Candidates respond on the issues

Published 12:15 pm Saturday, April 23, 2016

Greg McLemore, Frank Rabil, Mona Murphy and Linwood Johnson

Greg McLemore, Frank Rabil, Mona Murphy and Linwood Johnson

Candidates seeking to be the next Mayor of Franklin (Frank Rabil and Greg McLemore) and Ward 4 representative (Mona Murphy and Linwood Johnson) responded to a questionnaire sent to them by The Tidewater News. Below are the answers the candidates gave when asked about their professional background, Franklin’s current state, economics, schools, economic development, shared services and more.

1. Why are you running for mayor/city council?

• Rabil: I have a strong desire to continue my family’s legacy of giving back to the Franklin community that we cherish. My parents owned a small business and worked long hours. They stressed to our family the value of community involvement through service to others. I have tried to stay true to their legacy and example. My unique skill set coupled with an engaged citizenry can combine to truly raise the quality of life for all of Franklin.

• McLemore: Because I believe in the democratic process and I believe the people deserve a choice with more experience and a plan if we are to change the direction of our City.

• Murphy: I am currently the Ward 4 representative for the City of Franklin. I am running for a second term in the May 3rd election. I believe no one knows a neighborhood better than the people who live there giving their time and serving it. Therefore, with very strong convictions I am stepping forward once again to offer my services and asking voters of Ward 4 to re-elect me with there vote.

• Johnson: I am running to improve the living conditions in Ward 4 and the city. That means bringing companies in that will provide higher paying jobs to citizens of my ward and city. Unfortunately, Ward 4 currently has no leadership and drive to promote economic growth for our ward and city. That is why I am running, because I will fill that void and take the lead in promoting economic growth and opportunity in my ward and city.

Secondly, I will, with my colleagues, on council act on ideas to lower real estate taxes and electric bills that will make our ward and city a more affordable place to live.

Finally, I will work to improve our recreational department to better serve and provide more community activities for our youth and seniors. Our young children and babies need adequate playgrounds to play and enjoy being kids. However, the current representation in Ward 4 has allowed our playground to be neglected and has not supported efforts from the citizens of the community to bring fresh ideas to the recreation department. As councilman, I will never neglect our playgrounds and will fight to find savings in the budget to allocate funds to fix our playground. Second, I will support efforts to bring new ideas to the recreation department by working to restore the recreation advisory committee.

2. What is your professional and educational background?

• Rabil: I am a graduate of Franklin City Public Schools and received a B.A. from Virginia Tech. My early professional career consists of teaching, coaching and local banking. The remaining twenty-seven years were primarily in corporate management with Union Camp/International Paper in the areas of Financial Services, Business Transformation, and Organizational Effectiveness/Change Management. These management positions proved invaluable as they taught me how to effectively work with and lead diverse groups of people both domestically and internationally.

• McLemore: Professionally I retired from broadcasting after 20 years. I was a program director of several radio stations as well as worked in sales and marketing. I owned the first black owned restaurant/nightclub on Armory Dr. I am a patented inventor and I work in the maintenance dept. @PDCCC. I was home schooled, attended Bklyn college and PDCCC in public relations and general studies. I lectured NSU and Chowan College in broadcasting.

• Murphy: Professionally, I have been Supervisor/Chief Procurement Technician, Acquisition Support Tech, Computer Assistant, Paul D Camp Community-Clerk Typist Graduate certificate. Continuous on the job. Working with the Federal Government has allow me to transfer my skills to City Government. I retired from my Federal Government job as of April 1, spent 36 years, 11 months and 23 days there.

The past boards, committees and organizations I have served on are Franklin City School Board-1999-2012, Vice Chair Franklin City School Board Pupil Personnel, Building and Grounds,Technology, Special Education Virginia School Board Association, Alternate Voting Delegate, Regional Appomattox Governor School Board Member, Defense Supply Center Richmond, Valentine’s For Veterans and Key Worker Combines Federal Campaign.

The present boards, committees and organizations I ams serving on are Franklin City Schools Superintendent Council Parent/Child Advocate, Franklin City Council, Tidewater Regional Jail Board Appointing Authority for Ward 4, Redevelopment and Housing Authority Representative Appointing Authority for Ward 4 and Franklin City School Board Representative.

• Johnson: I attended Hayden High School and Graduated from Franklin High School. After High, I studied at Ferrum College and Virginia Union University.vI have been in the Financial Consulting Industry for over 30 years and have my own company, L.W. Johnson & Associates, Inc.

 3. What do you feel best qualifies you to hold the position of mayor/city council member, and why should the voters of Franklin select you for the job?

• Rabil: My professional experiences and current volunteerism with the Boys and Girls Club, Bronco Federal Credit Union, and the Village at Wood’s Edge has prepared me for the challenge of working collaboratively and effectively with diverse groups. The voters should consider voting for me because I prepare, I listen, and I attend. I also know how to run and efficient, inclusive business meeting which is a responsibility of the Mayoral position as defined by the City Charter.

• McLemore: On top of 6 years on Council playing a defining role in the last 2 most important decisions to come across City Council. The Navy practice landing at the Franklin airport and the recent schoolboard vote. I proudly stand behind my leading the way on both issues. As well as always standing and voting what my constituents want after weighing the pros and cons as to how it effects all the citizens of Franklin, like standing alone on SPSA or raising taxes which I won’t vote for again. Besides experience, there is passion for our City’s prosperity. I have been blessed with the talent of creativity and I know that is what is needed to turn our social, economic, and educational systems around in this City. We need leadership that is committed to thinking outside of the box to come up with new solutions to old problems. High utility bills, low economic revenue.

• Murphy: Because of my Past and present service to the community and my willingness to go the extra mile for over of volunteer service to the Franklin Community. Be it the School Board, Parent/Student Advocate, Member of the PTA, Housing Authority, Neighborhood Watch Captain or in my current position as the Ward Representative, I have always served and made decisions base on the Concerns and needs my constitute that best support and reflect the Community as a whole.

• Johnson: My experience dealing with people in business has taught me how to address the needs of my clients and provide good service. If elected I will carry that trail to the council always remembering to serve faithfully those who elected me.

4. What do you believe is the city’s most pressing issue and, being specific, what would you do to address it?

• Rabil: From my perspective, our most pressing issue is attracting new businesses. Bringing in new businesses will provide us with an opportunity to provide necessary services at a fair cost to our citizens, the taxpayers. Working collaboratively with our neighbors and our schools (Franklin City Public Schools and Paul D Camp Community College), it is imperative that we develop sound strategies and a job-ready workforce. However, the mayor or any other councilperson has only one vote. Empty promises are inherently unfair and should not be made. We must consider what is best for the majority of citizens, not just one segment. It is very easy to continually vent and criticize; it is much harder, but more rewarding, to be positively engaged for the betterment of the community.

• McLemore: The City’s most pressing issue is its leadership being divided even more than is obvious from the outside. There are not concise understanding and agreement with where our City is headed and how it plans on getting there. Until we all get on the same map we can’t arrive at the same destination. As Mayor I would open up our city government to much more transparency and input from the citizens. The best way is become more involved with our citizens is by way of informal town hall meetings until we figure out where we as a City wants to go. We the leaders need the input of the people and follow it to make their desires felt.

• Murphy: Maintaining the financial well-being of the city so that the desired level of city services can be maintained without overburdening the taxpayers and customers of the city. Continue to focus on the approved priorities of the Council specifically those goals aimed at increasing the tax base and creating job opportunities while operating the city as efficiently as possible.

• Johnson: The most pressing issue for our citizens is the rising cost of living in the ward and the city. With the raising of the electric rate and real estate tax, many people are finding it difficult to stay in the city. Also, the failure to make sure the Hayden Project had the funds to open facilities, have put a financial strain on the ward and city. Also, current representation for Ward 4 has solely focused on raising electric rates and taxes and collecting from the citizens of the ward and city. As Councilman, I will focus however on reducing cost in the electric department through audit and testing of equipment and fight for rebates from profits to go to the citizens in the ward and city. Concerning jobs I will work to attract new business that will pay higher salaries and provide needed tax revenue to shift some of the tax burden from our citizens, in the ward and city. I will also help the Hayden Group find the funds needed to open and serve the city.

5. What role do you feel city council should play, if any, in improving public education in the city of Franklin?

• Rabil: Since education is the lynchpin to the success of the city, it is incumbent for Council to ensure that we encourage and promote qualified candidates to seek school board membership. We need to continue to have open and honest communication with the school board and the superintendent. As a council, we should take the necessary steps to assist the schools in sustaining the gains they have made. If we are not satisfied with the results and progress being made, we should be prepared to take drastic steps to improve results.

• McLemore: To fund the school system and be more diligent in the appointment of school board appointees.

• Murphy: By state law and city code, the Council is responsible for the appointment of School Board members and providing adequate funding for the school system to operate. The Council must identify and appoint School Board members who then become responsible for the operations and educational goals of the school system. The Council should communicate regularly with the School Board to discuss their needs to achieve the goals they establish to maintain and improve public education in the city.

• Johnson: Since most cities in Virginia have an elected school board, Franklin should switch to an elected school board that will give the citizens the opportunity to choose the best representatives for their ward and city. This will give parents and concern citizens a greater influence in the children’s education.

6. Economic development is a crucial issue for the City of Franklin. What, specifically, can city council do to help facilitate economic growth?

• Rabil: We need to continue our support Franklin Southampton Economic Development and other regional and state agencies in attracting economic growth within our area. Also, we need to tend to the care and nurturing of our existing businesses in their efforts to grow and prosper. We need to be consistent and vigilant in support of our comprehensive plan and ordinances while providing a “business friendly” environment.

• McLemore: Take greater responsibility for searching out and attracting new business and residents to our City. Create policy that is attractive to target industries and residents. First we must determine what kind of future the citizens want for Franklin. Then create new revenue streams to realize reaching that target.

• Murphy: The Council must ensure that the city continues to partner with our neighboring counties on economic development opportunities within the city and in the shared service areas in the counties and particularly with Franklin-Southampton Economic Development, Inc. The Council should also continue partnerships with regional and state economic development agencies to market our community. The city in cooperation with the neighboring counties must also make sure we have suitable sites identified, adequately prepared and available for development when prospects visit the area looking for suitable locations.

• Johnson: The most pressing need is for the Economic Development is lack of leadership in ward 4 to attract companies to provide higher paying jobs that will allow the citizens the ability to pay their bills. I will lead, as councilman, efforts to bring together my colleagues on council and business owners in the ward and city to directly seek out companies that can relocate to Franklin.

7. What is the City of Franklin’s best attribute?

• Rabil: It’s people and their resolve in handling the many trials and tribulations that have come their way. There is much work to be done. More people, especially our younger generation, need to be willing to serve and become involved within the community. This broad-based effort would build on Franklin’s “can-do” tradition.

• McLemore: Her citizens and location being next to a population of over 1.5 million consumers that are only 45 minutes away. Having two counties on both sides of us that present us a wonderful opportunity to revenue share.

• Murphy: The small town atmosphere and the citizens that make up the community.

• Johnson: Franklin best attribute is its location as an economic hub for business. With the river, trail and undeveloped land in the ward and city, Franklin can develop light industrial and resort businesses that will benefit downtown and Ward 4.

8. If you could change one thing about the city, what would it be?

• Rabil: Instead of looking to the past and talking about what we were, now is the time for us to define what we can be and move forward.

• McLemore: The stagnated backward thinking of her leadership. The City of Franklin has survived natural disasters and economic disasters. However, I feel that unless we start filling our Council with forward outside of the box thinking members, we are condemned to continue the slow but sure decline of our City.

• Murphy: Reducing the level of poverty by increasing the average income levels of our citizens.

• Johnson: I would make more transparent the business operations of Franklin City Staff to the citizen of the ward and city. The tax paying citizens of my ward and the city should have more information on the cost of electric, water, garbage and regional authority agreements. This is another area current representation has failed the ward, but I will demand transparently and accountability with our tax dollars.

9. What is your opinion on the proposal to join with Southampton County for shared wastewater treatment services?

• Rabil: Based on the economics and the in depth study of the joint committee, it makes perfect sense. I am in favor of the proposal.

• McLemore: The jury is very much still out on that idea. I want to partnership with both our sister counties. However, I am not for Franklin becoming dependent upon either county for our citizens needs. If we can make Franklin the beneficiary of such a plan opposed to a customer, then I could consider it.

• Murphy: There are several more steps that must be taken before finalizing any action on the recommendations recently presented by the joint city/county management team that has been studying this for some time. The city and county should continue to partner in taking the next steps. The report and recommendation is that it must prove to be a win-win for both city and county residents. This is a major decision that must be carefully considered, but I believe the city and county must continue to work together to address future wastewater needs because neither party can afford to continue to meet needs on their own in my opinion. The study clearly shows it is too expensive and would result in much higher customer rates to try to continue operating independently when we are eventually required to upgrade the city wastewater treatment plant.

• Johnson: My concern with any shared services agreement is the cost/saving impact on my ward and the city. Such an agreement should study whether the city and the ward would financial benefit from shared services. Only if it benefits the city and the ward would I support any shared services.

10. What do you feel is the best opportunity to improve the city’s current financial situation?

• Rabil: We should continue to investigate regional shared services opportunities to leverage the potential synergies. As in any good business, we should look for ways to deliver quality services in the most cost-effective manner.

• McLemore: This is your best question. It is rather simple, create new untapped streams of revenue. There are dozens of ways for the City to generate new revenue without raising taxes and creating a bunch of new fees. It just takes being creative and working together with each other and all other stakeholders. I know two specific ways that Franklin could begin immediately generating new revenue that could bring in millions annually, visit my website to learn more That is why I know I am the best candidate for the job of Mayor of Franklin.

• Murphy: Over the past four years, the city has greatly improved its financial situation. The reserves in all funds have been restored from historic lows to acceptable levels and in compliance with Council financial policies with the exception of the electric fund. Electric fund reserves were so low the city still has some improvement needed to meet policy requirements, but much progress has already been made and the city has a plan to meet this goal over the next few years. The city’s financial statements for the first time have been recognized for the improvements with awards the last 3 years for financial reporting. As stated in the answers to questions 4 and 6, we need to stay focused on economic development in cooperation with our partners and efforts to operate efficiently to continue improvements to the current financial situation. Most importantly we need to increase our tax base and improve incomes by creating local job opportunities for our citizens.

• Johnson: The only way to improve the financial health of the city is to make our city business friendly and lower costs to make our ward and city more affordable and attractive to businesses. The current representation in the ward continues to support high taxes, high electric bills and high fees that drive business away from the ward and the city. As councilman I will support lower taxes on real estate, residential and commercial, lower electric costs and lower business fees that will make the ward and city business friendly for new companies.