Hopefuls face off at forum

Published 8:32 am Wednesday, October 21, 2009

SMITHFIELD—A crowd of about 100 people turned out for the 2009 Candidates Forum Monday night, just two weeks before Isle of Wight County voters will elect a candidate to the House of Delegates, two members to the Board of Supervisors, and two school board members.

Nine politicians sat literally shoulder to shoulder on the stage at the Smithfield Center and took turns answering questions and, on occasion, skewered their opponents. Isle of Wight Commonwealth’s Attorney served as moderator for the event.

“I thought the forum went very well and it was fair and respectful,” Joanne Willis, president of the Woman’s Club of Smithfield, said after the event. “I was very pleased with it and I told Wayne Farmer that he did a beautiful job.”

Farmer served as moderator for the forum. He was a last-minute substitution for John Edwards, editor and publisher of The Smithfield Times, who was in the hospital.

House of Delegates race

In the contest for the 64th District seat to the state House of Delegates, incumbent Bill Barlow, a Democrat, is running for re-election against two opponents: Republican Stan Clark and Independent Green candidate Albert Burckard.

The three candidates were asked where they stood on several issues, including the proposed coal-fired power plant in Dendron, a town in neighboring Surry County.

“There’s no clean coal,” Clark said. “That’s an oxymoron. That power plant is going to spew 118 pounds of mercury every year, a half-ton of lead, and millions of pounds of (carbon dioxide) and other toxic substances. I’m all for jobs, but not jobs that’s going to cost us in our tourism industry, agricultural jobs and productivity in our farmlands. Who wants to live and raise children under the plume of a coal-powered power plant?”

Burckard said he favored nuclear power.

“Nuclear power generation is the safest form of power generation in the world,” Burckard said. “(But) having said that, until we can build other (nuclear power) plants I would generally be in favor of a coal-fired power plant as long as it used Virginia coal.”

Barlow said he favors pursuing alternative forms of energy. He cited wind, natural gas, biomass and even algae power.

“All of the different alternative ways of fuels generating electricity should come in and compete,” Barlow said. “(But) we’re not getting that. We’re getting people that are saying these other alternatives can come in and do what the coal-fuel facility can do. But they don’t come in and play.”

Board of Supervisors race

Several questions were also posed toward James Brown and JoAnn West Hall, two candidates running for the Hardy District seat on the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors. Brown currently holds the seat.

The candidates differed on the issue of whether the county board should remain at five seats or be increased to seven.

“I support redistricting into a seven-member board,” Hall said. “The county population has grown by more than 10,000 people over the last decade (and) since the last redistricting. By expanding the number of members, each supervisor would represent 5,000 people instead of 7,000 people. (Expansion) would mean more representation for the people.”

Brown cited a survey he did through the Virginia Association of Counties and said, “there’s no rhyme or reason for the number (of seats). Chesterfield (County) has 300,000 people and they have five members. There are counties that are much smaller than we are and they have seven members. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered and there’s no one answer that will suffice. It has to be studied very carefully.”

Phillip Bradshaw is also running for re-election to the Carrsville District seat, but is running unopposed.

School Board races

Two seats on the Isle of Wight County Schools board, representing the Hardy and Carrsville districts, are also up for grabs.

In the Carrsville District, incumbent Kenneth Bunch is running against Debbie Hall. Meanwhile, Gene Lowery is challenging Herb DeGroft for his Hardy District seat.

All four candidates were asked to weigh in on a recent hot-button issue for the division: the outsourcing of custodial services.

“Not being on the board and not being involved in the school system, I feel I can’t answer that question,” Lowery said. “I’m not necessarily for outsourcing. Whichever is cheaper, whichever benefits the school system more, I think that’s the way to go.”

Said DeGroft: “There was no whole board public discussion, or even in closed session discussion, of custodial service outsourcing until that landed on our (agenda) that night. I think outsourcing can be a benefit, but you also have to always involve the human element. When you involve the human element that can cause your decision-making process to change.”

Bunch explained why he voted against the outsourcing.

“We are the stewards of the county’s money,” Bunch said. “We had an opportunity to save more than $400,000. The contract was presented to us, we voted on it and it passed on a 3-2 vote. I was opposed to it not because it was outsourcing, but because I felt the involved people needed more time to prepare. We looked at trying to put it off from July until January, (but) again that was beat. As far as outsourcing other things, probably not.”

Debbie Hall said she was opposed to some forms of outsourcing.

“I do not support outsourcing jobs for which we already have employees,” she said. “But if we’re looking to bring in a new project, and (the work) could be done cheaper by bringing someone in, then that would be OK. The custodians should have been given the chance to hear what was offered to them before they were ever let go.”