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Galax to hold candidate forum

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By April Wright, Reporter

The 2010 Galax City Council election, which will be held on May 4, is a race between five people for four seats.

The four-year terms of council members John Garner, Derrick Davis, C.M. Mitchell and Willie Greene are set to expire on June 30, and all four are seeking reelection. Margaret “Margo” Crouse, owner of Margo's Interior Decorating in downtown Galax, is also seeking election.

A “Get to Know Your City Council” candidate forum, sponsored by the Twin County Regional Chamber of Commerce, will be held April 28 at the Crossroads Institute in Galax at 7 p.m.

A question and answer session will be held, and questions from citizens should be submitted ahead of time. These questions will be forwarded to the Twin County Regional Chamber of Commerce.

To submit a question for the candidate forum, send an e-mail to galax@galaxgazette.com. No personal or non-issue-related questions will be answered.

Margo Crouse

Small business owner Margaret “Margo” Crouse, a newcomer on the ballot, is running against four incumbents for a council seat.

She serves on the executive board of the Galax Downtown Association and Twin County Regional Chamber of Commerce. She wants to bring new people to the area and plans to work hard to market the city.

“People love the small town atmosphere that we offer, so we need to capitalize on this to bring them here...,” she said. “This could mean more properties being sold, more revenue for the city and the possibility of a new business opening up, which would generate more jobs.

“I'm always amazed at the number of people that come into my shop and tell me they came up for a visit and decided to buy in this area. We need more of this, and that's what we need to reach out to.”

Crouse owns Margo's Interior Decorating in downtown Galax, which she began in Virginia Beach seven years ago. She opened the shop when she moved to Galax about two years ago.

Crouse, a native of Sparta, N.C., has lived off and on in the area since 1989. She has owned several different businesses, including a bakery and a couple of motels, throughout the years in North Carolina and Virginia.

“This is home for me,” she said. “When I moved back here, I knew I wanted to open a shop. We all work so well with each other.”

As an executive board member for the regional chamber of commerce, Crouse has recently began working with the North Carolina Motor Coach Association to bring busloads of tourists to Galax. She is on a committee organizing events for the Blue Ridge Parkway 75th Anniversary celebration; and is a volunteer during area festivals, such as Smoke on the Mountain, Leaf & String, downtown Halloween and Christmas celebrations and Groovin' on Grayson.

“I feel that I can bring that positive experience to council,” she said. “For the next four years, I want to show support for our small businesses, listen to their concerns and find solutions and will work hard to retain the businesses that we now have. We have a lot to offer, and we have to think outside the box.

“My deepest desire is to see our city grow and prosper and to become a destination that people in other areas talk about and would like to come to.”

Derrick Davis

Derrick Davis, who is completing his first term on council, said he wants the city to not only focus on the history and culture of the area, but also look into the future.

“It's not only how businesses exist, but how new ones can develop,” said Davis, who owns Stringbean Coffee Shop and GLX Music recording studio, both in downtown Galax. “Our biggest growth right now is small businesses.”

Tourism, he said, is part of sustaining the future.

“I'm proud of our scenery, music and history, and people come from all over the world to see it, and I get to see it firsthand” said Davis of his work as an announcer for the Blue Ridge Backroads radio show at the Rex Theater. “Tourism is part of our economic future, and education goes hand-in-hand with that.”

Davis noted that tourism brings dollars to the community to keep taxes from increasing, which means money in the citizens' pockets, and those dollars also bring in money for the schools.

“Our schools are so well-organized, they have the potential to grow,” said Davis. “We need to support that all the way through. Education is the most critical point for our future.”

Davis has an eight-year-old enrolled in Galax Elementary and another child that will enroll in the school system soon. He also helped the Junior Appalachian Musicians program get started at Galax schools.

“I want Galax to be the kind of place that my children can come back to and raise their family,” said Davis. “It's a place where they can have some ownership and feel proud of.”

Davis serves on the board for Rooftop of Virginia, 9th District development financing board, Matthews' Museum board, Galax Planning Commission and the local Red Cross; has helped to facilitate the Twin County Veterans Memorial and has served on The Wired Road Authority and E-911 board.

Davis has worked as an announcer and salesperson for radio station 98.1 FM-WBRF for 12 years and has been a business owner since 2005. He was also inducted in the Carolina Bluegrass and Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame in 2006 for his work with bluegrass and old-time music.

“I envision growth and potential,” said Davis. “This city has a lot to offer.”

John Garner

Tourism is not the end result, but another step to making the community a better place, said John Garner, who is completing his first term.

Garner said the city is on the right track to rejuvenating the area.

“We're a transitional community,” said Garner. “We have an emphasis on tourism that is meant to be the stopgap to get us where we might want to be.”

Various economic development projects have put “Galax on a good road right now,” he said.

Chestnut Creek School of the Arts, he said, is going to change the attitude, energy and culture of the community, and the Crossroads Institute has put focus on entrepreneurial development.

“We're showing people that this is a great place to live and relocate,” said Garner. “Our regional partnerships has provided a way to compete economically.”

Garner said the city needs to support what is already here, such as The Wired Road project and the hospital fiber optic project that will allow patients to receive advanced care in Galax instead of traveling to other locations for services. The Wired Road project, he noted, will be self-supporting and will bring and keep jobs in the area.

“We need to keep in mind that citizens are supporting this, that they are providing the money to pay for the efforts and the infrastructure...,” he said. “Our citizens are forward-thinking.”

Garner, a native of Concord, N.C., has lived in Galax for 33 years and has worked as a certified public accountant since 1985. Garner served in the U.S. Army for three years and in the U.S. Army Reserve for two years.

Garner serves on the Grayson-Galax EMS board, the E-911 board, District III board and on The Wired Road Authority.

“We have a great partnership with the school system, because education is important to economic development,” he said. “This is a way to measure where the community's priorities are.”

Willie Greene

Greene, who has served four terms as a council member and two terms as vice mayor, believes his involvement with various organizations and community functions provides insight to city council.

Greene said it is more than showing up for city council meetings every other Monday evening — it's about being deeply invested in the community.

He has been a member of the Galax Volunteer Fire Department since 1987.

Greene also serves as a member of the Galax Social Services board, a member of Mount Rogers Planning Commission Executive Committee, chair of the Mount Rogers Personnel Committee, an executive member of the Virginia Association of Planning District Commissions, a member of the Virginia State Board of Social Work, a member of the Community Policy and Management Team, a member of the Superintendent's Round Table and a member of the Regional Landfill Authority.

Greene has served as past president of the Galax Parks & Recreation Commission, past president of Virginia Head Start Parent Policy Association and as a member of the local American Red Cross chapter.

“I've acquired knowledge over the years that allows me to recall what happened back then and to see what we can do now,” said Greene. “Council has to make decisions on these boards. And what better way than to be a part of them?”

Greene worked as plant safety coordinator and corporate director of safety at Vaughan-Bassett Furniture for 20 years and now works as a loss control consultant for FARA insurance. Greene also owned a daycare center for 10 years and a restaurant for four years and was an adjunct instructor for Surry Community College.

“Out of the 16 years on council, I've only missed two meetings, so I've really served,” said Greene. “It takes experience to bring us through this, and we need to make sure we don't forget about the industry.”

C.M. Mitchell

C.M. Mitchell, who has served on Galax City Council since 1986 and as mayor since 1992, said continuing to make education a priority and moving forward with economic projects, such as broadband and the downtown revitalization project, will lead to a vibrant community that will attract and grow businesses.

“The Crossroads Institute proves to be the best chance we have of renewing the economy and bringing jobs to the region,” said Mitchell.

He serves as board chair at the Crossroads Institute, which houses a business incubator including business assistance; an educational center; and a continuing education center for workforce skills including literacy, GED and training.

Over the past three years, the Small Business Development Center, located at Crossroads Institute, has created 125 local businesses and 632 jobs, he said.

“That is the same as a big company,” said Mitchell. “It has just grown quietly over time. Rather than finding some big employer, it has been much more successful to allow folks to develop their own business.”

Mitchell serves on the Regional Landfill Authority and as a board member for Chestnut Creek School of the Arts.

“The two major elements that we continue to work on is job and business growth and keeping the education system as strong as we can,” said Mitchell. “It's important to develop and expand the education system, which includes Wytheville Community College. It's important to realize that in a fast-changing work environment, we have to be trained and retrained on a regular basis.”

Mitchell has worked as a pharmacist for several years at Twin County Regional Hospital.