Log in Newsletter


Where seven GOP candidates stand on E.E. Smith, PFAS contamination, working with Democrats

Venus de la Cruz, Peter Pappas, Pavan D. Patel, Ron Ross, Jeremy Stanley, Jonathan C. Strange and Henry Tyson


Seven Cumberland County Republicans want to make it onto the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners and are battling each other in the 2024 GOP primary for the three seats that serve Dist. 2.

Early voting started Feb. 15 and the primary’s election day is Tuesday, March 5.

Voters can pick up to three of the candidates. The top three vote-getters will face three Democrats in the November election.

Eight candidates are listed on the ballots, but one of them, V. Lee Spruill, has ended his campaign, saying he cannot commit the time required to serve.

The seven active Republican candidates: Venus de la Cruz of Fayetteville; Peter Pappas of Fayetteville; Pavan D. Patel of Fayetteville; Ron Ross of Gray’s Creek; Jeremy Stanley of the Cedar Creek area; Jonathan C. Strange, who lives south of Hope Mills; and Henry Tyson of Fayetteville.

CityView asked those seven their thoughts on three issues at the Board of Commissioners:

  • How they would work with the Democratic majority on the board. The two retiring incumbent Republican commissioners have said that it is sometimes difficult to have their perspectives represented.
  • The ongoing PFAS/GenX chemical contamination of drinking water in southeastern Cumberland County near the Chemours Co. chemical factory.
  • Where to build a new E.E. Smith High School.

Here is what they had to say:

Can they get the Democrats to work with them?

Incumbent Republican County Commissioners Michael Boose and Jimmy Keefe, who are retiring from office this year, have said the Democratic majority sometimes squeezes them out. For example, the Democrats have not been voting for Keefe or Boose to serve as chairman or vice-chairman.

How would these Republicans work across the aisle to ensure the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners serves the whole county?

Venus de la Cruz: “I think we all want the same thing. And I think the way that we communicate to one another is going to matter,” de la Cruz said.

“If not insulting, we can deal with one another as adults, and address each other with good ideas, present ideas well,” she said. “So being open to listening to old and new ideas is going to be important.”

Peter Pappas: “I see it as a strength that we are a diverse board,” he said, with people of various racial, economic and working life backgrounds. He strives as a small businessman to listen to people to work with them, he said, and he would do the same on the Board of Commissioners.

“There isn’t a magic wand to make everybody get together and hold hands,” Pappas said, “but partisanship can’t be more important than the people that put us in these offices.”

Ron Ross: “A lot of times, both parties want the same end result,” Ross said, but they disagree on how to get there. And if they get to loggerheads, “nobody does anything.”

He said he would strive to work together with the other commissioners to get things done.

Jeremy Stanley: “I would personally approach them with facts and proof, throughout whatever the issue is for the community,” Stanley said. “And if they’re not willing to look at it, or they’re trying to lock me out of the situation because of me being a Republican, and not wanting to hear it, I would air it out to the community.”

He would go public on social media, Stanley said. “Involve the community. Let them see what is truly going on,” he said.

Jonathan C. Strange: “I believe that one of the biggest issues that we’ve had with this most recent board is an apparent unwillingness to represent the whole county,” Strange said. “I don’t know if that’s strictly partisan.”

He asserted that Dist. 2 Democratic Commissioner Toni Stewart of Gray’s Creek has not done enough for the district, and with most of the board living in Fayetteville, the board focuses more on Fayetteville than on the rural areas, Hope Mills, Spring Lake and the other towns.

“You have to have people that are willing to fight for the whole district, rather than just the City of Fayetteville,” he said.

If the board ends up with four Democrats and three Republicans, Strange said, there is potential to persuade one of the four Democrats to work across the partisan aisle.

Henry Tyson: “There are ways that you can look at community issues in general,” Tyson said. “You can bring those forward to other folks that are serving and be able to have a discussion. I think that’s what’s key.

“And you build consensus on things that you’re going to have alignment on,” he said. “And the things that you’re not going to have alignment on, I think those are going to be a harder time to get those policies advanced.”

Board members may have different opinions, he said, “but the ultimate goal is just to make the community better, and to move that forward.”

The PFAS/GenX drinking water contamination

Nearly seven years after it was made public that the Chemours Co. chemical factory has contaminated drinking water in the Grays Creek community and other parts of southeastern Cumberland County with “forever chemicals” known as PFAS and GenX, residents in the area are still relying on bottled water.

What should be done?

Venus de la Cruz: “I think that who’s responsible ought to take care of it,” she said.

De la Cruz also is inspired by MrBeast, the social media personality and philanthropist from Greenville who in 2023 built 100 drinking water wells in Africa.

“Why can’t we do something like that?” she said, to provide safe water in rural areas where it would be expensive to extend water lines.

“Can we dig down deep enough, hundreds of feet past the polluted sources, into some aquifers,” she asked, as a way to supply water to the homes and public schools in the contamination zone.

Peter Pappas: The county has not done enough to help the residents with contaminated water, Pappas said.

The residents need a water system, Pappas said, and the county should look at whether it can work with the Fayetteville Public Works Commission to extend water to that area.

“The municipal water is really the only viable solution because we can filter what’s in those pipes,” he said.

The Fayetteville Public Works Commission anticipates installing $92 million in equipment to filter PFAS chemicals from its water.

Pavan D. Patel: “I really think that this has been a stain on our community,” he said.

The solution should not put a burden on the taxpayers, Patel said.

“I would say the ideal way probably to do it is work with PWC in trying to get the lines extended out there,” he said.

Ron Ross: Ross said he is using bottled water because his home’s well water is contaminated with PFAS chemicals. He feels that the county commissioners have done too little to help residents.

The Chemours plant “is not a good neighbor,” he said.

As to what to do? “There’s no easy answer,” Ross said. If elected, he would bring up the issue at every meeting, he said.

Water service should be run to the schools and residences, and Chemours and its predecessor Dupont should pay for it, Ross said.

Jeremy Stanley: Stanley said his home’s well has contaminated water.

A countywide water system is the best solution, he said.

“PWC needs to go after the chemical company, and go ahead and give us water throughout the whole county,” he said. “If that’s not feasible, a whole home water filtration system for all the homes throughout the county on well systems.”

Jonathan C. Strange: “I want to run county water straight to the schools” that have contaminated drinking water wells, Strange said.

It should be provided by the PWC, he said.

And the water to the schools can spread to the residential areas.

“Once we begin to run public utilities further into the county, we’re increasing the ability for us to see sustainable development outside in the county,” he said.

Henry Tyson: A previous CEO of the PWC had a countywide water expansion plan, Tyson said, but the county commissioners weren’t receptive to it.

“That was kind of a misstep in my opinion, from the outside looking in,” Tyson said, “because all of our residents in our county deserve to have clean, safe drinking water.”

The water system could come from the PWC or from another source, he said. Countywide water would encourage economic development and new home construction to help alleviate the county’s housing shortage, he said.

E.E. Smith High School

The Cumberland County Board of Education wants to replace the Murchison Road area’s E.E. Smith High School with a larger, modern facility. One idea is to build a new school on Fort Liberty, on the site of Stryker Golf Course just off Bragg Boulevard.

Some people like this idea. Others say the new campus should be built in the Murchison Road area instead of being isolated on Fort Liberty’s property.

What do the commissioner candidates think should be done?

Venus de la Cruz: Initially, she favored the Stryker Golf Course site. But after talking with people, and hearing and reading further opinions, de la Cruz wants to study additional options.

“I think it would be foolish to make a decision and come down hard on such a permanent and impactful decision without all the information,” she said.

Peter Pappas: “I want to go with Stryker,” Pappas said.

He recognizes that many alumni have immense pride and feelings for the current campus and its role as a historically Black high school in Fayetteville’s African-American community. At the same time, Pappas said, current students have favored a new campus.

Future students need the opportunities of a 21st-century campus, he said. “I feel like we’re holding our students back if we don’t pursue this.”

Possible locations other than Stryker Golf Course have wetland and environmental issues which would add to the cost, Pappas said.

Pavan Patel: “As of now, if Stryker’s the best site, then I would rather get the school up and running so students can take advantage of it,” Patel said.

“If there’s due diligence that’s been accomplished and there are other sites that can promote what we need, then we can look at that, too. I mean, I think it’s important to take into consideration.

“But at some point we need to make a decision,” he said. “’Cause it’s the students that are suffering the most, unfortunately.”

Ron Ross: “First of all, stay away from federal property,” Ross said.

“With the rich history that E.E. Smith has, I think it should be somewhere in that area.”

Ross said Democratic County Commissioners Chairman Glenn Adams made a compelling argument that a new E.E. Smith High School would be better off post than on Fort Liberty because if it’s in a civilian area, businesses and residential neighborhoods can grow around the school.

Jeremy Stanley: “I would leave the school where it’s at,” Stanley said.

Other schools around the county are older, some dating back to the early 1900s, he said. Students in those schools are packed in the hallways, he said, and some of the schools rely on mobile classrooms instead of permanent buildings.

“I feel that throughout the county there’s a lot more schools that need to be addressed for actual issues than just moving E.E. Smith,” Stanley said.

Jonathan C. Strange: “I don’t have any idea why we’re having such strenuous conversations about rebuilding E.E. Smith whenever we’ve got schools in Gray’s Creek that don’t have clean drinking water,” Strange said. “We are once again turning attention from immediate issues that need to be addressed immediately that have just been ignored by this board.”

The E.E. Smith question is complicated, Strange said.

He said he has problems with putting the school on military property.

Strange recognizes the school is important to the identity of the neighborhood around it, he said. But he also sees the potential for a new location to foster development in its surrounding area.

Overall, Strange said, “It’s become this big massive issue, that I think is kind of — I don’t think that it’s ripe to be the issue that it is. Not whenever we’ve ignored other issues that in my opinion are much more pressing. We have schools with no drinking water.”

Henry Tyson: “You’re talking about a state-of-the-art facility, they’re saying it needs to be on 100 acres,” Tyson said.

“So before we make that kind of community investment, I definitely think the stakeholders and the community in general that’s going to be using that facility needs to be allowed to have more input into that process before a final decision’s made,” he said.

Senior reporter Paul Woolverton can be reached at 910-261-4710 and pwoolverton@cityviewnc.com.

To keep CityView Today going and to grow our impact even more, we're asking our committed readers to consider becoming a member.

Take one minute to join now.

election 2024, gop, republicans, cumberland, commissioners