Board of Supervisors candidates face off in forum at NRCC

Patriot logo largeBy MIKE WILLIAMS

The Patriot

Candidates in this fall’s two contested races for Board of Supervisors in Cloyd and Robinson Districts squared off Tuesday evening during a Candidates Forum in Rooker Auditorium on the campus of New River Community College.

The event was sponsored by the Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce and its two media partners – The Patriot and The Southwest Times.

A variety of issues were covered during the event, with candidates giving their thoughts on issues such as the possibility of a recreation/wellness center in the county, transparency in county government, taxes and the idea of live streaming the meetings of the Board of Supervisors.

Questions for the candidates were provided by chamber members prior to the forum. More questions were provided by members of the audience attending the event. Media members screened the questions prior to and at the forum.

There were also questions posed directly to individual candidates on issues that have been heard the most along the campaign trail to date.

The evening’s Q&A opened with a question on a favorite topic discussed in the county for years – the idea of a recreation center.

First to respond was Jeff Reeves, the incumbent Republican in Robinson District.

Reeves noted that a rec center – compared to neighboring localities – is the one thing Pulaski County doesn’t have.

“I see a definite need for it. What I do not see is increasing our property taxes and real estate taxes to pay for it,” Reeves said. “It needs to be something that is self-sustaining that all citizens in the county can use.”

He noted there have been discussions among board members on a rec center, and said news will be coming out in the next couple months about what options are available to the county on such a facility.

His opponent in the Robinson District, Colette Hash – running as an independent – also expressed support for a rec center.

“I agree it would be an awesome opportunity for our county, but we also have to make sure that we understand how we’re going to pay for it,” she said.

She said such a facility would benefit both young and old.

“Everything always comes down to money, but you have to count the cost to see what it is worth and how it will cause our county to develop and be a better place.”

Adam Hall, the Republican incumbent in Cloyd District, also supports a wellness center / sports complex.

“There is a level of financial responsibility that needs to be employed when looking at that. It can be very expensive to accomplish that. We need to define what ‘that’ is first – maybe it can’t be a wide-open checkbook and be a grand, grand thing that exceeds our ability to pay for it,” he said.

He noted he agrees with Reeves that taxes should not be raised to pay for such a facility, and advocates thinking of “smart ways” to address the issue.

“Maybe we can look at the features that go into a sports complex and incrementally bite those off,” he said.

His opponent in Cloyd, Chris Stafford – running as an independent – agreed that a wellness center is a great concept.

“It’s a great concept if it’s done sustainable and self-supporting in a fiscally responsible way. I look at the Christiansburg Aquatic Center and I know from their situation for many years, that center struggled until they got Virginia Tech involved with the swim team, so I really think we need to crunch the numbers,” Stafford said.

“What’s important is to get community input. A big part of my campaign is about transparency,” Stafford said. “I just want to mention that in this current fiscal year budget, I’m not sure how many people know there’s a $2 million line item in the budget already for the wellness center. If you look at the budget, it’s right there.”

Two questions directed to specific candidates went to Stafford and Hall.

Stafford’s question dealt with the past financial contributions he has made to Democratic candidates including Joe Biden, Terry McAuliffe and ActBlue – a technology organization that enables left-leaning nonprofits, Democratic candidates and progressive groups to raise money from individual donors on the internet.

He was asked why, considering his donations, is he running as an independent candidate.

Stafford said that, as a senior financial official for the school system, “we are encouraged by the Virginia Association of School Business Officials to advocate for school funding, and I’ve done just that.”

“I’m 54 years old. I’ve lived in Pulaski County my entire life. The total amount of political contributions I’ve made in my lifetime are far less than the amount of contributions that I give to my church and to local charities here in Pulaski County each year,” Stafford said, adding he believes those contributions reflect more about him than any political contribution.

He said from “day one” on the board, he plans to be an independent voice for the citizens of the Cloyd District – regardless of their political persuasion.

In his rebuttal, Hall said he is the Republican nominee.

“And what that means to me is I know where I stand with fiscal conservatism. We are fiscally responsible and specifically one of my goals is to keep taxes low and to work in a balanced budget,” Hall said, adding that conservative values and conservative faith are things he is proud to represent on the board.

Hall was asked why he sends his children to Radford City Schools, when he resides in Pulaski County and wants to continue serving on the Board of Supervisors here.

“Years ago, my family and I were considering moving to Radford and decided to enroll our children there ahead of time. We actually never moved there. We’ve been a part of Pulaski County our entire lives. We live on that side of the county, but we simply never ended up moving [to Radford].

“What’s important to me is we’re still in the county, we’re still citizens in the county, we have friends in the county and we go to church in the county.

“If there’s questions about how much I support the school system, this year, I’m proud to say, we went through the budgeting process and were able to address all funding for all of the board’s listed priorities. And it’s the highest level ever in the history of the school system. I’m proud we were able to do that.

“We just never pulled the trigger. Our girls are entrenched there [Radford] at the high school level now, I think that’s the place where they need to continue to be for continuity in their lives. They have friends, they have teachers, their relationships they’ve built forever,” Hall explained.

In his response, Stafford said he wouldn’t respond to his opponent’s personal situation, but he did say he would put Pulaski County’s teachers and staff up against any neighboring school system.

Stafford did take exception with Hall’s point of addressing all the school system’s budget priorities.

“I’ll give props to Governor Youngkin and the current general assembly for increasing state funding [for education] over what we originally anticipated.

“That additional state funding was what allowed us to give teacher raises this year. The board of supervisors appropriated an additional $10,000 in operating funding. They have been very generous the last few years with capitol funding, but it was that additional state funding that gave us the ability to give teacher raises,” Stafford said.

In his rebuttal, Hall said that while his daughters attend school in Radford, he has relatives who are students in Pulaski County schools as well as relatives and friends who are teachers here.

As for school funding, Hall said the $10,000 line-item amount Stafford mentioned was “simply a placeholder.”

“It was over $900,000 allocated to the school system … just needs to be requested, and that would actually tie into all the listed school budget priorities supplying that funding,” Hall said.

Another consistent question on the campaign trail focused on how Stafford, in his role as assistant superintendent for finance and business operations for the school system, can also serve as a member of the board of supervisors – especially during budget preparation and voting.

Stafford responded that while he was not ready Tuesday to make a decision on whether he would give up his job, he had done his research and had found that such situations have existed and worked.

“The state attorney general’s office has consistently held for many decades that there is no restriction on an employee of a public school system serving as a member of a local board of supervisors,” Stafford said, adding this occurs more often than some may think.

He noted one such situation in Smyth County where the assistant superintendent of schools serves on the board of supervisors and he just won re-election.

Stafford also said he had notified the school board chairman that he will not accept any pay increase or any increase in benefits as a school employee for any period of time he is a member of the board of supervisors.

Massie District candidate Mike Mooney was provided an opportunity during the event to introduce himself to the audience. Mooney is running unopposed.

Mooney graduated from Pulaski County High School in 1976 and attended Concord College on a baseball scholarship. He worked for 39 years in the soft drink industry before retiring.

“I was very successful in this job, and I feel like that’s because I listened to my people. I managed a large business and had several employees in nine counties in the New River Valley and in Southwest Virginia. I feel like if we can apply these same standards and ethics on the Board of Supervisors we can be successful there,” Mooney stated.

“My goal is to listen more and talk less. I feel like if you can find a candidate to listen more and talk less, then we’ve got things going in the right direction,” he added.

Kevin Meredith served as the moderator for the event.

The winning candidates in the three districts will serve one-year terms on the five-member board of supervisors, with all five members of the Board of Supervisors facing election for four-year terms in November 2023.

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