The military brought Bob Zschoche to Moore County — though it was his son-in-law who was transferred to Ft. Bragg rather than Zschoche himself.
Zschoche’s own military career had ended in retirement several years earlier. But the Army had taken the Iowa native and Ohio State grad plenty of places, from Hawaii to Vietnam and ultimately to Washington, DC, where he served several tours in the Pentagon.
Zschoche — it’s pronounced “shock-ee” — is one of two candidates vying to replace Randy Saunders on the Board of Commissioners. Since no Democrat has filed for that seat, the result will be decided in the March 15 Primary Election.
Times Editor Greg Hankins interviewed Zschoche on Monday, February 8.
It was a school and the School Board that triggered Zschoche’s decision to run for the Moore County Board of Commissioners — that and an Ace Hardware Store.
“The trigger was what the School Board did to Dr. Grimesey,” Zschoche told The Times in an interview on Monday, February 8. He was referring, of course, to the abrupt dismissal of Moore County Schools [MCS] Superintendent Dr. Bob Grimesey last year.
“They may have had the right reasons to do that, but they went about it in the wrong way. If they had gone about it in a different way, they would not have subjected themselves to the criticism they faced.”
“I fully support the right of any elected body to hire and fire staff that the law allows them to hire and fire,” Zschoche said. “You can do that smartly, in a way that is in the best interests of your constituents, or you can do it stupidly.”
“When I saw that, I said: The School Board needs adult supervision.”
What that triggered is: It’s time to get beyond Whispering Pines.”
Zschoche has been a member of the Whispering Pines Village Council since 2005, He served as Mayor from 2007 to 2015.
“Another trigger was when a young lady in Whispering Pines said, “Mr. Mayor, we moved to Whispering Pines because of the good Sandhills Farm Life School district. Once we were enrolled, we found out that it is so overcrowded that it’s suspect whether or not my child is getting the education she should.’”
“The ultimate trigger that caused me to file,” Zschoche said, “Was a company called Ace Hardware.” The current District IV Commissioner is Randy Saunders, also a former member of the Whispering Pines Village Council. Saunders is building a new Ace Hardware store in Southern Pines.
“I would not have dreamed about trying to run against Randy,” Zschoche said.
Support the schools
Support for Moore County Schools [MCS] is high on Zschoche’s list of concerns.
“One of the things that I am running on is: Support the schools, support the sales tax referendum,” he said. “When I give a little talk to whoever wants to listen, I say: The most important thing you need to do on March 15 is mark ‘Yes’ on the sales tax referendum — and, by the way, when you’re in there, vote for Bob.”
“It’s more important that we, as a county, pass that referendum,” Zschoche said, “than which one of these miscellaneous people we pick to sit in which office.”
The current Commissioners have approved a resolution calling on the General Assembly to pass House Bill 605, which would allow them to seek voter approval for an additional quarter cent sales tax.
Though he expressed no opposition to the legislation itself, Zschoche said, “I would not be in favor of another sales tax referendum coming on this heels of this one. You have to let things die down, You have to let things stabilize.”
“And you have to have the financial system demonstrate, factually what this current increase will do . . . we have to let the dust settle.”
“There is probably a limit as to how many projects the school system can handle at any one time,” he added. “Yes, I agree that we have a backlog of need, but even if we had an unlimited checkbook, could we solve all of that instantly? Probably not.”
“It’s unfortunate that we have let the need build up as long as we have, but that doesn’t mean that we have to embark on a program to fix it instantly. If we embark on any program of progress, that’s better than what’s been going on for the last few years.”
Turning up the heat
“One of my campaign mantras is that I’m not running against anybody or anything,” Zschoche said. “We in Moore County have things going pretty well . . . but we could probably, to the benefit of everybody, turn up the heat on some things.”
“We need to turn up the heat on the legislature about how they do various things with the schools and with funding at the state level.”
“I personally believe that the headlines in The Pilot and in The Seven Lakes Times and in the other media either print or online should say: County Commissioners Personally Lobby in Raleigh. “Unless you go up there and personally stand in front of people’s desks . . .”
“If elected, I would probably be labelled a very proactive Commissioner in terms of trying to address these problem,” Zschoche said. “Of course, the least active would be let’s just sit here in Moore County and raise the property tax. That’s least active and that’s also not in the best interest of the County.”
“If the funding idiocies at the state level were corrected, we in Moore County would not be in such bad shape,” he said. “It’s not just the law; it’s how the state bureaucracy — how the DPI [Department of Public Instruction] implements it.”
“Tell me a benefit the state of North Carolina derives from having the DPI. It’s a bunch of bureaucrats up there . . .
“There is no government entity that cannot do with fewer people than it currently has,” Zschoche said.
“I think there is a lot of money available in Raleigh. We are not properly spending it. But sending a resolution to Raleigh is not going to accomplish anything.”
The two Commissioners leaving the County Board — Saunders and Nick Picerno — have anchored its budget team. Zschoche said he has the background in finance to fill that position.
“My Master’s degree is in finance and economics,” he explained. “In my tours in the Pentagon I worked in the Army budgeting arena.” He has also served as treasurer of various organizations.
“In my time in Whispering Pines, I have learned how the North Carolina budget process works. I have been following the County budget process, and the schools budget process.”
Zschoche also serves on the Moore County Airport Authority.
Zschoche said he “has not dug into the details of the proposed Aberdeen sports complex as much as he may do in the future; but, as a general principle, you have to watch about ‘the cost of free.’ Someone is giving the land for a dollar. So, what’s the cost of free?”
Zschoche also pointed out that the sports complex is very near the Southern border of the county and closer to populations in other counties.
“If it were more centrally located in the County, I might have a different perception, he said.”
The Convention and Visitors Bureau’s [CVB] current proposal is to double the occupancy tax — paid by those who use Moore County hotels — to build and operate the sports complex.
“People love to spend OPM — other peoples’ money,” Zschoche said. “But just because the CVB money is OPM does not mean that we should not subject it to the same scrutiny as other monies available to meet the needs of Moore County.”
Planning and zoning
The Times asked Zschoche to speak about planning and zoning, particularly in cases where the County is responsible for regulating development in areas near towns and villages. As a concrete example, we referenced the proposed rezoning of a parcel off NC Highway 211 near Pinehurst and Taylortown in order to accommodate a commercial scale solar farm.
“It’s a less intrusive farm than a cattle farm, a chicken farm or a hog farm,” Zschoche said. “You have the internal competition between the person who owns property and has some property rights compared with the right of the County to ‘control’ what you do on that.”
“Is that solar farm going in there because he outbid the person who wanted to put in a shopping center. No. He purchased it because there was no other buyer for it.”
“It’s not like we have this unmet need for commercial retail along 211, that we need to preserve that fifty acre tract. What about all the other hundreds and hundreds of acres along 211?”
“The idiocy of it is when politicians believe they can legislate against the market.”
However, Zschoche said those comments do not mean he is a fan of no zoning at all. He pointed to the failure of the County to properly control development around the Moore County Airport as an example.
“Developers built near the airport, and now there is competition for the space. The County Commissioners could have solved that thirty years ago.”
Knowing what to ask
Zschoche commanded troop units during his time in the Army, the last being “a military supply distribution depot that had ten million square feet of warehouse space under roof, a budget in the neighborhood of $150 million, over 2,000 people working for me.”
He later managed software development units; and, after retiring from the Army, one of his assignments included helping the Red Cross’ blood services division get ready for the much feared Y2K transition.
“What the Army teaches you,” Zschoche said, “is that you may not be a technical expert in every field, but you have to know how to manage the people who are the technical experts. You have to know the right questions to ask.”