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By Crystal Vandegrift
Only six candidates for this November’s general election in Prince Edward County were present at a candidate forum held Tuesday night at the library.
The non-partisan forum sponsored by the Southside Virginia Tea Party Patriots was held to give voters the opportunity to meet candidates and learn more about issues facing the county.
Pattie Cooper-Jones (D) who is seeking reelection to the Board of Supervisors District Eight was first to speak. Jones, who is running unopposed, pointed out the state of the county school system as one of her concerns. “I am concerned about our school system and whether or not it is functioning properly,” she said.
When asked a question by citizen Cindy Koether about an education solution, Jones added that the Board of Supervisors only provides funds for the school system, and they do not make any rules.
Ultimately, Jones said that parents and the school board should work together to make the school system better. “Parents can go to the school board and demand that the board do better things to help students,” she added. As for parents, Jones noted, “It starts at home. We need to educate them (students) to give, love and give back to their community.”
Jones also pointed out funding decisions as one of her concerns saying that the board would have to take a hard look at every area of funding.
Richard Altice (I) who is seeking election to the Board of Supervisors, District Four told citizens that transparency was an important issue for him and that meetings should be broadcast so that citizens who could not attend would still have access and be informed of what was taking place in the county.
Altice, who is being opposed by Odessa Pride (D), pointed out his concerns about the school system as well. “Our schools are ranked 127 out of 129 districts,” he said. “Business professionals are looking at our schools systems and not coming here.”
During his allotted time, Altice also touched on technology issues as well as road improvements.
No questions were asked of Altice. Odessa Pride, who is also seeking the District Four seat, was not present.
Wilkie Chaffin, who has served on the Piedmont District of the Soil and Water Conservation (SWCD) board for the past 15 years, took time to tell those present what the Soil and Water Conservation board was responsible for.
The board provides technical and educational assistance for natural resource conservation to land users, farmers, foresters, homeowners, and local governments. The ultimate goal of the SWCD is to promote the wise use and conservation of soil, water, and related resources.
Chaffin said that the SWCD works to protect groundwater that goes into streams, rivers, etc. as one of their jobs. “We have 14 watershed dams that we manage….do repairs and maintenance to.” Chaffin also invited the public to “come by and see what the district does.”
Bill Powers, who is currently on the SWCD Board, will also appear on this November’s ballot for reelection but was not at Tuesday night’s meeting.
Two of the three candidates seeking the position of Sheriff for Prince Edward County were in attendance, and both addressed citizens giving details of their experience and goals if elected.
First to speak was Dale Vaughan (I), a seven-year military veteran and ten-year veteran of the Prince Edward County Sheriff’s Department. Vaughan started off pointing out that there is “low patrol in the county,” speaking of the number of deputies who are out patrolling. The candidate said that he felt that because of the low number of patrol that this was “sparking all these breaking and enterings,” even noting that the former Sheriff’s home had been broken into. “I want to bring to the county a better means of representation…. someone you can call and know that someone is on the way,” he said.
Professionalism, visibility, and dedication are what Vaughan pointed out need to be brought to the sheriff’s department.
Vaughan was asked the question about fingerprinting in regards to breaking and entering. One citizen told Vaughan that she knew of someone who was a victim of a breaking and entering and that the sheriff’s office did not attempt to obtain fingerprints. To that, Vaughan said, “As a deputy, if I could do finger prints, I did. You only get as good as you got.”
During his talk, Vaughan also pointed out that he was not going to address issues that have recently been publicized in the media and on social media concerning the ongoing sheriff’s race.
Brandon Cummings (I), who has been the subject of many of those reports in the past few weeks, was in attendance and told the public that he, too, was running for sheriff as an independent because “You have got to be right down the middle.”
Cummings, who worked as a deputy for the sheriff’s department, did touch on the fact that the department no longer employs him. “I was let go a week and a half ago, and we all know why,” he said.
During his time, Cummings spoke of his military and police background noting that he has a “very diverse background.” The candidate also pointed out a lack of performance in the department and that there is a time for a “fresh mind.” “There is more that can be done and sometimes when you are near retirement age like the current sheriff, it’s time to put a fresh mind in,” he said.
When speaking about job performance, Cummings said, “People are only going to perform if they have respect for their leader. They don’t want to perform to impress their leader if they have no respect for them. I’ve seen it in the military.”
Current Sheriff Wesley Reed, who is seeking reelection, was not in attendance.
Candidate Megan Clark (D), who is running unopposed for Commonwealth’s Attorney, was the final speaker of the night, giving the audience thorough details of her background and goals she has planned as the Commonwealth’s Attorney.
Clark, a graduate of Prince Edward County High School and Marshall-Wythe School of Law at the College of William & Mary, told the public that she has handled everything from speeding tickets to homicide cases.
Clark said her number one goal was “to prosecute crimes in this community,” and that “we will have a very tight working relationship with law enforcement.”
Clark pointed out that she is concerned that people do not know what the Commonwealth’s Attorney Office does and that she wanted to increase communication with the public.
Working together with law enforcement is another goal of Clark’s. “There is training we can do together so that we have a relationship.”
Clark received the most questions of the night, including issues ranging from if she was interested in also being the county attorney, casework load, how citizens should go about reporting offenses to what her plans for the current employees of the office were.
To the question of if she was interested in becoming the county’s attorney as well, Clark said, “I have no intention because that would be a conflict of interest.”
When it came to caseloads for Prince Edward County, one citizen pointed out that the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office currently handles 8,000 cases annually, and she was asked if she felt more attorneys were needed. The office currently has four attorneys. “Those numbers included things like speeding tickets,” she pointed out. “There are cases that do not take a lot of time….if people allot their time appropriately there should be no additional attorneys needed.”
As for Clark’s plans for employees currently working in the Commonwealth’s Attorney office she added, “It is not my intent to come in and do a complete overhaul. If people are willing to work with me and give it a chance, I’m willing to work with them. Excuse my English but, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
The following candidates will also appear on the November ballot but were not in attendance during Tuesday meeting: Machell Eppes (D), Clerk of Court; Beverly Booth (D) Commissioner of the Revenue; Donna Nunnally (D), Treasurer; Howard Simpson (D), Board of Supervisors, District One; Robert Jones (D), Board of Supervisors, District Two.