Community Stressed At Buena Vista Forum

Community Stressed At Buena Vista Forum

DANIEL MOWRY

Community Stressed At Buena Vista Forum

CHRISTIAN WORTH

Community Stressed At Buena Vista Forum

JOSH ELROD

Community Stressed At Buena Vista Forum

JADE HARRIS

While questions at last week’s second chamber candidate forum in Buena Vista on Thursday focused on a variety of issues, the answers often ended with pleas for more engaged citizens.

For many state and local candidates, a vibrant community of volunteers and participants is central to improving citizens’ lives on the whole — especially when it comes to fostering economic development or solving the addiction crisis, for example. The overarching theme was that government functions better in tandem with citizen efforts and input; without that, officials can only be so efficient.

Candidates Steve Baldridge, Lisa Clark, Stanley Coffey and Cheryl Hickman were first asked about how they would become more engaged with the city staff to further downtown revitalization efforts.

Baldridge, who has been on Council for eight years, said that they have already been working with staff to see how they can be more proactive in their jobs. As for downtown revitalization, he cited his service on the economic development committee, which strives to bring in new opportunities for growth.

“It’s something I’ve been interested in all along,” he said.

Clark, who has also been on the Council for eight years, said that, in order to think about downtown revitalization, city residents and employees need to unite behind a common vision.

“We can’t just say, ‘Oh we’re gonna do this and this and this’,” Clark said. “We kind of need to tie it together, so that when we apply for grants, and when we’re working in the downtown area, the goal is there, and we just need to define the steps to get there.”

Coffey also emphasized collaboration between citizens, staff and government. “We just need to get the citizens out of their houses, and get ideas; we need to work together with the staff to be able to achieve these goals that we have.”

Hickman, who is running for City Council for the first time, also underlined how crucial it was to communicate with citizens and involve them in downtown revitalization.

“Let them be a part of what’s going on in the city,” Hickman said. “Because a lot of times I think stuff’s going on behind closed doors, and [citizens] don’t know what’s going on.”

The next question was fitting for the candidates’ previous answers: How will you engage more residents to be a part of the community?

Hickman said the first efforts made at community outreach will “raise the community back to life.” She said that, in order for this to happen, efforts should be made by not only by City Council and businesses, but also churches and other groups.

Coffey addressed the citizens directly. “We want you to come to City Council, we want you to bring us ideas,” he said. “I mean, don’t hesitate – that’s what we need.”

Clark said that community events are critical. But she also described what City Council members are up against when trying to get citizens to participate. “Right now we probably have four open committees on City Council that we have no applications for,” Clark said.

Baldridge said, “I think that one of the challenges that we face is that we’re living in an era when more people in every family need to be employed to meet the economic needs of families. We have fewer people who are finding the time to be volunteers, and I think that’s a big challenge for us.”

Glasgow Town Council

Jade Harris, the lone Glasgow Town Council candidate to participate in the forum, was asked about the Appalachian Trail designation and economic opportunities in Glasgow.

“An innovative method of utilizing that designation would be providing wireless internet access at the hiker’s shelter,” Harris said. “If they have access to wireless internet they’re more likely to stay, spend more money, explore Glasgow more and even share things about the hiker’s shelter and the town itself on their social media.”

Next she was asked about encouraging engagement and resident participation in town government.

“If residents feel that they’re not being listened to, they’re not going to even bother with town government,” Harris said. “So to boost engagement I’d propose two methods. First, changing the rules for the public comment period.”

Harris suggested allowing residents to speak for six minutes instead of three, and allowing residents to comment on matters that are not on the agenda. Her next idea was to have an official videographer tape town Council meetings.

Delegate, 24th district

Republican Del. Ronnie Campbell, Democratic nominee Christian Worth, and independent candidate Eli Fishpaw were asked about what they can accomplish on the state level to support the workforce development needs in the region.

“In Richmond the first thing I did was put a budget amendment in to give some state highway property to Dabney Lancaster for the purposes of building a vo tech center,” Campbell said.

He also cited his support for improvements to Interstate 81 as being a boost to economic development in his district. He alluded also to a road project he’s hoping to bring to Buena Vista. Large tractor-trailers haven’t been able to get their permit loads under the overpass in Buena Vista, so he is working to upgrade Factory Street so that trucks don’t have to go across

501.

“We have one atmosphere, and our future depends on limiting our emissions to a proportionate share of what is safe,” Fishpaw said. “We need a carbon tax, and our local and regional economic opportunities will be favored in this environment, where high emission costs can be avoided from transportation from goods all over the world. This will create incentive for regional economies to support regional needs.”

“I believe it’s all about education and training,” Christian Worth said. She said that her No. 1 priority in Richmond would be restoring funding for public education. “This means supporting the means by which our high schools can update our CTE, or career technical education facilities; we can pay our teachers more, we can improve the quality of education of our young people, which is also a critical way to grow a quality workforce.”

Senate, District 25

Democratic incumbent Sen. Creigh Deeds was present for the forum but his independent opponent, Elliott Harding, was not. Deeds was asked about the measures he would take to improve the health of Virginia’s workforce.

“We’ve got to look for ways to provide access to health care, and that includes those people that struggle with mental illness,” Deeds said. “Mental illness is not somebody else’s problem, it’s our problem. It affects nearly every family, it affects employees in just about every work place.”

Deeds also mentioned that Virginia primarily trains workers though the community college system. He said that elected officials need to be making sure that the programs in those colleges are relevant to the areas they serve.

Commonwealth’s

Attorney

Candidates Josh Elrod and Daniel Mowry were asked about the area’s high incarceration rates that are causing overcrowding in the regional jail.

“I would propose a system where certain individuals charged with low misdemeanor crimes are given an opportunity for community service such as garbage collection or giving service back to the city,” said Elrod.

Mowry said the current high recidivism rate is related to drug addiction rates. “We have a drug crisis in the city, and the drug crisis is fueling our recidivism rates,” he said.

The candidates were asked if they would support a drug court.

“It looks like we’re really moving forward from laying a foundation to implementing a drug court,” Elrod said. “I’m actually scheduled to meet in a few days with representatives from Blue Ridge Court Services who administer as the case management a drug task force for Staunton, Augusta County and Waynesboro.”

Mowry said that he thinks a drug court is crucial as well. “But all of those programs, though, depend on, largely, the community,” he said. “We’re gonna have to come together to address this. Sadly, the cycle of addiction, families that are in crisis, all of these things come together and it’s a perfect storm.”

The News-Gazette

The News-Gazette Corp.
P.O. Box 1153
Lexington, VA 24450
(540) 463-3113

Email Us

Facebook Twitter

Latest articles