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Grayson candidates face off at forum

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Thirteen of the 14 candidates on the ballot answer citizens' questions.

By Patrick Smith

INDEPENDENCE — The Historic 1908 Courthouse in Independence was the site of the final public forum for what could be a historically large candidate pool for the Nov. 5 general election in Grayson County.
During the event, which was sponsored by the Twin County Regional Chamber of Commerce, 13 of the 14 total candidates running for the offices of Grayson County Board of Supervisors, school board and treasurer made statements and answered questions anonymously submitted from citizens of the county, as well as questions from the audience.
The absent candidate was Glen “Eddie” Rosenbaum, candidate for the Wilson District Board of Supervisors seat. Moderator David Hauslohner explained Rosenbaum had “come down with a back problem,” so he was represented in the opening remarks portion of the event by Supervisor David Sexton.

Treasurer Candidates
Asked what the top three priorities facing Grayson County are, Stephanie Brewer said, “I think your top priority to your clients at the treasurer’s office is honesty, integrity. You need to have an understanding attitude when people come in and are paying their taxes.
“I also feel that guarding the taxpayers’ financial trust is one of the most important things. I also think the treasurer should be highly involved in and active in pursuing any way that we can increase revenues, not just for our department, but the whole county.”
Brewer said she is running for treasurer because she feels there are “things I can offer to help the county citizens that will help in their everyday lives. I really think Grayson County citizens deserve to have the very best that we as constitutional officers can give them.”
Asked if the treasurer should be involved in economic development for the county, Paula Carrico replied, “I absolutely will serve in any role that the county may need me to. I’m offering myself to be appointed to any board authority or commission that the supervisors deemed necessary, and I would look also into attending and participating in Grayson County [Industrial Development Authority] meetings.”
“I’m here to serve. That’s what we’re elected for. I think God gives a measure of talent to each one of us, and to me, I feel that is serving the public.”
Asked if county residents should be given special preference when hiring for positions in county offices, Kelly Haga agreed, up to a point.
“It’s important for somebody who wants to serve their county, who is already an active taxpayer, that would be one of the things that would, yes, sway me. As long as that person is just as qualified as the next candidate, yes, I would probably favor a candidate who lives in the county of Grayson.”
Haga said the treasury department and the county as a whole should run as a business. “All the constitutional offices — county administrator, assistant county administrator — those are business management jobs, and I hope the county looks at that from that perspective and looks for somebody with business management experience. Large scale business management experience is a necessity to keep the payments going.”
Pete Hall said he is seeking the treasurer’s office because, “after working here in Independence — this is the place I love, and I’ve lived here all my life... With my background in accounting and treasury management I thought it’d be a perfect fit.
Also, being able to serve the community.
“The biggest reason is I live a mile from the courthouse,” joked Hall.
He pledged to be “fully engaged and active in the responsibilities of the office and be a hands-on treasurer. I have been in the county and in treasury management for all my career. This is all I’ve done, and this is all I have to offer.”
Asked about his experience, George Whitaker answered that he was treasurer of the Baywood Ruritan Club for 20 years. “I’m currently the treasurer for the church cemetery fund and have been for several years.”
He has associate’s degree in accounting. “Once you learn accounting, accounting is accounting.”
Whitaker said he is “honest and trustworthy, and if elected I will do the best I can to serve each and every one of you as an elected official.”
Gary Wilson was asked what past contributions he has made toward the county.
“That’s a tough one. I guess I’ll have to ask the folks. I’m a lifelong resident here. We’ve always been pretty active in the community here. I’ve got a lot of years invested in Grayson County.
“I really, at this point in time, have a little bit more time and I want to get more involved in the business in Grayson County. I’d like to say that every taxpayer in this county has made a significant contribution to Grayson County.”
Wilson also clarified an earlier statement. “I said something earlier that kind of stirred up a hornet’s nest, and I won’t apologize for it. If we ever get to that place where we need another tax increase, then I feel like we need to lead by example in this county. Our officials — I’m talking about the ones that make four times the median income of most households — I feel like we need to take a little bit of that heat. I’m not saying that’s going to happen, because we’re doing a lot of things right, but I’m just saying we should have the willingness to do whatever it takes.”

Board of Supervisors
Wilson District

Kate Irwin was asked her opinions on what the county is doing right or wrong.
“I think we’re doing a lot of things right. When I ran for supervisor four years ago I know that we were having some major challenges financially. We were in serious trouble with debt service and a declining revenue base, and in four years that has really been improved greatly.”
From attending county board meetings, she knows there are issues that need working on, she said. “For instance, school security ... I think that there are some wrinkles that need to be ironed out with proactive thinking and action by the board of supervisors and the school board working together.”
“I promise to serve with dedication and integrity, make informed decisions and have an open door,” Irwin said. “I’d like to be your voice.”
When asked about his suggestions for improving the tax base, Arnold Peters answered that Grayson County’s geographical qualities present challenges, but he believes in County Administrator Jonathan Sweet and his efforts to establish more small businesses and create more opportunities through “corroborative businesses,” like the Wildwood commerce park project in neighboring Carroll County.
“I will do what’s best for the people I serve. We live the farthest out. We have in the Wilson District maybe the most challenges, but when we band together, we’re an unstoppable force. If I’m elected to this position, then I will work with people on the west end of the county. I will set up places where you can come out and meet me face to face.”

School Board
Wilson District

Incumbent candidate Shannon Holdaway was asked if he would consider shifting resources from the central office and applying them more directly to the classroom.
“I can say that on the two terms I’ve served on the board, both myself and [Elk Creek incumbent candidate Misty] Cassell have voted to do just that. When we came on the board, one of the first things we did was we eliminated positions at the central office.
“It’s never a good thing to get rid of somebody’s job. Those are our neighbors. These are the people you go to church with and see at the grocery store. That being said, our job as a school board member is to move the tax dollars as close as possible to the student because that’s what it’s designed for.”
Holdaway said there’s a reason his campaign signs are black and white. “I’m a black and white person. I’m a trained engineer; it’s how I am. It’s really simple. The choice for the Wilson District is black and white. You can vote for me, someone who you know, you know what I’m going to do, or you can vote for my opponent, who hasn’t even taken the time, to my knowledge, to attend a single school board meeting.”
Asked what his top areas of focus would be if elected, Brian Walls responded that “security is becoming a big issue. As we all know things are getting worse and worse. People are getting meaner and meaner. We need to look at how we can improve security inside the schools, at ball games and on the school buses, and that is something that I would definitely put on a list of priorities to look into, check into and see with the state and federal guidelines exactly what we could do to improve upon it.”
Walls took a jab at his opponent. “I don’t think [Holdaway] fully understands the issues that we have in the Wilson District for our children, and neither does he fully want to listen to us. I’m here to serve you.”

School Board
Elk Creek District

Incumbent candidate Misty Cassell was asked to define the role of a school board member.
“A school board member always has the students of Grayson County in the forefront. When we’re making decisions, that’s what we’re thinking of every time is the students we’re serving. We are a voice in the community that we are serving, and it’s important for us to carry the information that we’re hearing out in the community back to our superintendent.
“And, we’re there to ensure that all the students we’re educating are getting the best education we can give them with the tax dollars provided to us.”
Cassell said she is proud of the progress in both academics and budgetary issues while she has been on the school board. “We have put in place the associate’s degree program with Wytheville Community College and we are now fully accredited according to state guidelines. We have given back money to the board of supervisors on at least two occasions. We have made great progress, and I would be honored to continue to be a part of that progress.”
Her opponent, former school board member Fred Weatherman, was asked what benefits are given to school board members for their work.
“I served on the school board for eight years, and a board member makes $200 a month, the chairman got $250. One of the questions with the benefits was insurance. A school board member has the option if they want insurance with the school system. On the plan they choose, they cost the county $387.60. My question is, how can you be a school employee as an elected official?”
“I can promise you one of two things: I will ask questions, and I will get answers. And I’ve got one vote, and I will make sure it counts.”

Board of Supervisors
Elk Creek District

Incumbent candidate Brenda Sutherland is running unopposed.
Sutherland was asked to name future challenges and decisions facing the county. She listed stagnant revenues, cost of services, education, Phase II of the school system’s capital improvement plan and “all the unknowns” due to the unstable national economy as her biggest concerns for the county’s future.
“This position has never been about me, nor do I have an agenda or am I in line with any special group,” she said. “It is an honor to sit on the board of supervisors. I thank you for your support, and I do look forward to the next four years. I think the county’s on the right track.”