The White House called and Onslow County commissioners answered.
With speakers like Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, and Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway, the board had quite the day.
“The speakers we had were just out of this world,” said Onslow County Commissioner Paul Buchannan. “It was just amazing. It was a really outstanding trip.”
The commissioners arrived Wednesday morning and started with a general tour of the White House, said Commissioner Royce Bennett, with plans to be back in Onslow County after midnight.
Onslow County Manager David Cotton also attended the trip while Commissioners Jack Bright and Robin Knapp were unable to attend.
Bennett said Conway was fierce talking about the opioid crisis, which Bennett said the commissioners had a lot of interest in.
The administration is working on a three-prong approach to attack the opioid epidemic, Bennett recalled from Conway’s speech, including using $6 billion to focus on enforcement and intervention, prevention and education, and treatment and recovery.
There’s also infrastructure money the federal government wants to allocate for rural areas.
“I can think of a whole lot of ways we could use some of the infrastructure money,” Bennett said.
Those ways include expanding Onslow Water and Sewer Authority’s system and working keeping the New River Inlet open for commercial, residential, and military use.
“It was a really interesting day,” Bennett said.
There were approximately 120 to 150 people there from different counties in North Carolina, Bennett said, and while the day wasn’t as he expected – more lecture than meet-and-greet – they did have a chance to ask questions and a lot of the ones posed, specifically about waterways and infrastructure, were relevant to Onslow County.
But that wasn’t even the best part.
“One of the biggest things we got out of it was they gave us a list of people that we can contact,” Bennett said.
That list includes people the commissioners can reach out to with questions about federal programs, said Commissioner Mark Price. Bennett said there were 30 names on the list, including contacts for the Department of Commerce, Army Corps of Engineers, Veteran Affairs, and more.
“I think this contact this is going to be very beneficial for us just to know who we can call and talk to when we have an issue in one of those areas,” Bennett said.
Another major tip the commissioners are taking home is to work as a region instead of individually, Price said. Cooperating as a region with common problems to tackle, like dredging, could help all of the counties. With dredging, Price continued, one resolution with all of the coastal counties signed together would make a bigger impact.
While Price said he recognized commissioners from Carteret, Jones, and Craven counties, there wasn’t a lot of time to speak with them there as the day progressed quickly.
But, Price continued, now that they have that option in the back of their minds it will certainly be something they consider when more regional issues come about. Buchannan agreed it was a smart way to tackle future problems and it was tips like this one that made the day so productive.
Overall, all three commissioners said they enjoyed the trip.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be part of things here,” Price said.
Reporter Amanda Thames can be reached at 910-219-8467 or Amanda.Thames@JDNews.com