Candidate forum

Elizabeth Franklin and Mike Sheridan, both running as Independents, are vying for the Columbia spot. Tony O’Brien (Independent.) and Rick Kelly (Republican) are fighting for the Rivanna seat.

Andrea Copeland moderated the forum.

A few of the nearly 100 people in attendance said they felt more informed after hearing the candidates.

Joan Cohen, who lives in the Rivanna district, said O’Brien impressed her.

“I feel his presentation was the best,” Cohen said. “Careless growth can be ineffective. Tony O’Brien has a positive way of looking at growth that I like.”

Pamela Ross, also in the Rivanna district, said she was undecided when she came to the event and it helped clarify some things.

“Information I got tonight helped me make a decision,” she said.

Wanda Keenan said she was glad she attended, but she didn’t hear anything to make her change her mind.

“I came to listen to see where they stood, but it didn’t sway my opinion,” said Keenan, who also lives in the Rivanna district.

In opening comments, Sheridan spoke about his goal to restore trust in Fluvanna leadership. The past two years seem to have been extra contentious, starting with a surprise tax rate vote in 2012 that short-funded schools and galvanized citizenry.

Sheridan said he planned to meet his goal of trust-building using his 25 years of coaching experience.

“When you coach, when you build teams, you have to find the strengths of each individual and get them to work in a group situation,” Sheridan said.

As a long-time volunteer firefighter, Sheridan also said he wanted to make sure fire and rescue departments have “what they need.”  When it came to a water pipeline, Sheridan said he wanted to ensure hydrants are put in at strategic places.

Franklin said she saw herself as a “citizen’s activist.”

“I don’t go into this with a laundry list of what to do with peoples’ money,” Franklin said. “People want to be listened to not surprised by decisions made.”

Franklin said it’s important for a supervisor to be “financially realistic” and make “smart decisions.” Franklin said as she went door to door meeting people in her district, she was struck by their primary concern about finances.

“People are struggling and they want the county to be realistic with their money,” she said.

Franklin said as one of Fluvanna’s “most involved citizens, I don’t think anyone running has a better grasp of issues than I do.”

In his opening statements, Kelly stated a message he repeated several times throughout the evening, “A 1,000-mile journey begins with one step, but that step needs to be in the right direction.”

Kelly said the Aqua Virginia water deal, while temporarily set aside by supervisors, is “still alive.”

Aqua Virginia proffered a deal to the Board of Supervisors about 18 months ago to build a pipeline from its existing plant near Lake Monticello where it provides water to that community, up to Zion Crossroads. Kelly said the deal would cost Fluvanna taxpayers $20 million. He acknowledged the importance of getting water to Zion Crossroads, but said more needs to be done to attract businesses to the area.

“Go get businesses. See what they need. Dangle a carrot saying ‘Look what we have,’” Kelly said. “We have to streamline the process of attracting businesses. If you go to the Albemarle County website, you can start a business off (instructions) on the website. We’ve got to make it easy to open a business here.”

O’Brien said his passion for civic engagement came about two years ago when it looked as if the new high school wouldn’t open due to lack of funds.

“We all choose to live in a community that has certain amenities…” O’Brien said. “Part of the (Fluvanna) fabric is rural life. But we must have a balance. Growth created tension in our system.”

O’Brien said he fears people or businesses wanting to move to Fluvanna will think twice after seeing how the current Board of Supervisors operate.

“After seeing our Board they may think they’re not ready for prime time and may not decide to come here.”

O’Brien cited Louisa’s current growth that stemmed from decisions made more than 10 years ago. He acknowledged the importance of getting water to Zion Crossroads for economic development and to take the tax burden off homeowners’ shoulders.

“I’m running for the success of Fluvanna,” O’Brien said.

At one time or another throughout the night all four candidates stated they

would ask questions and research issues before making decisions

were for fully funding schools

were for economic development

would be transparent in decision making

were for zoning changes to spur the right kind of economic development

When asked about a special strategy to balance the tax rate, Kelly said we should start by “firing the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission for doing a lousy Return-on-Investment study and get our money back from them. We need good information.”

O’Brien said it was important to plan to attract business to Zion Crossroads because the alternative would be more housing which would burden the county. He said it wasn’t time for “endless studies. Start making it happen.”

Franklin said economic development can be a good solution” but  “we have to lay the right framework.”

“Chasing water” without that is not the way to go, she said. Franklin said she wanted to make sure any plan to get water to Zion Crossroads using taxpayer money “should pay a dividend to the taxpayer who put up the money to do it.”

Sheridan said he didn’t have all the answers but he wasn’t afraid to ask questions.

“We need to trust one another to do it,” Sheridan said. “We have to figure out the best way and go to the people and have them help us figure it out.”

When asked about capital improvement projects and appropriate levels of spending to see those through, Kelly had a statement about decisions to build the high school, fire stations and library.

“They were illegal,” Kelly said. “If you go into debt for capital improvements voters get to decide. We’ve been doing it wrong.”

O’Brien contended those decisions weren’t necessarily illegal because they involved core services.

“If we’re going to continue to see people move here, planning makes sense,” O’Brien said. “Capital Improvement Projects (are) put in place to look at what we need to do. If we don’t plan for those things, we’ll be running around looking for money. Just because it’s in the CIP doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.”

Franklin said the CIP has “mushroomed in recent years and drives our debt.”

“We have to get it in hand. We’ll have big pressures in next year’s budget. I will not favor CIP projects that will rob the schools.”

Sheridan said throughout the night in answer to the CIP question and other “We are focused on the past when we need to prepare for the future.”

“We can point fingers behind us or look down the road. We can look behind us when we need to be looking in front of us. All we can do is spend what we can afford.”

All four candidates urged people to get out and vote on Election Day, Nov. 5.

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