Candidates make their case at forum

Published 12:31 pm Friday, October 23, 2015

Candidates seeking a position on the Southampton County Board of Supervisors gathered on Tuesday in the auditorium of Southampton High School for a forum. Tony Clark, publisher of The Tidewater News, asked a series of questions on a variety of issues in Southampton County. There to answer them were incumbent Dr. Alan Edwards and challenger Yvonne Rose of the Jerusalem District; Barry Porter and Earva Jones Sumblin of the Franklin-Hunterdale District; and Glenn Updike and Randolph Cooke of the Newsoms District.

In this three-part series — which will continue on Sunday and next Wednesday — the candidates give their thoughts on why they are the right person for the job; the pros and cons of the county’s land use tax; the property located on Camp Parkway that has become a topic of conversation in and around the county; school board appointments; and much more.

Tony Clark – “Why are you the right person to represent your district, and what specific experience do you have that best qualifies you to serve the residents of your district and manage a $50 million budget?”

Earva Jones Sumblin – “I’m glad that you asked that question. No. 1, I’ve lived in my district all of my life. No. 2, I went to school at Oberry, then to Jerusalem District, onto Riverview and then onto St. Paul. I hold a master’s degree. I have 31 years of experience leading from investment securities to organizing the worst-shape corporation in getting it into being able to pass federal-level inspection. For those reasons, I think I’m worthy for this position.”

Glenn Updike – “First of all, I appreciate everyone for showing up tonight. Thank you for coming out. What qualifies me? Well, the last 20 years, I have served on the inquisition board, zoning appeals and I attend almost every single meeting that the planning commission holds, who really does a superb job for the county. I wish that every one of you would attend the planning commission meetings so that you can get informed. I think that’s trying to stay informed what’s going on at the Newsoms area. I assisted with the application of the drainage application that I’m sorry to say was not accepted. I hope we make a better effort next year. Maybe we can get that project on the way. I attend the meetings of the Newsoms town council. I hope that one thing the county will learn from this tragedy that we had in Newsoms, for God sakes, don’t do things behind closed doors. Be open and transparent and look to the citizens for guidance. I’m here to serve you. I don’t have the answers to all the problems that are going to be facing the county in the coming months, but I know you can really assist and help. Be sure to keep up to date on these very important projects that are going to be coming before the planning commission and the board. This is our future, and we cannot bury our heads in the sand. We have got to step up and respond to these challenges.”

Randolph Cooke – “First off, I was born and raised in Newsoms. I live about a mile away from where I was born. Still there. I’ve worked in this area my entire life. I spent about 40 years of my life, a little bit more, at the Virginia Department of Transportation, so I probably have dealt with everybody in here at least once. The past 10 years, after leaving VDOT, I’ve worked on the private side for a consulting engineering company. I was in charge of, when I left VDOT, in charge of budgets in excess of $50 million. On the private side, I’ve been in charge of budgets in excess of $60 million over the last 10 years. I’ve given back to my community. I’ve been a member of the Newsoms Ruritan Club for 30 years or more, the chamber of commerce for many years, Franklin Rotary Club, United Way board, so I’ve always been very interested in my community and doing my part to give back. I feel like I could do that on the board of supervisors.”

Dr. Alan Edwards – “What I bring to the board? I bring 28 years of public service. I’ve been your representative on the Southampton Planning Commission for 28 years — 10 years of that I was chairman. The last four years, I’ve been the Jerusalem representative on the board. I’m dedicated to Southampton County and the people of Southampton County. The next four years are going to very difficult — more difficult than the last four. The county is going to need that 28 years of experience and knowledge that I have to help get through these four years. I feel that there’s no place for a novice on the board this next four years.”

Yvonne Rose — “I have, for 33 years, worked with the Department of Social Services up in Franklin, where I had to relate to all people. I think that gives me experience and qualifies me to represent the Jerusalem District. In addition to that, for six years, I worked as a legislative assistant to Delegate Roslyn Tyler, so that gave me the experience of working with persons who are of substance and means. So you might say that I can work with the common man and the kings, and not lose my touch. These are the things that will qualify me to be your representative to the board of supervisors. We need someone who will understand people, who relates to people, who is sensitive to the needs of people and who will serve. My life has been spent serving is social services, in government and in my community. I’m a life member of Lambda Xi Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, an international group of over 250,000 of young, educated woman, and we serve. I think that this, along with the fact that I’ve lived in Courtland’s Jerusalem District for the last 30-plus years gives me a touch that would be to the board a commonality of purpose and will draw us together.”

Barry Porter – “I’d like to thank all of you for coming and trying to catch up on issues. I’d also like to thank The Tidewater News, Tony [Clark] for sponsoring this forum so that we can get some of the ideas out. Well, I guess I must be the loner because I haven’t lived here my whole life. But, I have a hard love for this county. I want to tell you a little story: 50 years ago in Newsoms, a boy was growing up in a very modest, but very loving family. That boy got a great education at Southampton High School and elementary schools. That boy grew up in a safe and prosperous community, which allowed him to explore his potentials. In 1966, that boy left Southampton County and went on a magical journey that took him around the world. He got to see places he never thought he’d get to see. He got to work in places he thought he would see. Eventually, he ended up being one of the most influential people in the fifth-largest corporation in the world. That boy then retired and he came back to the county he loved to give back because he wants the kids growing up today to have the same opportunities and the same chances to chase their dreams and realize their same potentials. My fellow citizens, that’s why I’m the best person for this job.”

Clark – “What do you feel are the pros and cons of the county’s land use tax schedule, and, if elected, would you vote to repeal it or keep it in place?”

Updike – “As I think everyone in this room realizes, I will fight 100 percent to keep it. Now, we are one of a few counties that are Johnny-come-lately on land use. Most counties have been in land use for years. The farmers are in a competitive business, and believe you me, a competitive business. We cannot put our farmers in jeopardy when we’re competing with counties that have land use. Land doesn’t require resources. Land only brings in revenue. For land use to be even considered being done away with is completely absurd. Agriculture is our No. 1 industry in this county. It pays a majority of the bills. Then to want to put extra taxation on our farming operations is straight out ridiculous.”

Cooke – “I definitely will fight to keep the tax code as it is, and I would oppose any proposals to change it. I agree with Mr. Updike that our farmers are one of the most important segments of our community.

“We are dependent on them, and I will do everything I can to keep the code where it is.”

Edwards – “Land use taxation came about in Virginia in 1976 to save farmland and help farmers. Seventy-seven out of 95 counties have land use taxation in our state. We are an agricultural county. Agriculture is our No. 1 industry. It enables the farmer to pursue that lifestyle in that industry. I would never do anything to hurt that. I would be against land use taxation and get rid of it if the last farmer in Southampton County came to me and said he quit. Otherwise, I’m 110 percent for it and would never vote to do anything to it. It’s the most fairest tax we have.”

Rose – “I am a novice, so I have heard much of the land use tax, but I would like to know more in terms of why it continues to be necessary at how it is just affecting the overall condition and finances of the county. I say that because I think it’s a good thing. You said, ‘What are the pros and cons?’ The pro is that it does help to promote agriculture, which is our mainstay. Another pro is that it preserves the farm. The con is that it delays tax and places an unusually higher burden of the tax upon persons who are not farmers, because there are needs that the community has and the county has as a whole that have to be considered and have to go on. If this land use tax can continue without depriving the citizenry of the things that they need to have a good life, then that would be fine.

“But if you look at the overall situation and it’s determined that we need increased revenue or we have certain services that need to be promoted that we are not finding the funds for, then I would reserve the right to say that I would consider looking at it and how effective it continues to be.”

Porter – “Everyone knows that we have a dire need for more revenue in our county. We need more revenue for better schools. We need more revenue so we can have more than one deputy on duty on the night shift. We need more revenue so that we can keep our real estate taxes lower, but abolishing land use is not the way to go.

Anyone who opposes land use doesn’t understand two things: they don’t understand fairness, and they don’t understand the economics of farming. Fairness because the concept of land use and why it was adopted in 77 counties is that if you restrict farm land to only farming and then you try to sell it for that purpose, land use assesses it at that market value. That’s why it’s legal. It’s not a gimmick. It’s not giving someone something they don’t deserve. What it’s doing is treating the farmer fairly for committing to keep his land in agriculture. It’s not penalizing him because someone wants to develop their land and they can get a higher value for it. If we want to continue to be an agricultural county, we’ve got to stop using abolishing land use as a whipping boy to get additional revenue. We’ve got to find other ways to get that revenue, and the most appropriate way is to pursue aggressively economic development.

Sumblin – “In looking at the research that I’ve had an opportunity to scan about the land use tax here in this county, no doubt agriculture in Virginia is the No. 1 largest industry. No doubt about that. It grosses $52 billion annually, and over 300,000 jobs. If you were to combine the forestry with that, it would push that number to $70 billion annually and 400,000 jobs. My interest would be if we can just increase 10 percent of that marketplace here in Southampton County, can you imagine the outcome, the economical (sic) outcome? I will not oppose the land tax use, but there are some areas that I would certainly take a better look at to see if we can benefit even though greater.”