July 15, 2024

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Candidates for Raleigh County offices talk about jobs and growing the population | State & Region

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Candidates running for races in Raleigh County had a chance to plead their cases to voters during a Meet the Candidates event hosted by the Beckley-Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce at Tamarack on Thursday.

Three of the four county races are expected to be decided in the May 10 Primary Election: the race for Raleigh County Board of Education, which is a nonpartisan race; as well as the race for Raleigh County commissioner, which has only Republican candidates; and the race for Raleigh County clerk, which has one candidate.

Also on the ballot is the Raleigh County circuit clerk seat, which has one Republican candidate and one Democratic candidate, meaning they will not compete until the general election in November.

During Thursday’s Meet the Candidate event, candidates running for commission and circuit clerk were asked questions from a media panel.

The main concerns for these candidates were jobs and attracting more people to Raleigh County as well as encouraging those here to stay.

Candidates for the board of education were also given time to speak but were asked no questions.

Raleigh County Commission

The four Republicans who have filed to run for Raleigh County Commission are incumbent Dave Tolliver, Daniel Hall, Robert Mooney and Lucy Lester.

All but Mooney, a resident of Crab Orchard, was present at Thursday’s candidate event.

The first commission candidate to speak was Hall, who identified himself as a Raleigh County small business owner with eight years of experience working in the West Virginia legislature.

Hall said he wanted to label himself as the “pro-business candidate.” If elected, Hall said his focus will be on economic development and bringing business to the county.

Hall was asked by the media panel about what he would do to improve the business climate in Raleigh County and what can be done to reverse the population loss facing the county.

Hall said the commission should oppose regulations or fees that increase the financial burden on businesses and focus on getting more sites ready for economic development.

Hall added the TIF district proposed along Harper Road needs to be approved and would be if he were elected.

He said the county should also lean into its Parks and Rec Department to help better advertise the county and improve its broadband to entice more remote workers.

Lester said she works as an adult educator and believes the opioid epidemic remains the biggest challenge facing Raleigh County.

“I don’t believe we can get businesses to move in here until we address our number one problem,” she said. “…I’ve owned a business and we do need to cut taxes and all that, but we first need to deal with the issues that are here at hand and that are emergency.”

Lester said she thinks the drug epidemic remains an issue because it has not been handled correctly. She went on to say that people who commit crimes should be punished. She said she believes penalties for drug-related crimes are becoming softer and she is also not a supporter of home confinement.

On a lighter note, Lester said the county should invest more in its younger generation and focus more on its positives instead of its negatives.

The final commission candidate to speak was Tolliver.

Tolliver said that when he was first elected in 2010, he made three promises – to be a good steward of taxpayer money, to bring in jobs and to work on water and sewer projects. Tolliver said he has kept all of these promises.

With the help of the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority, Tolliver said he has helped facilitate the creation of hundreds of jobs at the Raleigh County Memorial Airport. He added that the county is also engaged in eight sewer projects, five water projects and three broadband projects.

To pursue these projects without burdening Raleigh County residents, as a commissioner, Tolliver said he always goes after grant funding.

“We’re trying to keep the infrastructure moving with all the government money that’s out there floating around,” he said.

Raleigh County Board of Education

Five of the six candidates running for three seats in the nonpartisan Raleigh County Board of Education race made an appearance at the candidate forum.

These candidates were the only ones not asked a question by the media panel and were instead given 90 seconds to speak.

Incumbent Larry Ford of District 3 spoke about his 45 years of working in Raleigh County, 16 years on the board of education and his involvement in a number of local boards and organizations.

“I’ve always tried to stay involved in our community,” said Ford, who is the president of the RCBOE. “I think it makes it better for everybody who lives here. Now I want to continue on the Raleigh County Board of Education, supporting our administrators, our students, our school service personnel.”

Another incumbent running is Marie Walker Hamrick, also of District 3. Hamrick, a former teacher and guidance counselor, said voters should keep in mind that when they express changes they’d like to see in the local school systems that there is only so much a school board member can do.

“The most regulated school system in the nation is West Virginia,” she said. “…We all have wish lists for our kids and our county, our schools, our teachers, but we have to work within the confines of school law.”

While serving on the board, Hamrick said she has approved more than $100 million in school upgrades without placing additional burdens on local taxpayers. She said if elected she will continue this work.

Incumbent Charlotte Hutchens of District 2 is also running for reelection but was not present Thursday.

The three candidates hoping to take a seat from one of these incumbents are Ronald “Ron” Martin of District 1, Clyde “CJ” Schuyler of District 3 and Brandy Stover of District 1.

Martin said he has been a bus driver and a volleyball coach in Raleigh County and is also a veteran.

Martin said the main issues facing the local school system today are the lack of teachers and service personnel, like bus drivers, who are leaving because of low wages and not being able to prevent the kids who are educated in West Virginia from leaving.

“There is no process for the kids to get better; they have to leave to find a better job,” said Martin, citing his own daughter who left West Virginia to pursue a job in Atlanta.

Martin said he thinks fixing this problem starts with the local school system and goes hand in hand with better treatment and pay for those teaching and caring for the students.

Schuyler said he moved to Raleigh County in 2015 after retiring from the U.S Marine Corps. Over the years, Schuyler said he’s held a number of jobs in the community including as a general manager at a Dollar General, as purchasing coordinator at Tamarack and recently as an employee of the federal government.

“I’d like to run for this board of education to stand up,” he said. “I’m a fighter. I’m a fighter and I have a passion and I want to make a difference and I want to make a change.”

To the voters who are OK with how the board has been run in the past, Schuyler said they should vote for the current incumbents. But to the voters looking for a change, Schuyler said he is the candidate for them.

The last board of education candidate to speak, Stover, said she is a mom with a background in education and she came to Thursday’s event to talk about “problems and finding solutions.”

“We need better transparency, better food quality,” she said. “There is a lot of issues. There is solutions. We just need to work together. Parents should be more involved, and that is not happening.”

Stover said the current board is not responsive when parents or teachers bring issues to their attention, which is why she is running in order to be able to fix some of these issues.

The board of education race is nonpartisan, which means the victors will be decided during the May 10 Primary Election.

The Raleigh County Board of Education consists of three districts. A maximum of two people from the same district can serve on the five-member board at a time.

The current incumbents on the board not up for reelection are Jack “Gordie” Roop from District 2 and Richard V. Snuffer II from District 1.

Raleigh County Circuit Clerk

Of the two candidates running for Raleigh County circuit clerk, only incumbent Paul H. Flanagan, a Democrat, was present at the candidate event.

His only challenger is Republican Robert “Bob” McComas, which means the two will not face off until the Nov. 8 General Election.

Flanagan said he has served as the circuit clerk for the past 12 years, where he uses his business and customer service background daily.

“It’s my role that we become the best support service for the judicial system in Raleigh County (and) of any county in the state,” he said.

One of the questions asked of Flanagan by the media panel was regarding transportation and the challenge it imposes on people when they need to make their way to the courthouse.

Flanagan said that during Covid, the judicial system started moving many things online, including hearings. He added that about a year and a half ago, the county began to accept electronic filings. Flanagan said there are some things that have to be done in person, but his office works to be as friendly and helpful as possible.

Raleigh County Clerk

The sole candidate for Raleigh County clerk, former Raleigh County Sheriff Scott Van Meter, a Republican, was also recognized at the event but was not given any time to speak Thursday as he faces no Republican or Democratic challenger.

Van Meter, who is retired from the West Virginia State Police, was first elected sheriff in 2016 as a Democrat when he ran against Republican Stan Ellison. In 2020, he ran unopposed as a Democrat.

The Register-Herald reported in January that current Raleigh Clerk Danny Moore, who had served as Raleigh sheriff prior to being elected clerk in 2016, will not run for a second term.

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