Three vying for Elk Creek seat

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By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

INDEPENDENCE — In a year in which America will choose a new leader, citizens of the Elk Creek District in Grayson County will select a new supervisor through a special election.

Three candidates are running for the seat, and that doesn’t include Chris Morton, who opted to not seek election Nov. 4 to the post he was appointed to fill.

The Grayson County Board of Supervisors appointed Morton last December to serve part of the unexpired term of Ralph Tuggle until a special election could be held.

The winning candidate in November will serve one year to complete Tuggle’s term.

A candidate will be elected to a normal four-year term in November 2009.

The three candidates include:

Brenda Sutherland

Sutherland, 55, is a 36-year resident of Grayson County who graduated from Radford College with a degree in health and physical education and later earned a master’s from Radford University.

She is enrolled in the current Innovative Leadership — Building Community Connections program at Crossroads Institute in Galax.

Sutherland is running for the seat as the Democratic nominee and is excited about the challenge.

She said her top priority is to work with county leaders and legislators “to encourage businesses to come to our area that would in turn provide jobs for our good people.”

The candidate has experience of 15 years in teaching, 12 years in coaching and 17 years in human resources — all of which she feels makes her qualified for the job.

“My career has been working with people to help the school system or team be the very best it could be,” she said. “I have served on the Grayson County Schools’ long-range planning committee and had the privilege of working as an EMT with the Independence Rescue Squad for awhile.”

She has always worked where teamwork was of high importance and she plans to continue that if elected.

“Nothing I have ever done has been solely about me,” she said.

Plans for her first term would include working together as a county to be more progressive and productive, to develop long-range and short-term goals, and to be able to show growth in the job market and a decrease in unemployment.

“This will be a hefty undertaking, but our folks young and old deserve this.”

Sutherland’s campaign focus has been to improve quality of life for Grayson’s citizens.

“The only promise I have made is to work with the citizens of the Elk Creek District as their representative. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I am willing to work, learn and listen to help make the best decisions that I can.”

The county needs to continue to support local businesses, to encourage and support residents to open new businesses and continue to encourage residents to buy local.

“Grayson County is truly blessed with tremendous resources. Our people are second to none and so is our work ethic. We have high moral standards and strong Christian beliefs.”

Although the county has suffered hardships in a tough economy, Sutherland said residents have stepped up more than once to make things happen.

“We have to invest our resources wisely and not waste them. Our children are our future. As it has been said so many times, ‘it does not take a village to raise a child.’ We have to provide the very best education for each of them.”

Sutherland said that by keeping the high school’s Career and Technology Education Center strong, it will help students who prefer that career path and who want to study at the college level.

“We also need for them to come back home and help lead our county. On the other side, our older residents have so much wisdom. Each one of us could learn a great deal from them. We need to take the time to listen. We have work to do, as does every small county. It will take time, but together we can make a difference.”

Sutherland and her husband, Richard, have been married for 36 years and have one son. She is a member of the Elk Creek Volunteer Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary, Community Policy and Management Team, chairwoman of the Elk Creek Watershed Committee and attends Lebanon United Methodist Church.

Emil Butler

Butler is a 30-year resident of Grayson County who served in the U.S. Navy and is retired from IBM, where he worked as an engineering manager for 30 years.

Butler is running as the Republican nominee for the Elk Creek seat, but assures that he will work for the citizens — not solely the party.

“I’m running as a Republican,” he said. “But I work for the folks, primarily. I support what’s best for the folks.”

Butler said he would always gather all possible information before voting on county issues.

“You have to weigh the good and the bad. I’m not going to hide from the citizens. I’m going to be available for folks who have complaints or suggestions. Folks will have my number.”

When asked about the top priority for Grayson, he said, “like the rest of the country... the economic situation is bad news.”

Butler has a strong engineering background and experience on the Grayson Board of Zoning Appeals.

“I was one of the first members when it was formed. It was a very controversial thing. It also gave me a taste of making a decision for the folks... plus I enjoyed it.”

Butler has plans, if elected, for helping the elderly population.

“I think [the elderly] are forgotten souls in many ways.”

Butler cited statistics that roughly 17 percent of Grayson’s citizens are age 65 and older.

“And half of those are disabled. A lot of folks in that category are struggling... it’s all they can do to survive. Their main concern is how to heat their homes... they are on fixed incomes. We need to start looking out for those folks.”

Butler said that sometimes the elderly population gets brushed aside because people feel they aren’t contributing to the county anymore.

“Those folks have already contributed. They’ve worked hard all their lives. It’s our turn to look out for them a little bit.”

Butler has spent time reaching out to the elderly population by helping to educate it about absentee voting and reminding them that it is a privilege to vote — at any age.

“We need to start incorporating these folks back into our society.”

The candidate said he wants to look out for the entire population.

“I want to help the folks in general. There are a lot of people in our county who are not wealthy and are struggling. I want to do what’s best for the folks.”

Although pleasing everyone is not possible, Butler said he’s ready to take the position and do his best to please most everyone. “You can listen to them and decide what is best for the majority.”

Butler also weighed in with his views towards landcare taxation.

“I have the highest regard to farmers. They are a major contributing sector and I am all for them getting any breaks possible, provided it doesn’t put the burden on others.”

While giving farmers a tax break would be favorable, Butler said, placing that extra burden on already-struggling taxpayers is not acceptable.

“My concern is that it will go on those who are already at a max, and struggling to keep going. It could be devastating for some folks to have more taxes. I am, however, willing to listen to any proposal to modify the tax shift.”

Butler and his wife Janie have lived in Grayson for almost 30 years. They are members of the First United Methodist Church in Independence, where Butler serves on the board of trustees. Butler also served on the board of Rooftop of Virginia for five years and is a registered private investigator.

Fred Weatherman

Weatherman, 61, was born and raised in Comers Rock where he has lived all but the two years he served in the US Army.

He attended Independence High School and later received an associate’s degree in industrial management.

Weatherman is running as an independent.

“I wanted to file [as an] independent because I want to represent both parties. You look at the person, not the party.”

He believes the top priority for Grayson is to seek more jobs and attract industry. Even industry on a small scale will bring jobs to the area, he said.

Weatherman is retired from the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Independence area headquarters. He is a Grayson County Farm Bureau member and past member of the Grayson County Recreation Board.

He cited such qualifications as “living in Grayson County and seeing the county changing in my lifetime... and of course I was on the school board for eight years.”

The experience of working with the school system and serving on the recreation commission has prepared him for the role of supervisor.

He also has been involved as a community volunteer.

The school system is a hot topic for Weatherman, who believes Grayson should act quickly on the decisions of what to do with closing school buildings.

“Probably my number one thing would be as these schools are closing, I’d like to see that they get new ownership as soon as possible. Because even though the schools are no longer there, the buildings and grounds are still part of the community.”

Delaying ownership or a decision about the schools could lead to more maintenance and cost the county.

“We don’t need these schools to grow up [with weeds] and the maintenance go down on them.”

Weatherman hopes to help expand recreation opportunities for senior citizens if he’s elected.

“The recreation needs to be expanded. Something like a wellness center or something to the county.”

Although he knows it might take longer than a one-year term, he hopes to get things going in the right direction.

“We don’t have anything for the senior citizens,” he said. “Both Carroll and Alleghany [N.C.] have wellness centers. We need to have something for our seniors to do.”

Weatherman has focused his campaign on getting out and meeting Grayson citizens.

“I let them know that the board of supervisors works for the citizens. “The taxpayers of Grayson County... that’s who we work for and that’s what everything belongs to.”

Weatherman said he would be open-minded and spend the time needed to learn from other supervisor.

He and his wife of 39 years, Phyllis, have two children.