Buckingham Candidates Forum For Sheriff And Other Positions

Published 6:44 pm Thursday, October 13, 2011

BUCKINGHAM – Approximately 120 people showed up at the Middle School on Saturday night to take advantage of the Farm Bureau's Candidate Forum.

Henry Wood, president of the Buckingham County Farm Bureau, served as moderator. He explained that the candidates for commissioner of revenue and sheriff as well as those for the one contested seat on the school board would be allowed to speak without a time limit.

Before calling on the local candidates, Wood introduced Matt Fariss, the Republican candidate seeking to represent the 59th District for the House of Delegates.

“He has won the endorsement of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Ag-PAC,” stated Wood. He explained the Ag PAC (political action committee) collects funds and uses those funds for in-kind contributions to candidates that meet the Farm Bu-reau's criteria.

“We didn't invite the Democratic candidate simply because Farm Bureau is endorsing the Republican candidate,” offered Wood.

Fariss, who described himself as a farmer, expressed his appreciation for gaining the Farm Bureau's endorsement. Sharing that he is the manager of the Lynchburg Livestock Market, he stated, “I believe in faith, the family, and the Flag.” Fariss con-tinued, “I think I'm in line with the people of this district and I look forward to representing you.”

Commissioner of Revenue

Although incumbent Stephanie Midkiff, who is running for re-election as a Democrat, did not participate in the forum, her opponent RoShelle “Rocky” Harris was first to the podium.

Harris, a 36 year-old native of Buckingham who attended Buckingham County Public Schools, shared that she recently com-pleted her master's degree in health systems administration and has a bachelor's degree in business administration with a minor in human resource management.

Although she is currently employed as the director of social services and admissions at Heritage Hall, Harris said she was previously employed as a deputy commissioner of the revenue, and also worked at H&R Block as a professional tax preparer.

The independent candidate provided an overview of the experience she gained while employed as a deputy commissioner. Likewise, she offered insight into the duties and responsibilities of the office.

Sharing that she was a candidate in the 2009 Special Election for Commissioner of Revenue, Harris said that after declaring her candidacy for this election she heard someone make the comment, “Didn't she learn her lesson the first time.”

Harris offered, “My answer is no.” She stated that Abraham Lincoln lost elections, failed at businesses and even suffered a nervous breakdown. “He could have quit many times but he didn't. Instead, after each defeat he would pick himself up and press forward until he achieved his goal.”

She stated, “Although I was unsuccessful in my initial attempt at public office, I gained valuable insight and knowledge in the process.”

Harris continued, “No, I did not learn my lesson…but what I did learn was that I had and still have the opportunity to serve the citizens of Buckingham County as commissioner of revenue.

“I have the opportunity to utilize my education and work experience to provide services for the citizens of Buckingham County. I have the opportunity to work along with the ladies currently in the commissioner's office to perform the duties of the office as well as being instrumental in implementing ordinances of the board of supervisors. I have the opportunity to fulfill my vision of having a customer friendly and professional office and enhance services to the taxpayers of Buckingham County.”

Concluding, she shared, “And I leave you with a quote from our 16th President Abraham Lincoln, 'No man is good enough to govern another man without that other's consent.'” She added, “I seek your consent.”

School Board

Only one school board member, Russell P. “Pete” Gowin is facing opposition. Gowin, who represents District 4, Maysville Precinct, is facing challengers John D. Kitchen, Jr. and Walter E. “Wes” Saxon, Jr.

Pete Gowin began by sharing he worked in education for 40 years with 31 of those years with Buckingham County Public Schools.

“I have a strong feeling that the future of this county depends on the young people that attend our schools,” said Gowin.

“I feel my qualifications are kind of unique. I have viewed the school system in numerous ways,” he offered. According to Gowin, he brings a multi-perspective insight to the office. Not only was he a student in the system for 12 years but he has three children who went through the system and graduated from BCHS. Moreover, Gowin shared that he was a teacher, coach, ad-ministrator and now a member of the school board.

“I feel like I have the experience to be an effective representative on the school board,” he stated. Gowin said he feels that experience has given him a deeper understanding into the needs of students, parents, teachers, and administrators. He added that he believes that insight offers him a true picture of the strengths and weaknesses that prevail in the system.

He shared that when elected in 2007, he indicated he would work closely with the board of supervisors to create a harmoni-ous relationship between the two boards. “Since that time, a $24.1 million renovation and expansion is underway at the schools on Route 20. The two boards also constructed a bus garage and maintenance facility and added central air to Gold Hill,” said Gowin.

“It is critical, I think, that we work together for better educational facilities for Buckingham County,” he stated.

“With tough economic times, it is still important to support the teachers; to find ways to reduce spending without cutting po-sitions; and to keep the student/teacher ratio as low as possible for a better learning environment,” continued Gowin.

Pointing out that the Vocational Center is now the Career and Technical Education Center, Gowin explained the change was made due to the expanding curriculum that offers students more options to prepare for the ever-changing workforce.

He added that Kyle Bryan, principal of the CTE Center, is providing additional off-campus opportunities for students. Some of those include building trades students working on an interior construction project in the community; and, culinary students are mirroring the food services staff at Heritage Hall. Additionally, Gowin said an equestrian class was added to the CTE cur-riculum.

He stated, “I feel it is our responsibility and obligation to provide our students with the best possible instruction and facilities we can afford.”

He concluded, “If re-elected, I will continue to support quality education for all children in Buckingham County. I will main-tain an open door policy to listen to the wishes of the people and lastly I will make a diligent effort to make our schools the best in central Virginia.”

Before turning the podium over to, Wood explained that Wes Saxon was unable to participate due to a pre-vious commitment to attend the American Dental Association's Conference, which Saxon has regularly attended for many years.

John Kitchen has served on the board of supervisors for 24 years but is now seeking to represent the district on the school board.

“A lot of people have said I'd be taking a step backwards but I don't feel that is so. I think that the school is one of the most important things in the county. I've supported it for the last 24 years on the board. Education has been one of my main things,” said Kitchen.

Noting the county's total budget is $42 million, Kitchen said the school budget is $25 million of that or approximately 60 percent. “So I think I am taking a step forward instead of back,” he stated.

Kitchen offered, “The school board, in my opinion, is administrative. No matter how much education you've got, you do not do any teaching. You make sure the facilities are there for the children; you have the right people in place; and that is the main thing-to educate the children and not for the glory of anybody that's on it.”

Adding that there are good facilities, good teachers, and good administrators, Kitchen said that is all dependent on the right money. “From what I am hearing, the lack of money from the federal and state-there is going to be some tough times in the future,” he stated. “Also, the county is going to do the reassessment this coming year and real estate values have fallen any-where from 30 percent or above. So it's just hard to realize what the economic situation will be over the next years.”

Kitchen continued, “The last budget cycle that we had in the county with the school board made my mind up for me.” He added, “And I think with my 24 years of experience working with the budget, the county, and the people, I think I can bring a lot to the school board and I would like to have the opportunity to do that.

“Also, I would like to have the opportunity to look into the school's hiring and promotion policy,” stated Kitchen.

Referencing the reassessment, he said, “When this thing happens next year, I feel there are going to be some tough decisions that are going to have to be made at the schools and I am the one that can make them.”

Kitchen concluded, “The main purpose is to promote the education of the children and that has been my goal all along.”

Sheriff's Race

Four candidates are in the race for sheriff. Incumbent William G. “Billy” Kidd, an independent candidate, faces challengers William H. “Bill” Merritt, independent; James E. Tyree, independent; and Gerald K. Washington, Democrat.

Billy Kidd, the incumbent, was first to the podium. He told the audience, “I am not the greatest politician. I'm no motivational speaker-I know that. I like to do my job without a lot of fanfare.” He added, “I am simply a career law-man.”

Kidd offered, “I am not here to give you a long speech on what I have accomplished or my background, you as outstanding citizens of the county already know about that.”

However, he explained that he did want respond to some subjects that were referenced in a recent newspaper article.

“Buckingham County Sheriff's Office already has open lines of communications between the sheriff's office and the public,” said Kidd. “I have an open door policy. We've already established a sheriff's advisory board with representatives from all of the voting districts.”

He explained that they had tried to implement a senior citizens watch with the dispatchers calling the senior citizens that were shut-ins. “But it seems our senior citizens are really proud and it didn't take long before some of them and eventually all of them said 'Look here don't call me anymore son-I'll call you if I need you.'”

Continuing, he offered, “The folks who participate in the Neighborhood Watch are faithful and lately I've seen some growth in it. But a sheriff can't make the people attend the meetings and participate.

“We have kept 24-hour patrols despite government's cutbacks to our funding. We already have a crime and drug activity hot-line. And activity reports are sent to The Farmville Herald every week as well as published to the web,” shared Kidd.

“We already have partnerships with the surrounding counties and we continue to seek and find all the federal funds we can,” he continued.

“With help from our senior citizens group, TRIAD, in a matter of days we will have new Project Lifesaver equipment to help locate lost Alzheimer's patients with the bracelets they are sending,” said Kidd.

He cautioned, “During this election campaign, you'll hear lots of rumors and even some literature being distributed. Just make sure you check out the facts before you believe or repeat any of it.” Kidd added, “You will find out that they are rumors not facts.”

Kidd stated, “You will hear what the candidates say and what they will do if elected. I am the only candidate that can say I have delivered on my promises that I made in 2007, and I will continue to do so.

“It is easy to say what you would do if elected. I am the only candidate that has walked in these shoes for the past almost four years and I know what can be done.”

He continued, “I also know that until the economy improves we may have to learn to do more with less because of budget shortfalls.”

Kidd offered, “I cannot promise you miracles. If I am reelected I do promise however that I will do my best to make all of you proud of your sheriff's department.”

Concluding, Kidd stated, “I will say that my door is always open. I want to help and serve you.”

Gerald K. Washington began by sharing that the question has come up several times about why he would want to be sheriff with the job he has with the Department of Corrections, noting that his current salary is greater than that of the sheriff's.

“I want folks to understand that it is not about the money for me. It is a passion that I've had for quite a number of years to make this my profession,” said Washington.

“I've had the opportunity to work all over the state of Virginia. I've had the opportunity to live in a lot of different places in Virginia but I have always chosen to make Buckingham County my home-the place I call home,” he continued.

He shared that he has raised his family here. “I came to Buckingham in 1959, when I was three years old,” stated Washing-ton, noting that he grew up on his grandparents' small farm.

“I've had an excellent opportunity and career with corrections but I am now ready to focus my attentions and certainly the things that I have learned in my profession and bring it back here to Buckingham County to make it a better place to live and raise our families. And, a better place for all of our citizens,” he said.

“We've heard the sheriff talk about some of the current programs and certainly those programs are important,” stated Wash-ington.

He continued, “But to have those programs and have effective programs are two different things. You have to be committed to those things to make them work as a sheriff.”

Regarding 24-hour coverage, Washington said that public safety was everyone's responsibility. “At the end of the day, we all have to feel safe in our communities,” he stated.

Washington offered, “If I am elected as your sheriff, you will see me out in the community.” He explained, “The only way you can know what is going on is being out walking and talking with people, hearing what their concerns are, and certainly tak-ing that feed back and responding to those issues.

“But it has to start with me as a sheriff if I expect the deputies to do that. And I expect the deputies to be in the communities and be community policing.”

He continued, “I would be out there on all shifts. I want to walk in that deputy's shoes. I want to ride in that car with him at night on the evening shift to see what those issues are. You can set expectations for folks and I've done this for many years in my career. I have 37 years in law enforcement and over 30 years in management.

“You can set expectations for folks but you have to inspect what you expect-and I mean being out there, seeing what those folks are doing, and making sure that the things you've set forth are being carried out.”

He concluded, “It would be my honor to come back to Buckingham full-time and spend my time here and certainly some of my talents here and share it with the folks of Buckingham County, and to be a servant leader for the citizens of this county.”

Bill Merritt told the audience that he moved to the county 11 years ago. “Many of you know that I have just retired from the sheriff's office here in Buckingham. So as you know I am familiar with the system here,” he stated, noting that he was with the sheriff's office for approximately three and a-half years.

Merritt offered, “I don't have to guess what goes on. I don't have to wonder what goes on out there on the road because I was a road deputy, I worked in the court system, I worked the road, I did it all.”

He shared, “I want to be the sheriff of this county because I like people and I like serving the people of Buckingham Coun-ty.”

Merritt stated, “Community policing is one of the important things that I think we need-getting to know the police officers and the police officers getting to know the public.”

Referencing the drug problem, Merritt said, “These drugs and the drug problem that we have in Buckingham County is not a drug problem that we are going to have to fix one time of the year. We have to fix it all of the year.”

He stated, “We need to get active. We need to take a role. The sheriff's office needs to be a sheriff's office that can work for the people of this county.”

Continuing, Merritt said, “The sheriff's office has to step up to the plate and do exactly what they need to be doing and that's giving you people the proper service.”

He concluded, “If I am elected sheriff of this county, I'll do my best to do that.”

James Tyree shared that he came to Buckingham in 1971 as a Virginia State Trooper. “Buckingham County has been good to me. I've gained a lot of experience since I've been here,” he stated. “And I've always wanted what is best for the county.”

Tyree said he is a member of the Masonic Lodge in Dillwyn; past member of the board of directors for the Buckingham Youth League; past leader of the Boy Scouts; and was a member of the Buckingham County Volunteer Rescue Squad.

He offered that he like Washington was not running for sheriff because of the money. “I don't even know what Billy's salary is,” stated Tyree. He added that he retired from the VSP in 1995 and would get his retirement whether he wins or loses. “But I've been in this county for a long time and if I felt like the county couldn't benefit from it I wouldn't be doing it,” he added.

Tyree said his training included attending the Virginia State Police Academy, arson school, bomb school, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Quantico.

“It is a lot of experience and I did beat the road here for roughly 18 years as a trooper,” stated Tyree. “When I came here they had a deputy that didn't have a driver's license and couldn't drive a car…And it was my job on Fridays to haul him around to serve papers.”<br />
Tyree shared, “My main issue is the youth. I love working with the kids and the young people of the county. In doing so, there is a big drug problem in Buckingham. $21 million worth of drugs found proves it.” He added, “I've dealt with it as a po-lice officer. I've dealt with it as a parent-both ways and it's never been pleasant.”

Continuing, he offered, “If we all get together on it, I believe we can do something about it. It is a hard problem. Marijuana is Virginia's number one cash crop. Whether it is here or wherever, it's cash money. Someone wanting the drugs, they are going to get them. If they've got to steal your lawnmower or your television, they are going to do it.”

Tyree told the audience, “I feel like we could cut some of it down. I have my ways, just like everyone else. And, I would like to stand up here and say that I have an answer for every problem in the county but I don't. But if I am elected, I'll do everything in my power to do so.”

He added, “If I don't have an answer for you, I will get one. I, too, will have an open door policy. If you as a citizen want to talk to me, then you come down to the office or call me-that's what the sheriff is there for.”