The supervisor candidate forum

Published 11:01 am Thursday, October 10, 2019

The Buckingham County Farm Bureau-sponsored candidate’s forum for the upcoming Buckingham County Board of Supervisors general election drew 10 of the 12 candidates running this year and a crowd of around 60 people to the Peter Francisco Auditorium in the county administration complex Saturday evening.

The participating candidates included District One Supervisor incumbent Robert C. “Bobby” Jones and candidates William F. “Buster” Martin and Robert H. Scarbrough; District Three Supervisor incumbent Donald R. “Don” Matthews Jr. and candidates David Wade Ball and Wilbert M. “Esau” Dean; District Four Supervisor incumbent E. Morgan Dunnavant and candidate Thomas Jordan Miles III; District Five Supervisor incumbent Harry W. Bryant Jr.; and District Six Supervisor incumbent Joe N. Chambers Jr.

District Two Supervisor Donald E. “Donnie” Bryan and District Seven Supervisor Danny R. Allen, who are both running for reelection unopposed, did not participate.

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The 10 candidates present Saturday were asked six questions. They were given two questions in advance and the other four on the spot. Each candidate was given three minutes to respond to each question, and a different candidate name was drawn for each question to determine who would go first.

The two questions they were able to prepare for were as follows:

No. 1 — Why you are seeking this position?  Please highlight your qualifications.

No. 2 — What is your understanding of Land Use Assessment?

The four questions candidates were asked on the spot were as follows:

No. 3 — Do you think offering land use assessment helps or hurts the agriculture industry in Buckingham? 

  1. If it helps, would you support enactment of an ordinance?
  2. If it hurts the agriculture industry, what other programs would you support to better support the agriculture industry?

No. 4 — Do you see challenges with the county’s rescue and EMS services? If yes, what is your plan to improve the rescue and EMS situation in Buckingham County?

No. 5 — Do you think Buckingham has an appropriate mix of business and residential? If not, what is your plan to help balance the mix? What advantages or disadvantages do you think your plan will bring to the county?

No. 6 — How do or how would you make decisions about items on the board of supervisors’ agenda, and are there “non-negotiables” that influence your decisions?

Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Vice President of Governmental Relations Martha Moore moderated the forum. 

Because the forum’s set end time of 8 p.m. had arrived with the forum only having progressed through five questions, Moore asked candidates to use their final three-minute period to both answer question No. 6 and deliver their closing remarks.

Following are excerpts from each candidate’s comments in their final three-minute speaking periods.

Wilbert M. “Esau” Dean

District Three candidate Dean was chosen to go first, and responding to question No. 6, he said, “I think whatever the board of supervisors, any decisions they make, we’re here to represent the people, and those decisions should be open, the rationale for those decisions, the data they use to make those decisions should be available to the public, because we’re dealing with the public’s tax money, and they’re funding us to do this particular job, to be their guidance and to use their funds and to run this county in the best way we can.

“So, I don’t think there should be a lot of privacy information, closed-door sessions, with the exception of personnel and those kind of things,” he continued. “I’d understand that, but I think the non-negotiable is that other than that, nothing should be hidden from the public’s view on what’s happening.”

In his closing remarks, Dean said, “I am a very positive person. I don’t look at the doors that are closed. I look at the doors that I can open, and an example of that would be Ellis Acres Park. When many people said it wouldn’t move, and I talked to this board several times for two years and got no help from it, but eventually after starting out at zero dollars, that park is now worth a half million dollars. I know how to make stuff happen.”

Referring to a comment made by another candidate earlier in the forum, Dean said, “I hear somebody talking about $50 million is big business; $50 million is pocket change. My last job, I was in charge of five-plus billion dollars, and it’s the matter of how you work it. Pocket change is important too.”

He emphasized having a long-term approach to issues, using the illustration of fixing a leaky roof rather than patching it over and over again.

David Wade Ball

Ball said, “One thing that was always kind of pointed out to me is not to be looking so far in the future that you actually forget about what’s happening right in front of you today, and I think that’s where we’re at is we need to look at what’s actually happening today.”

He later added, “I think fiscal responsibility is highly important when you’re going to be on this board. I think undertaking projects that aren’t necessary for the county and committing the county to a long-term financial commitment is not necessarily a good decision. I think bringing business in is a much better decision, and there are state codes that govern how boards are supposed to conduct themselves, parliamentary procedures, but one of the things that I take issue with is the fact that we actually have so much that’s actually done in private. 

“I believe in the codes that require that all public meetings of the board be open, which they have committee meetings with reports and information that are all done in private. The public never gets to see that information. We don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. There is a sunshine law that requires it all to be public, and I believe it should be made public, and if I’m on the board, it will be made public, because I won’t be a party to something that’s violating the state code.”

He said his non-negotiables — things he will not bring to the county or vote in favor of — include “things that jeopardize the county, jeopardize the future and things that violate law or moral ethics.”

“I believe there is a good future for the county, but it’s going to take a lot more work,” he said.

Donald R. “Don” Matthews Jr.

Matthews, who is the incumbent running against Dean and Ball, said, “Really, the agenda is established by the citizens of Buckingham County … I don’t know if (County Administrator) Becky Carter has ever turned any one of these people away if they have a legitimate situation that they needed answered. And I know the Board of Supervisors has never done that, and I don’t ever remember any meeting that was not transparent — other than a personnel meeting — with this particular board. And I’ve heard a lot of talk about a lot of meetings, and I’ve been on here four years, and I’ve never participated or been a part of any one of them. 

“So with that being said, Buckingham County has a tremendous amount of ability and pride and just personal perseverance, and I’m proud to be a part of it, and I’m proud to be a citizen,” he continued. “I’ve been proud to represent this community that I’ve been a part of for 35-plus years, and I’m expecting to be a part of it for another four. So I would appreciate your support, and thank you very much.”

William F. “Buster” Martin

District One candidate Martin said, “As far as making decisions, it’s up to the board to make the decisions by listening to their constituents and by setting here on this big panel and discussing those issues and trying to come to a mutual agreement of what is best for the citizens and also for the county. And having an open dialogue — that’s one of the problems I think that we’re seeing is that we don’t have an open enough dialogue sometimes with our constituents, because I know some of mine has told me that they feel that they don’t have a voice. And that’s one thing I hope to do is to create that relationship back with them to where they feel that they can come to us and discuss these problems.”

In closing remarks, he said, “I would like to see us work more closely with the sheriff’s office, with our school systems. Our school system needs a lot of help. School security is one thing that’s kind of a pet peeve of mine, because I work with the schools. I’m a bus driver, and I’m also a substitute teacher at the vocational building for the welding and carpenter shop, and I deal with these kids … so we need to look at this on what the county can do to help keep our children and all safe in this county.

“And also to help try to get new businesses here in this county to keep our young people here,” he said. “I just had a young man graduate this year. … He said, ‘Mr. Martin, I’ve got to go to Richmond to get a job,’ and that’s sad. And I think that we, as a board, we can look at this and come to a mutual agreement where that will be beneficial and economical to the county and our citizens …”

Robert C. “Bobby” Jones

Jones, who is the incumbent running against Martin and Scarbrough, said, “Everything that comes before this board, everything with the board, as far as I’m concerned, it’s all negotiable, and we try and make the decisions that are good for the county and good for the people also. Karl, a penny in taxes is what? $120,000?”

He was told it is $140,000.

“$140,000,” Jones echoed. “Do you all realize that? One little old penny. How many times have you gone through somewhere and there, and you see a penny laying on the floor, and you wouldn’t even pick it up? But if you gave that penny in taxes, we’re looking at $140,000. We raised taxes several years ago because the board before this one did not buy school buses like they were supposed to have, and we got caught in a bind, and we had to have at least two school buses. And they’re $120,000, $130,000 apiece, so that’s why we raised the taxes five cents.”

“But anyway, the things that are going on now, unfortunately or fortunately, we’re just a year or two ahead of some things that’s really going to make a difference in our county, and that is with the business’ opportunity to come in,” he continued. “And I think we’re going to do a whole lot better.”

Robert H. Scarbrough

Scarbrough said that as others pointed out, “if elected, I represent the people, so whatever the people want in my districts of New Canton or Georgia Creek, I’m going to have to go with them. Now, if it’s against my beliefs or anything, hopefully they have no problem getting up with me, and I can say, ‘Well, this is what I believe,’ and not just, ‘No.’ Everything has a pros and cons, everything has an up or down. ‘Ok, this is my point of view. What’s your point of view?’ Ultimately, I have to go with (what) the citizens say. I have no choice on that.

“As far as the non-negotiables that come up, as people brought up, passing the laws, well, a locality cannot pass a law that violates state law or federal law,” he continued.”

In closing, he said, “Being transparent, the board is going to have to instill public confidence. … We have to instill that they can have the confidence in us that we are going to represent their best interest. (One) way we can achieve this is taking personal responsibility. If districts say they want this, I disagree with it, well, guess what? I vote the way the people want, and if it goes south, well it went south because I voted for it because that’s what people wanted, and what the people want, that becomes my opinion.

“So just going back to it again, if we all work together, board members, all the districts work together, I truly believe we can make this a better Buckingham,” he said.

E. Morgan Dunnavant

Dunnavant, who is the District Four incumbent running against Miles, said, “No. 1, none of us knows what the future brings. We know what we’d like to see in the future, but I’m not going to pick a plan that I want to see happen for Buckingham. I’m going to deal with each decision, each issue as it comes to us in its own natural course.

“Now we need to do whatever we can do to encourage economic activity and encourage an inviting and vibrant community … to live in and take part in, but it’s not our decision up here at this podium, at this big table to make that decision — what direction the county’s going to go in,” he continued. “It’s y’all’s decision what direction the county is going to go in.”

He noted that in conversations amid daily travels, town hall meetings and visits with constituents, “we get a feeling for what they want, and we try to employ that into our decision-making process for what we want to do.

“The second part of the question, are there any non-negotiables,” he said, “the only non-negotiable with me is something that is of an immoral value or immoral basis from my personal perspective of what that is, and that’s a value that makes me who I am, and any other non-negotiable is anything that’s contradictory or infringing our United States Constitution, which some people seem to think is a living, changing document. It is not. It is a static document. … If we maintain our allegiance and do everything in our power to fulfill the obligations in the Constitution, then we will continue to be successful, as long as we don’t lose track of where we came from in the hurry to get where we’re going. And quite frankly, we don’t know where we’re going till we get there, but the best thing we can do is be as prudent along the journey as possible.”

Thomas Jordan Miles III

Miles said, “With regard to how I would make decisions in terms of our finances or our growth model or schools or facilities or so forth, I know I would make it based on the input of the people and of the voters residing in my district. I do think that it is the job of the Board of Supervisors to set the tone, to set the pace in regards to growth, in regards to revenues or expenditures, but I think you make those decisions after you listen to your people, after you seek out their opinion, not serving anyone’s self-interest …” 

“In terms of non-negotiable items, I would submit that every different project or every matter or every measure needs to stand on its own merit,” he said. “And certainly there are non-negotiable items that you don’t want to break the law, you don’t want to do anything that would impede your people in the county or impede your schools or growth or so forth.”

During his closing remarks, Miles said, “It’s my belief that we do need to offer more support for public education, and I’m not saying throw money at it. I’m saying just, in general, support our teachers, support the administrators and listen to what their needs are, listen to what the school board’s needs are too and … have an open and honest and fair and very respectful dialogue. … I would say that regarding public education here in Buckingham, we are on the side of the hill, not at the top, and so I think we could do a lot more.”

In closing, he said, “I want to serve you, and I want to work hard with the people of our district, and that’s going to take time and effort, and I’m willing to do that, and I’m ready.”

Joe N. Chambers Jr.

Unopposed District Six incumbent Chambers said, “To me, I look back where the board was, where Buckingham was in 1990, and I look where we are today, how far we have come, and I’ve had opportunity in those 29 years to work with many board members.”

Chambers noted how a good foundation was set, and echoing Matthews, he said, “I think this board has made a lot of accomplishments in the last four years and worked together to good, and I hope and pray that Buckingham’s best days are yet to come, and as a supervisor, I will do my best to continue to push further the infrastructure and everything that can (be) helpful to the county.

“And in those 29 years, I’ve only had opposition twice, two people running in 29 years against me,” Chambers continued. “I’ve always had close connection with my constituents, always asked them their opinion about things before I vote … and I’ve only missed two meetings in 29 years, so I think that’s a pretty good track record.”

Harry W. Bryant Jr.

Unopposed District Five incumbent Bryant said, “I think our board that we have today as our Board of Supervisors has done a good job. We try to be as transparent as we can possibly be, and I have advisors in my district that talk to me from time to time on some issues that they want brought up or issues they want to vote on or how they want to feel about it.

“I think that we as this Board of Supervisors, I feel like we’ve done a good job of trying to advance the county and do what we can for it,” he continued. “And my closing remarks is I’m going to try to do just like we’ve been doing as good as we possibly can and get a dollar’s worth for a dollar spent, if any way possible, and be careful with the money that we do spend. 

“When I first ran for the board, I ran on a motto that I’m going to take care of the county’s needs, but I’m not going to take care of the county’s wants, because everybody wants something, but they’re not always going to get it, because we just don’t have the money for it,” he said.

He thanked those in attendance and those who made the forum possible.