Candidates forum held in Prince Edward

Published 12:03 pm Thursday, September 24, 2015

Only six candidates seeking office in the Nov. 3 election in Prince Edward County participated in a forum held Tuesday by the Southside Virginia Tea Party Patriots (SVTPP).

The hour-long event drew few questions from the small audience, and was attended by Megan Clark, a Democrat who’s running unopposed for commonwealth’s attorney; Pattie-Cooper Jones, a Democrat

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who’s running unopposed for the Farmville/Center District seat on the board of supervisors; Richard Altice, an Independent, who’s running against Democrat Odessa Pride for the Hampden District seat on the board of supervisors; Wilkie Chaffin, an Independent seeking reelection as a Piedmont Soil and Water Conservation District Director; Dale Vaughn, an Independent candidate for sheriff and Brandon Cummings, an Independent candidate for sheriff, both of whom are opposing each other and incumbent sheriff Wesley Reed, a Democrat.

Tom Garnett, the vice chairman of the SVTPP, served as moderator of the forum, which drew comments and questions about the county’s finances, the quality of education of the public school system, community policing and the administration of criminal justice.

Cooper-Jones said that she enjoys serving on the board of supervisors and said she tries to be fair in her decision-making process. “I’m very concerned about where we are as a county. I’m concerned about our school system and whether or not it is functioning properly,” she said. She said she was also very concerned also about the county’s financial situation “and how the decisions that we make affect all taxpayers. …”

She said, in response to a question about the school system, that it would take more parent and citizen involvement to improve the schools. Cooper-Jones said that she doesn’t have a preference for appointed — as Prince Edward’s is now — or elected school boards.

Altice began his political involvement in campaigning for local and state politicians. “I started seeing things wrong in our county. I started attending board of supervisors’ meetings and I met people that pointed out details that weren’t proper way of doing things. …”

Altice said he believes in fiscal responsibility, a constitutionally limited government, individual liberty and transparency in government. He pointed out transparency issues with the county and school budgets and the low rank of the county schools in the state. He said the county was in an economically depressed state. “Business professionals are looking at our schools and not coming here,” Altice said. Lack of industrial development for the county is a problem, he said.

Chaffin, who has served on the Piedmont District Board for 15 years, explained that soil and water conservation districts are political subdivisions in the state “just like a town or a county … They’re often regional subdivisions,” he said. Chaffin explained the services and programs offered to residents and farmers by the district.

Vaughn said he was running as an Independent because, “I feel that you, the people, deserve a better representation and leadership. I think the department can better serve you and not itself. I also feel that there’s substantially low patrols in the county. …,” citing past break-ins.

Vaughn said he wants to offer a better means of professionalism, visibility and dedication to the county.

Cummings, citing his recent dismissal from the sheriff’s office, said he wanted to bring his diversity of experience and background to the department. “I didn’t grow up here. Everybody’s not my friend, and I’m not related to everybody. I also ran as an Independent because I feel that it shouldn’t be Republican, Democrat, you shouldn’t lean either way when you’re in law enforcement,” he said. Cummings said there was a lack of security in the county’s courthouse. “There’s just more than can be done,” he said, adding that he wanted to bring morale up in the department.

Clark said her number one goal as commonwealth’s attorney would be to prosecute crimes committed in Prince Edward. “And that is a task I do not take lightly. It is one that is of the utmost importance. Law enforcement can do but so much; they can bring us the cases and then it is our job to prosecute those cases. …,” she said.

Clark said one of the areas of concern she had in the county was the lack of knowledge about the office, which can lead to perception issues. Clark said she wants to work for ethical and just decision making in the office.

In response to a question from county supervisor C.R. “Bob” Timmons, who was seated in the audience, Clark said that, if elected, she would not be interested in serving as the county attorney, noting a “great potential for conflict of interest when you have someone serving as county attorney as well as commonwealth’s attorney.”