Gloucester candidates tout experience, new ideas

by Quinton Sheppard - Posted on Oct 09, 2019 - 03:26 PM

Photo: E.W. Jackson, center, served as moderator of the forum, which was held in the colonial courthouse. He is shown alongside Penny Kemp Smith, candidate for Treasurer, and Mike Hedrick, candidate for the Ware district seat on the Gloucester Board of Supervisors. Photo by Quinton Sheppard

E.W. Jackson, center, served as moderator of the forum, which was held in the colonial courthouse. He is shown alongside Penny Kemp Smith, candidate for Treasurer, and Mike Hedrick, candidate for the Ware district seat on the Gloucester Board of Supervisors. Photo by Quinton Sheppard

Photo: It was standing room only in the colonial courthouse, as members of the public listen intently to candidates running for local office face off prior to the Nov. 5 general election. Photo by Quinton Sheppard

It was standing room only in the colonial courthouse, as members of the public listen intently to candidates running for local office face off prior to the Nov. 5 general election. Photo by Quinton Sheppard

 Touting their experience versus new ideas was the mantra of Tuesday night’s candidate forum in Gloucester. The colonial courthouse was standing room only for most of the event, which was sponsored by the Gloucester Citizens for Accountable Government, and was designed to help inform the electorate going into the Nov. 5 general election.

During the forum, incumbent candidates for sheriff, treasurer and Gloucester Point district representative on the board of supervisors faced off against their newcomer opponents. Also, two new candidates for the Ware district seat on the board of supervisors expressed how they would be the best man for the job.

Gloucester Point district

Gloucester Point district supervisor Chris Hutson said during the forum that during the past eight years serving on the board, he has learned a lot about different issues and values his positive working relationship with the Gloucester Point district representative on the Gloucester School Board. If re-elected, Hutson said he vows to continue to work to support the school system and small businesses in the county while keeping taxes as low as possible.

His opponent, Damien Kelly, said the election is a “choice between status quo in the county and new leadership.” He said, if elected, he would not play any political games and would never keep constituents in the dark. His focuses, he said would be strong support of public schools, small businesses, broadband, engineering and transportation, and the economy.

Ware district supervisor

Mike Hedrick, candidate for Ware district supervisor, said he has been a resident of the county for 37 years and, now retired, is able and feels the duty to give back to the community. He said he has no conflicts of interest and has the professional background it takes in finance and leadership to be an effective supervisor. “I will listen to you and be an innovative thinker and voice on the board of supervisor,” Hedrick said. He added that he has knocked on “hundreds of doors” throughout the county, which is a testament to his work ethic and commitment to all he gets involved in.

His opponent, Mike Bartley, said he has attended just about every board of supervisors’ meeting for the past eight years, serving as a Gloucester County Sheriff’s Office deputy providing support for the board meetings. He said if elected, he would give 100 percent dedication to the position. “I’ve never used a sick day in my life,” he said. “I will throw myself at the voters’ feet and will do an honest job. I’ll never lie to anyone—I can promise you that.”

Bartley said that Hedrick had been telling people during his door-to-door visits that Bartley has a conflict of interest as a deputy in the sheriff’s office and doesn’t have the time to commit to do the job. Bartley said he has spoken directly with the State Ethics Commission, which relayed to him that there is nothing in the state code preventing him from running for office. “Basically, anybody saying I couldn’t is in violation of election law,” he said. Bartley also said though he does work a lot, he recently stopped one part-time job in order to prepare to take on the task of serving as supervisor.

Hedrick, during his rebuttal, didn’t deny Bartley’s allegations, responded in jest, “I love you too,” adding that he, himself, had no conflicts of interest. “I think that’s all I have to say.”

All board of supervisors’ candidates were posed with the question of whether they support $44 million in renovations to Gloucester High School and the existing transportation facility. 

Bartley said his main focus will be on strengthening relationships with the school board. “I plan on trying to resolve the issue and get everyone talking again,” he said. “I do support improving the school and look forward to helping with that.”

Hedrick said his issue is how to fund the needs of the county without choking the local economy. Though he didn’t give a firm yes or no answer, Hedrick did say, “Some people will like my decision and there will be some people who won’t.”

Kelly said the discussion has been going on far too long. “Teachers and students feel unwell and some teachers have even left because of health concerns, and I have proof to back that up,” he said. “We need renovations now.” He said he did not support a new high school.

Finally, Hutson said renovations at the high school are needed. “The bones are in good shape, but we need to fix what’s been neglected and get the school back to where it’s healthy,” he said. He added he is not in favor of pouring a million dollars into the existing transportation facility on the old Page Middle School property instead of building a new one, which he considers to be a “temporary fix” to the problem. 

Supervisor candidates were also asked whether they support categorical funding for the school system for transparency purposes. 

Hutson said he has made it clear during his time serving as supervisor that he is not in favor of categorical funding. “Members of the school board are elected officials,” he said. “They make their budget and I think that’s where (their funding) needs to come from.”

Kelly said he, too, is against the idea of categorical funding. Speaking of the school board, he said. “They are elected officials.” 

Hedrick provided no firm answer, but said if the board of supervisors wishes for certain funding to go toward, say, teacher raises, they should be able to provide the oversight necessary to ensure that takes place. “I’m going to do my best to work on that issue,” Hedrick said.

Bartley said, “It’s a moot issue.” He added that the school board is currently very transparent to both the board of supervisors and the public in reporting where its money is allocated. Bartley said the main problem is a lot of communication breakdowns between the two governing bodies. 

Treasurer

Gloucester Treasurer Tara Thomas said her re-election is about three things—education, experience and commitment to the community. She said during her 20 years serving as treasurer, the county’s collection rates have been “exceptional.” For example, she said the county has collected over 99 percent of its real estate taxes. “That well exceeds accreditation requirements,” Thomas said. 

Her opponent, Penny Kemp Smith, who worked her way up to be chief financial officer for Rappahannock Westminster-Canterbury, said her motivation to run for office is to work on delinquent taxes, citing Gloucester has $1.7 million of unpaid taxes. She said she also wants to expand payment opportunities for residents to help county and school employees to get paid bi-monthly instead of once a month.

Smith said that her being a CPA would be a valuable asset to the department and the county as a whole.

Addressing the $1.7 million figure in unpaid taxes, Thomas said much of that is statutory assessments where the government has deemed that taxes are not due (for military purposes, etc.) and other amounts come from people who are deceased and those who have not updated their records with the Department of Motor Vehicles. “I can assure you it’s not $1.7 million sitting there waiting to be collected,” Thomas said. 

Sheriff

Gloucester Sheriff Darrell Warren expressed that his 28 years of law enforcement and being sheriff since 2012 is what helps make him the best person to continue serving. “There’s a huge difference being a deputy (overseeing a few personnel) and being a sheriff responsible for everyone in an organization; running a jail and a 911 center,” Warren said. “It’s an important decision.”

His opponent, James DeBaun, said he has been in law enforcement since 1994 and currently works for the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office. He previously worked for the Gloucester office. “I don’t have all the prestige of all of the awards that Sheriff Warren has, but I would like to continue some things that were started when I was here,” DeBaun said. A main focus, if elected, would be starting a collaborative effort with crisis intervention teams to get the department more involved with mental health.