindy Carawan, director of elections.  Unless someone mounts a write-in campaign for commissioner in the Nov. 6 general election, Fletcher will be Ocracoke’s county commissioner.
North Carolina election law states that candidates who lose the primary are barred from filing as unaffiliated candidates or mounting write-in campaigns. While Styron won the vote on Ocracoke, at 146 votes to 121 votes, Fletcher won county-wide with 606 votes to Styron’s 489 votes, Carawan said.

Fletcher recently gave an interview in his home that had originally stood near where the Silver Lake Motel is located.  It was built in 1908 by, he thinks, Captain Walter O’Neal. Fletcher moved it to its present location in 2002.

He grew up in Edenton and spent his 35-year working career in Swan Quarter as a general practice lawyer, including 10 years as the county attorney, and stints as a college professor and magistrate.

He is wary of too much government and wants to rein it in. Thus, his story of Confucius, who encounters an elderly Chinese woman along a mountain pass crying over her dead son whom a tiger had killed.  Confucius tells her to go to the village where she’ll be safe, to which the mother replies: “I’d rather take my chances with the tiger than the government.”

Government should provide services for the citizens, but has gotten too convoluted, Fletcher says.
“A lot of people believe the government shouldn’t supply everything,” he says about his spending outlook.

Perhaps there are buildings, which cost a lot to maintain, that the county can do without, he says, and the county can say “no” to nonprofits looking for “hand-outs” that he doesn’t think government should provide.
The rising number of government employees is another concern.

 “The number of county employees we have versus the population is kind of high,” Fletcher says.

When he first started living on the island in 1971 (before he became a fulltime resident in 2002), Ocracoke’s permanent population was about 650.  “We had one part-time sheriff and he owned his own vehicle,” Fletcher says. “Now we have 1,000 people, four sheriffs and five vehicles.”

Overaall,  the county could do better with fewer, better employees, he says.  “Get top-of-the-line people, pay ‘em good with good benefits, but don’t give them everything they want,” he says. “I think we need to cut back and maintain with what we got.”

He doesn’t think the Board of cCommissioners asks enough questions about the things they’re asked to fund. 

An example is when the EMS went to the Ocracoke Occupancy Tax board this spring requesting money for a new vehicle. That request was ultimately withdrawn, and at the June 4 county commissioners meeting, the EMS department asked for a budget transfer (within their department) in order to purchase a new vehicle for Brian Carter, deputy EMS director and fire marshal, so that he doesn’t have to drive his own vehicle for county business and out to the beach and for emergencies.  Justin Gibbs, EMS director, had explained that he looked again at the budget and cut a few things so that the $38,000 vehicle could be paid for.
“So that showed they had it in their budget,” Fletcher says with a smile. “I would have said to put that money back in the general fund. 

“I just decided maybe we need someone who didn’t say yes to everything that comes down the road,” he says about his decision to run for commissioner.  “I can say no.”

The thing that really got his goat and prompted him to run for commissioner was the Ocracoke Planning Board’s decision to put restrictions on travel trailers as housing.  There are two different societies in Hyde County: Ocracoke and the mainland, Fletcher said.  
Eastern Carolinians have a saying that there are two types of people here: Eastern Carolinians and everyone else, and Eastern Carolinians traditionally have a laissez-faire attitude toward government, he said.  

“The rich and poor have a tradition of living cheek to jowl,” he said, but there’s been a shift in recent years with the influx of new folks on Ocracoke.

“Now the rich folks want to upgrade the place to be more exclusive,” he said, noting that the zoning regulations say a person can build a duplex on a 5,000 square-foot lot but you can’t put two travel trailers on it.

Fletcher graduated high school from Valley Forge Military Academy in Valley Forge, P.a
  He received his bachelor’s degree from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and his law degree from New York University. He has taught law at the University of Ottawa, Canada, and at East Carolina University. He also set up the law enforcement program at Pitt Community College.

“Somebody spent a lot of money educating me and I want to give back,” he said about his taking on this position after having retiring from fulltime work in 2003.  Fletcher decided to run after some people, whom he declined to identify, approached him about it.

“They were worried about the personalities on both the board (of commissioners) and certain government positions,” he says.

Neither candidate had campaign signs anywhere in the county. A few phone calls to some key business owners and citizens on the mainland who have large extended families asking for their support was all it took for Fletcher to win the primary.

“I know people in most families,” he says of the mainland, “and I know people here.”

When asked about rumors that there’s a movement afoot to oust the women in power (Sharon Spencer, chairman, Mazie Smith, county manager, and Styron), Fletcher guffaws and dismisses that notion.

“I have nothing against Darlene,” he says. “I admire her for what she’s done with her life. I think she’s done well. I don’t necessarily feel that way about her politics.  The ones who wanted me to run are women. When I signed up to run, if someone I thought could do a better job would have filed to run, I would have gotten out.”

He certainly has nothing against women, he says, noting that his grandmothers were strong women who had their own pursuits.

One of his grandmothers was Inglis Fletcher, an author who wrote, in the early part of the 20th century, The Albemarle Series of novels about life In colonial Eastern Carolina.

His other grandmother was an artist whose many oil portraits adorn Fletcher’s home which he shares with his wife, Jean.

He notes the shift in power in the state, which is now attacking the ferry system.

“It’s always amazed me we’ve been able to maintain the ferry system we have,” he says about the current fight. “Certainly some preference should be given to the people who live here.

“For all my life, the Democratic party has controlled North Carolina, especially east of I-95,” he says. “That block has been split and the Republicans have no knowledge of the eastern part of the state. They don’t come here. They go to Myrtle Beach (South Carolina).” 

As for the National Park Service, Fletcher says we need to keep on top of them.

“All we have here (for tourists) is the beach and fishing, and they’ve clamped down on both,” he says.   He also is concerned about the sufficiency of the fire break between Highway 12 and the sound.

Flecher says he expects to attend most of the commissioners’ meetings in the county services building in Swan Quarter instead of the in the Ocracoke School commons area where Ocracokers can attend via satellite hook-up.

“You can’t see the people in the audience from over here,” he says.

In the Nov. 6 election, which will be the Presidential election, voters will choose three county commissioner seats for Hyde County. 

Fletcher will be the only candidate for Ocracoke.

The others are for the Fairfield district where incumbent Anson Byrd had not been on the primary ballot but who has filed an unaffiliated petition to get on the ballot.  He will run against Lindsey Mooney, who also filed and unaffiliated petition.

Sharon Spencer, current chairman of the commissioners’ board, will run against Earl Pugh, Jr., of the Lake Landing district. 

Hyde County voters vote county-wide for commissioners.

Carawan said there will be an early voting opportunity from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, July 7, in the Ocracoke Community Center before the Second Primary Election, which will be Tuesday, July 17.  This is for voting again on some statewide positions that did not get the required percentage of votes in the May primary.  Those positions are for Lt. Governor, NC Superintendent of Public Instruction and NC House of Representatives District 6 on the Republican ballot, and NC Commissioner of Labor on the Democratic ballot.  No other candidates will be on the ballot in July.

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