Candidate forum draws crowd

By Heather Michon

More than a dozen candidates for local offices in this year’s election assembled at Central Elementary’s Spraggs-Key Auditorium on Thursday night (Sept. 7) for a Candidate Forum sponsored by the Fluvanna Leadership Alumni Group (FLAG) and the Chamber of Commerce.

The forum, moderated by former Fluvanna Review Editor Christina Dimeo, drew a crowd of almost 200 people. Each candidate was given five minutes to introduce themselves and later fielded audience-submitted questions.

Fluvanna voters are facing a lengthy ballot when they go to the polls this fall. All the county-wide positions are up for reelection. The retirements of supervisors Mozell Booker and Patricia Eager leave the Fork Union and Palmyra seats up for grabs, with candidates Mike Goad and Horace Scruggs vying for the Fork Union position, and James Schoenster and Timothy Hodge facing off for the Palmyra seat. In Fork Union, current School Board member Perrie Johnson is retiring, with Danny Reed and Gary Davis hoping to replace her. In the Palmyra District, current School Board Chair James Kelley is being challenged for reelection by Brittany Gray. 

Interim school board member Andre Key is running uncontested in a special election in the Rivanna District. Key, who was unable to attend the forum, was appointed to the seat last fall after the death of his wife, Gequetta Murray-Key.

Board of Supervisors

How to develop Fluvanna’s business sector while balancing the county’s rural peace and quiet was a major theme for candidates for Supervisor.

All four candidates agreed that bringing a reliable source of water to Zion Crossroads and continuing water development in Fork Union was the key to future growth. The James River Water Project, designed to do just that, is expected to be operational in early 2026.

Both Horace Scruggs (Fork Union) and James Schoenster (Palmyra) said growing the tourism sector could help the county while waiting for the water infrastructure to kick into action. “I’d like to see us tap into those tourism dollars,” said Scruggs.  

Timothy Hodge (Palmyra) said the county should have areas “zoned and pad and site ready” for businesses to move in with minimal effort, while Mike Goad (Fork Union) argued for incentives to draw businesses to the area. Goad also wants to see “carefully planned, location-appropriate growth” to preserve the county’s rural character. 

One audience question involved Colonial Circle, the development now under construction near Lake Monticello. 

“It doesn’t bring people in, it doesn’t look nice, and I really don’t want to have more of that kind of thing happening in that area,” said Schoenster (Palmyra). 

Scruggs (Fork Union) took a slightly different view, saying that Colonial Circle could help younger Fluvanna residents “stay here and be a part of our community and become our [future] leaders.” 

School board

This year’s unprecedented $2.6 million in additional funding for Fluvanna County Public Schools became a point of contention between school board candidates.

Incumbent James Kelley (Palmyra) said he had spent an entire year encouraging the Board of Supervisors to fully fund a budget that would allow FCPS to increase teacher pay and increase mental health services for students. 

“We were there to advocate for our staff and to advocate for our students and make sure we can get what we need,” he said, calling the request “unprecedented, but reasonable.” 

“I will always support fully funding our public schools, no matter what that number is,” said Davis. (Fork Union)  “We will try to get every single penny for our students and our teachers.” He also called for renovations at Central Elementary and other school facilities.

Gray (Palmyra), who is challenging Kelley for his seat, said she did not support the funding request “because I did not feel it was fully explained.” While she said she wasn’t against funding the schools, she argued that the public needs “more transparency with the budget and that shouldn’t be that difficult to provide.” 

“Two words: fiscal responsibility,” said Reed (Fork Union). He said he would not have supported this package, in part because the school budget had grown so much in the past five or so years. “This may sound a little bit of an odd one because my wife does teach and so our family did benefit from a salary increase – but when the taxes continue to go up because we are asking the county for more and more money, teachers aren’t keeping that money.”

Countywide Offices

The audience also heard from many of the county-wide candidates running in uncontested reelection bids, including Commissioner of the Revenue Andrew “Mel” Sheridan, Commonwealth’s Attorney Jeffrey Haislip, Sheriff Eric Hess, and Soil and Water Conservation Board member Angus Murdock.

Haden Parrish is running for the Soil and Water Board’s second seat. “I’m not contested for this position,” he said, “but I would greatly appreciate your vote this November.”

With longtime Treasurer Linda H Lenherr retiring at the end of her term, two candidates are vying for her position: Children’s Services Act Program Director Bryan Moeller and Deborah Rittenhouse.

Moeller said his platform was based on “technology, training, and transparency,” and promised a fully modernized office. He would also encourage all staff to undertake continuing education programs and be certified as Master Government Deputy Treasurers.

Rittenhouse said she brings 20 years of experience in accounting to the position. Along with modernizing and streamlining payment options, she said she would want to work closely with the revenue department to fully understand upcoming expenses and other financials.

Both candidates said they wanted to be focused on customer service and working with citizens.

Early voting begins in Virginia on Sept. 22 and continues through Election Day on Nov. 7.

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