New faces join local elected bodies

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Election '12 brings some change to School Board, City Council

By John Barnhart

    Last Tuesday’s election will mean some new faces in local government.
    The Bedford County School Board and Bedford City Council will each have a new face as a result of last week’s elections.    
Jason Johnson
    Jason Johnson won a three-way special election in District 2 to fill the unexpired term of David Vaden. Johnson defeated Jennifer Merritt, who had been appointed by the school board to fill the seat, and Charlotte Maxey, a retired Bedford County teacher. Johnson had been one of the applicants considered by the school board when Merritt was appointed, and received votes from school board members Kevin Willis and Kelly Harmony.
    Because this was a special election, Johnson will take his seat as soon as he is sworn in.
    Johnson has called the school division’s central office and has been told he will be seated at the school board’s December meeting.
    Johnson expects lots of issues to arise with the school budget and how the school division deals with the current financial crunch. He also believes that it will be important to make sure all the county’s schools are fully accredited under the state standards of learning.
    Is he excited?
    “Yes, I’m excited to get started,” he said, although he also confesses to some apprehension.    
    But, he’s ready.
    “I’m looking forward to rolling up my sleeves and getting to work with the board and the people of the community,” he said.
    As the youngest member of the school board — he’s 29 — Johnson feels that he will have to prove that he was indeed a good choice for the people of District 2. This is something he believes he can do. He pledged to work hard to live up to the confidence voters put in him, as well as to earn the respect of people who voted for a different candidate.
    “I have the time and energy to devote,” he said.
    Johnson believes he won by putting that energy to work to get out in the community and get out his message, and that his message resonated with voters. He also credits having a great group of volunteers who talked to their friends and neighbors as well as knocked on doors and put out signs.
    He believes that the greatest strength he brings to the job is his experience. He’s a graduate of Bedford County Public Schools and he works in education at the university level. Johnson believes this perspective will give him fresh ideas to bring to the school board.    
    “I think we are going to be able to work together very well,” he said.
    Vaden’s term, which Johnson will complete, expires at the end of 2013, so Johnson will need to run for reelection next year if he wants to stay on the board.

Stacey Hailey
    Stacey Hailey is the other new face coming to a local elected body. Hailey won a seat on Bedford City Council.
    All City Council seats are at-large, so voters cast ballots for four candidates in the election. The four who got the most votes won and Hailey made the cut. He credits making face-to-face contacts with lots of area residents.
    “I probably talked to 2,000 people or more,” he said.
    Hailey also received lots of help from his wife who campaigned for him. Along with talking to people about him during the campaign, she joined him at the polling places on election day, helping him cover both precincts.
    “Thanks to my wife,” he said. “She did a lot of campaigning for me.”
    “If you want something bad enough you will stay there until you get what you want,” he said.
    Hailey had originally sought appointment to City Council in 2010 when Jeff Hubbard resigned. Guy Murray Jr., however, was appointed and went on to win an uncontested special election in 2011. Murray did not win one of the four seats open in this year’s election.
    “He did put up a good fight,” Hailey said. “I applaud him for what he did.”
    Hailey said that he originally won a seat on Brookneal’s town council in 2004, before he moved to Bedford, by unseating an incumbent.
    Hailey will have to run for election again very soon. Bedford City Council will cease to exist when Bedford reverts to town status and city councilmen do not automatically get seats on the new town council. They will have to run for town council in an election that will be held in May.  Hailey said that he will seek election to town council.
    “I don’t wan to get on council, stay for six months and lose the seat,” he said.
    Hailey said that he’s made history.
    “I’ll be part of history in Bedford,” he said, noting that he will be a member of Bedford’s last city council. He said that it will be interesting to work on what will be Bedford’s first town budget, which will take effect on July 1.
    “I just want to thank everybody in Bedford,” he said. “I’ll do the best I can for the city of Bedford, soon to be a town.”

Dr. John Hicks
    Dr. John Hicks is actually a semi-new face. He was appointed this year to fill the unexpired term of Brad Whorley. Dr. Hicks fended off a challenge by Eric Thompson for the District 3 school board seat on Tuesday.
    Dr. Hicks won with 60 percent of the vote, something he is pleased with because he sees it as a vote of confidence. He thinks that it is due to his experience and qualifications plus his long-time service to the students of Bedford County as a teacher and administrator. Dr. Hicks spent most of his education career in Bedford County Public Schools as a teacher and a school principal, retiring as Bedford Elementary School’s principal.
    He believes he brings a unique perspective to the school board. He holds a current superintendent of schools certificate, which means that he’s actually qualified to do Dr. Douglas Schuch’s job.
    Like Johnson, the unexpired term that he was elected to expires at the end of next year and Dr. Hicks plans to run for reelection next year.
    “I hope I can serve next year and get reelected in the regular election and serve four more years after that,” he said.
    Dr. Hicks hopes to see the school board’s budget process start sooner than it has in the past. He also hopes that the supervisors can come to a consensus to adequately fund the school budget.
    Speaking of the supervisors, it turns out that Dr. Hicks has known Curry Martin for years. Martin was appointed to fill the vacant District 2 supervisor set on Nov. 5.
    “He and I went to 4H camp together in seventh grade,” he said.

Skip Tharp
    One of the most familiar faces on any local elected body is Skip Tharp. Tharp, who won another term on Bedford City Council Tuesday, has been there since 1992, with a brief hiatus in the late ‘90s. Tharp campaigned for the reelection of all four incumbents, but is comfortable with Hailey’s victory.
    “I think it’s fine,” he said. “Stacey worked hard, he beat the streets, got to know folks and folks got to know him.”
    Tharp believes  the hard work Hailey put into getting elected will translate into hard work on council.
    Looking ahead, Tharp said reversion is the biggest issue City Council will face, which includes, as part of the agreement, a unified water authority. Tharp said that this authority’s board will consist of seven members. The city will appoint three and the county will appoint three. These six will then appoint the seventh. After that, the town and county will alternate as to who appoints the seventh member.
    Tharp said that reversion means City Council will be forming a whole new government. The members will determine what this town’s government will be like, develop its first budget, and set the town’s tax rate. Town residents will pay this on top of the county’s real estate tax, but Tharp said this combined rate will not be higher than city residents’ current tax rate.
    “I’m totally and completely optimistic that it’ll go fine,” Tharp said.
    Tharp plans to run for town council in May.

Steve Rush
    Steve Rush, another incumbent who won reelection in the at-large City Council election, received the largest number of votes of any candidate.
    “I think that’s good,” he commented. “I worked hard.”
    Rush believes that the fact he has lived in the area all his life and has worked as a realtor since his retirement from law enforcement helped because people recognized him.
    “I’d talk to people and they would say, ‘I know you,” Rush commented.
    “I’m glad I got the number of votes I did,” he said. “It was a good day, a long day.”
    As council develops the budget, this last City Council will set the town’s first tax rate. Town residents will pay a town tax in addition to the county tax rate. Rush believes that a town real estate tax rate of between 20 cents and 25 cents per $100 in assessed value would be a fair and reasonable town tax rate. This would still leave town residents paying less than their current 86 cent per $100 rate.
    “But, you just don’t know until you look at the upcoming budget,” Rush said. “They certainly shouldn’t see any difference in quality of services.”
    Rush plans to run for town council.
    “I’ll start all over again; I’ll be beating on doors again,” he said.
    “Turn-out [in the May town council election] is going to mean a whole lot,” he said. “People who are interested in the town are going to turn out.”

Bob Wandrei
    Bob Wandrei, who also won reelection to City Council, said that it’s important for the new town to get off on the right foot and reversion is a good time to look at a number of issues. How the mayor is elected is one. Currently, the mayor is elected by City Council.
    “A number of people have spoken to me about direct election of mayor,” Wandrei said.
    Wandrei would also like to see town council elections held in November, as Bedford’s city council elections are. Holding council elections in November, as part of the elections for other offices, is less expensive than a separate election.
    “It saves money,” he said.
    He also believes that developing the first town budget is also a good time to look for savings in areas where county and town services will overlap.
    “Where we have services that overlap, such as police protection, I think we ought to make adjustments,” he said.
    This does not necessarily mean eliminating an overlap. Wandrei cites animal control as an example.
     Both the city and county have an animal control service and the question will be whether the town needs to continue its own separate service. The greater concentration of people in the town could mean that the separate service is needed.
    Another is trash pick up. As county residents, town residents will be able to dump trash at county convenience centers, but he expects the town to continue curbside trash pick up. The greater density of population makes this both practical and necessary.
    “I want to make sure what they are paying for is something that they already get through the county tax,” he said, noting that town taxpayers will pay the county as well as the town real estate tax.
    Wandrei believes that this will also be a good time to look at the number of vehicles the city currently has. Are these all necessary? If they aren’t, then the excess could be sold on e-Bay.
    What will a fair town tax rate be? Wandrei said he doesn’t have a feel for that yet.
    “We will probably have a better feel for it in the next couple of months,” he said.
    Wandrei said the goal is to make sure that the combined county/town tax rate is less than the current city tax rate. He said that’s the reason City Council needs to avoid duplicating services.
    He’s concerned about the fact a large percentage, approximately 25 percent according to Wandrei, of the people who voted in last week’s election did not cast ballots in the City Council election.
    “We need to work harder to encourage people to vote for council,” he said.    
    Will he run for town council in May? Wandrei noted that he just got reelected to City Council last week.
    “It’s just too soon,” he said. “All I want to do is see that we get off on the right foot as a town.”
    Wandrei is sure he won’t run for a seat on the board of supervisors after reversion.
    “I have absolutely no inclination to do that now,” he said.