Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Meet the City Council candidates

  • Published: April 24th, 2012

Editor’s note: City Council elections will be held May 1, and the Liberty Champion news staff has decided to give each candidate a platform to discuss his opinions about issues relevant to Liberty University students.

Each candidate was given the same amount of time to respond to the Champion’s questions, and the only criterion was keep the answers to roughly 700 words. Their responses and short biographies can be found on A4-A6 in this edition of the Liberty Champion.

The order in which the candidates appear was decided by putting the Wards in order, determining who was running against whom. We then placed the candidate that responded first on the top of the page, and the one that responded second on the bottom. Two candidates are running unopposed for their Wards.

With this information, we hope that our readers will be able to make an informed decision and get out and vote on May 1 for city council members. To determine which Ward you are eligible to vote in, visit lynchburgva.gov..

Michael Gillette, Ward I

Michael Gillette graduated from Brandeis University at the top of his class as magna-cum laude with degrees in Philosophy and Classical Greek. He furthered his education at Brown University, where Gillette obtained his Master’s degree and Ph.D in Philosophy, writing his dissertation on clinical ethics, according to mikegillette.net.

Gillette

Gillette, originally from Connecticut, moved to Virginia in 1990 for a teaching position at the then-Randolph Macon Women’s College. After receiving tenure, Gillette resigned to pursue his own business, Bioethical Services of Virginia, Inc.

According to his website, Gillette has spent more than 20 years in Lynchburg with his wife Jodi. The couple has been married for 26 years and have raised two children, Rachel and Rebecca. Gillette’s time in Lynchburg has created a “vested interest” in the community, according to the website.

“As citizens of Lynchburg, we all appreciate our high quality of life, reasonable cost of living and excellent environment in which to raise our families,” Gillette said on mikegillette.net. “With your vote I will do my best to protect these things, even as we face difficult economic times.”

Question One: What do you see as an important aspect of the relationship between the city and the local colleges?

The local colleges and universities are an extremely important part of our local character. Not only do they contribute to our economic base, but they bring a vitality and intellectual vigor to our community that we should all cherish. Local government must recognize the central role that our institutions of higher education play and support collaborative efforts to enhance the relationship whenever possible.

Question Two: What key city projects do you plan to focus on if elected?

During the past year, I chaired the Task Force on Heritage High School and the Future of Secondary Education in Lynchburg. I would very much like to see the planning for a new Heritage High School continue and to assist in the implementation of the Task Force’s recommendations.

I also foresee the need to deal with recruitment and retention issues in public safety. We must develop a multi-year strategy for working toward a resolution of the stresses that impact our fire, police and emergency services workers.

Question Three: Would you agree to City Manager Kimball Payne’s recommended tax hikes? Why or why not?

I do not believe that it will be necessary to enact the full array of tax increases contained in the proposed budget, but I also see no way to maintain core city services without generating some new revenues. The answer to this question, therefore, is not a simple yes or no. I disagree that we should raise the meals tax by one percent and the real estate tax by 10 cents. I do agree, however, that new revenues must be raised, and I will work to find the fairest way to make the minimum necessary increases. In doing so, I have already opposed any increase in the meals tax and I believe that we will be able to find sufficient savings to keep the real estate tax rate increase to something less than 10 cents.

Question Four: Tell a college student why they should or should not vote in Lynchburg.

The continued health of the American democratic tradition depends upon the engagement of its citizens. Every eligible American should cast a vote in local, state and federal elections. I encourage all students to get engaged and to cast a vote in the location in which they are legal residents.

Question Five: Today’s economy requires families to budget tightly. How can the city handle projects such as Heritage High School and the cross town connector in its budget?

Over the past several years, Lynchburg City Council has shrunk the size of city government. The general fund budget for 2012 is actually $1 million smaller than the general fund budget was in 2009, and the overall budget was cut by $7 million from 2011 to 2012. The currently proposed overall budget is another $10 million smaller than that. These spending reductions have taken place in an environment where we have been forced to absorb multiple unfunded mandates from the state, increased operating costs related to things like higher fuel prices, and a flat or declining revenue stream due to decreases in property values. While facing these economic challenges, we also managed to lower the real estate tax rate from $1.11 to $1.05 and eliminate the common goods fee. We accomplished these reductions by scouring every department for efficiencies and reducing the workforce by over 60 full-time equivalent jobs since 2009. The current budget proposal includes an additional reduction in force of 31 positions. We must continue to look for additional cuts and efficiencies and manage our debt service carefully. Even with these efforts, however, there comes a point where the retention of high quality services requires a willingness to pay for what we get. I will avoid every unnecessary tax increase, but some tax increase is likely to be necessary if we want to protect our high quality community.

John Richards Jr., Ward I

Candidate John Richards is a Lynchburg native who attended E.C. Glass High School. Richards received a Bachelor of Science in Economics from the University of Virginia and a Master’s of Science in Aerospace Dynamics.

Richards

Richards joined the Air Force in 1985 as a logistics plans officer. He served for 24 years, retiring as a Lt. Col. in 2009. It was during his time in the Air Force that he first met his wife, Nancy.

John and Nancy have been married for 17 years. He and his wife have three daughters: Jessica, Maegan and Rebecca.

Richards feels his acquired skills have equipped him to effectively serve his community, he said.

“John has acquired the financial and leadership skills necessary to be an effective leader in his community,” according to his campaign website. “His love for the people of his hometown drives him to seek opportunities to make their lives more fulfilling. His dedication to the citizens of Lynchburg and moral values ensure that he will serve with honesty and integrity.”

Question One: What do you see as an important aspect of the relationship between the city and the local colleges?

An important aspect of the relationship between the city and local colleges is a mutual respect for another and the willingness to work together. In order to work together, there must be an appreciation for one another, a willingness to listen and a common goal to work towards. I believe that our local colleges and universities make a valuable contribution to our city and working with them is vital for the success of Lynchburg.

Question Two: What key city projects do you plan to focus on if elected?

Key projects I would focus on if elected would be consolidating duplicated services, implementing new ways of providing quality services at more economical costs and recruiting businesses to Lynchburg.

Question Three: Would you agree to City Manager Kimball Payne’s recommended tax hikes? Why or why not?

I do not agree with the city manager’s proposed tax hikes. I oppose the meals tax increase because it unfairly burdens one segment of our business community with generating the revenue to unnecessarily accelerate the fix to a Heritage High School problem that was decades in the making. Raising the meals tax would have the adverse affect of driving businesses and customers to the counties, potentially reducing tax revenue. I would oppose the 10 cent real estate tax at this point because I believe the city has potential savings within the current budget that need to be explored before a tax increase can be justified, such as consolidating duplicate support services between the city and our schools and looking at potential outsourcing opportunities within our current service processes.

Question Four: Tell a college student why they should or should not vote in Lynchburg.

Regardless of whether or not college students decide to vote in their hometowns or in Lynchburg, they should exercise their right to vote. While here, college students are a part of the Lynchburg community and are impacted by local government and should make their voices heard.

Question Five: Today’s economy requires families to budget tightly. How can the city handle projects such as Heritage High School and the cross town connector in its budget?

As with many families during these economic times, the city needs to find specific ways in which to save money in order to generate the necessary funds for these projects. Careful planning must be implemented in order to minimize cost and ensure these projects are completed on schedule.

Larry Taylor, Ward II

Although a native of Charlottesville, Va., Larry Taylor has lived in Lynchburg for more than two decades. He came to Lynchburg on a construction job and met his wife Ruth, Taylor said. The couple has three children together. Taylor also has three kids from a previous marriage. His children range in age from 17 to 37.

Taylor

Taylor started his own business in 1994 called Larry Taylor Restorations. He has performed work throughout the city, according to his Facebook page.

Taylor decided to run for Lynchburg City Council when several people asked him to represent Ward II, he said.

“The felt their voices weren’t being heard downtown,” Taylor said. “Their concern downtown wasn’t the politics of downtown. They wanted a representative they can talk to.”

Taylor has mentioned that he intends on spending time getting to know the community.

“I will go out and meet with the people at least once every two months,” Taylor said. “I will go out and meet the people so they can voice their concerns to me.”

Question One: What do you see as an important aspect of the relationship between the city and the local colleges?

The colleges are separate entities, but they act in cooperation with the city. The students use the resources of the city, but they also add value to it. Many are employed by local businesses, while also utilizing their goods and services. Students are a great resource for businesses seeking educated or technically-trained interns or employees through traditional schools like Liberty, Lynchburg College and Randolph, or a more vocational school like CVCC. They are also a wonderful source of volunteers for community programs through churches and other nonprofits. The success of the local colleges contributes to the success of the city.

Question Two: What key city projects do you plan to focus on if elected?

I am in favor of the comprehensive city plan for growth, but private investment is the way to truly make it happen. I am running for Ward II where residents have been hit hardest during this economy and the years preceding it. It is the only one of the four wards which lost population (-2.88 percent) between 2000 and 2010. The other wards increased 13.78 percent (Ward I), 15.62 percent (Ward IV), and 35.72 percent (Ward III).

Because of this, I want to cooperate with the Chamber of Commerce to recruit businesses into the city and increase tourism for the city as a whole. This will help jump start our economy from its current zero net job growth. But more needs to be done for Ward II. We desperately need a full service grocery store to provide lower prices for those who earn lower wages or rely on government assistance. Since the closing of the Food Lion on Bedford Avenue, only one major grocery store exists in the ward. It is another Food Lion on Florida Avenue which is not easy to get to for those who do not have access to a vehicle and must rely upon taxis or a long wait for GLTC. It will also attract more small businesses and add jobs within the ward itself.

Question Three: Would you agree to City Manager Kimball Payne’s recommended tax hikes? Why or why not?

I do not agree with the tax hikes. The proposed hikes are very difficult for the citizens of Ward II. A real estate tax hike will be more costly for owners and renters. I am glad to see that the meals tax has been rejected by City Council. The result of such an increase will probably still be debated, but I am sure that it would not have brought more restaurants or customers into the city. Cutting back on budget is the route to go at this time. It is painful, but necessary.

Question Four: Tell a college student why they should or should not vote in Lynchburg.

Voting is a privilege that should not be taken for granted or wasted when the opportunity comes. Students should vote as long as Lynchburg’s ordinances allow students to vote as residents. As long as students are legally registered, they should participate in the local political process in every way available. That includes running for office. I encourage everyone to participate in any way the law allows.

Question Five: Today’s economy requires families to budget tightly. How can the city handle projects such as Heritage High School and the cross town connector in its budget?

I believe Heritage High School should be renovated, but we still need to wait on a proper engineering survey that will give us a better idea of cost. It is not wise to make estimates without the necessary information. The widening of Lakeside Drive (cross town connector) is overdue. But we should remember that much of that traffic is coming from and going into Bedford County—another reason we should not raise taxes and give residents more reasons to head over the county line. The key is to improve the economy while still planning for the projects. We must keep the vision, but we must focus on practical ways to fund it without creating burdens on the citizens.

Ceasor Johnson, Ward II

Ceasor Johnson, current representative of Ward II in Lynchburg, graduated from Alcon State University in Lorman, Miss. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture Economics in 1989, according to lynchburgva.gov. Johnson excelled academically, “as he was he was Senior Class President, a member of the Parade of Personalities and Historian of the Delta Kappa Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.,” according to the website. He was also on the dean’s list for three semesters.

Johnson

Johnson married his wife Rosie in 1988 and moved to Virginia shortly after. During his time in the state, Johnson worked with the U.S.D.A. Soil Conservation Service, where he has served in Warsaw, Staunton and Harrisonburg.

In 1996, Johnson became a licensed pastor. He attended the former Virginia Seminary and College, holding a Master of Religious Education and a Master of Divinity from the institution.
In 2008, he was elected to Lynchburg City Council, representing Ward II.

He is currently the pastor of Spring Hill Baptist Church in Brookneal.

Question One: What do you see as an important aspect of the relationship between the city and the local colleges?

One of the greatest aspects of the relationship between the city and the local colleges is that all of our colleges in the city and beyond enhance the workforce of our community. The businesses, the educational system, the healthcare system and a myriad of other business functions all benefit from the products of our local colleges. The recently-instituted Town and Gown meetings between the city and college presidents should help bolster the relationship even further between the city and the local colleges.

Question Two: What key city projects do you plan to focus on if elected?

As the representative of Ward II, I will continue to encourage and support downtown revitalization and good, sound business development on my Ward. I will continue to support the development along Martin Luther King Boulevard and other areas of egress and ingress. I will also work to encourage another super market to be located in the inner city. Finally, I will continue to support our public education system, public safety system and a responsible tax base.

Question Three: Would you agree to City Manager Kimball Payne’s recommended tax hikes? Why or why not?

Unlike the federal budget, localities must balance their budget each year. When the city manager presents a budget, City Council must sift through it to examine why it is presented in its present form and make whatever adjustments are necessary. With the stress on the city, it appears that a tax increase of some kind is going to be necessary. Citizens who took the time to attend the budget sessions agreed that something would have to be done. I will scrutinize the budget in order to keep the increase as low as possible.

Question Four: Tell a college student why they should or should not vote in Lynchburg.

It is the right of any citizen 18 years and older to vote. I would therefore encourage college students to vote in the locality in which they live. State law has made it clear that college students who domicile in a particular locality may vote in that locality. Those who desire a better community should exercise their vote to help make the community better for all citizens.

Question Five: Today’s economy requires families to budget tightly. How can the city handle projects such as Heritage High School and the cross town connector in its budget?

Just as family budgets are tight, the city budget is tight as well. The citizens committee, which studied the Heritage High School situation, has recommended that a new structure be erected. However, this is not an overnight project, and the city must look at every aspect of cost savings. The city must not build a structure that will present the same problems down the road that are present today. The cross town connector has already been on the Council plate for a number of years. The city and the state are constantly looking at adjustments that are cost-effective.

Jeff Helgeson, Ward III

Councilman Jeff Helgeson first came to Lynchburg, Va. in 1985 to attend Liberty University, graduating with a Bachelors of Science degree in finance. Helgeson also earned his MBA from Liberty in 1990. Later, Helgeson attended American College and earned a Master of Science in Financial Services.

Helgeson

Since moving to Lynchburg, Helgeson has been a staple in the Lynchburg community through his volunteer and civic efforts. He has served in several capacities, including former president of the Lynchburg Jaycees, member of the Lynchburg Planning Commission, chairman of the President’s Advisory Council for the Lynchburg Regional Chamber of Commerce and volunteer with Big Brothers, Big Sisters, according to jeffhelgeson.com.

Helgeson has represented Ward III for Lynchburg City Council since 2004. He said his “philosophy of government” is “fiscally conservative.”

“Fiscal responsibility is an important issue, and I believe we should be sure the city lives within its means,” Helgeson said on his website.

Currently, Helgeson is the Chairman of City Council’s finance committee. He is also the treasurer of the Central Virginia Community Services Board.

Question One: What do you see as an important aspect of the relationship between the city and the local colleges?

Local government should recognize colleges attract students who bring resources with them to the area, without adding much in the way of burden on the tax payers. I came to Lynchburg in 1985 to attend Liberty University. Twenty-seven years later, I am still here providing resources as a business owner, a member of City Council and as a taxpayer. It is great to have an open dialogue and work to build a positive relationship between the city, the local colleges and their students and faculty.

Question Two: What key city projects do you plan to focus on if elected?

City Hall has lost its way over the years. Hard-earned taxpayer dollars are often spent on pet projects that benefit just a few people, while wasting millions of dollars by building unnecessary new school buildings that are only half-full. In my eight years on City Council, I have tried to get council to focus on the necessary aspects of government. I have pushed for a focused effort on dedicating our resources to the public safety and maintaining our infrastructures and roads. These are important to all citizens in the city, not just a few elite.

Question Three: Would you agree to City Manager Kimball Payne’s recommended tax hikes? Why or why not?

Absolutely not! The manager’s proposal “balances” the city’s budget by adding greater burdens on the backs of the taxpayers at a time when taxpayers need relief. That plan would increase taxes on cafeteria food and pizza by 15 percent, homes by 10 percent, and it would add a brand new multi-million dollar stormwater management fee. The entire burden would be transferred to our already overtaxed citizens. The city should reduce spending, just like the citizens and businesses are having to do during these tough economic times.

Question Four: Tell a college student why they should or should not vote in Lynchburg.

I am originally from Minnesota. I moved here to attend Liberty University in the 1980s, earning two business degrees (BS Finance and MBA). I fell in love with the Lynchburg area and decided to live here permanently. Over the last couple of decades, I have worked to make Lynchburg a better place to live, learn, do business and raise a family. During my eight years on City Council, I have worked hard to represent students at Liberty University. I helped defeat a 20 percent increase in the sales tax and pushed successfully to gain better pedestrian access on Wards Road, fought successfully to get a polling place at the Vines center and I have nominated several Liberty graduates and faculty to positions on various boards and agencies at City Hall. Having your vote is a much-appreciated endorsement for all of the work I will continue to do on your behalf as a student at Liberty. Another reason to vote locally is it may have a long-term impact on your own future. When I first came to Liberty, I had no idea that the plans God had for my life involved me staying here in Lynchburg. Since none of us knows what the future holds, make the most of each day. Your vote will certainly impact your time at Liberty University, but it may have an impact on your future in Lynchburg, too.

Question Five: Today’s economy requires families to budget tightly. How can the city handle projects such as Heritage High School and the cross town connector in its budget?

The mid-town connector is a state road, and the funds are already set aside from the state to improve this transportation link. Regarding Heritage High School, the city taxpayers do not have the resources to build a newer high school. The problem is the School Board and City Council decided to build another school that wasn’t needed first, which demonstrated an inability to prioritize. For some reason, government likes to spend enormous sums of money on unnecessary things. Then, they justify tax increases by claiming there isn’t enough money left to pay for necessities. This repeated cycle squeezes the taxpayers more and more each year. I am grateful for the professors at Liberty who taught me about fiscal resourcefulness and responsibility. There are many leaders in all levels of government who would benefit from such wise instruction today.

Turner Perrow, Ward IV

Turner Perrow graduated from Virginia Military Institute in 1996 after attending E.C. Glass High School. Perrow and his wife Holly have one daughter, Caroline. He is currently the vice president at WW Associates of Forest, Va.

Turner

Perrow is running for re-election to Lynchburg City Council to represent Ward IV. According to his website turnerperrow.com, Perrow’s record speaks for itself. Throughout his time serving on City Council, Perrow has “demonstrated a strong fiscal responsibility,” maintains a “balanced perspective” in the development of Lynchburg and has been a “protector of public education and safety.”

Above all, he is an “advocate for practical, sustainable development,” according to the website.

“(I) realize that Lynchburg’s future is also tied to both state and federal governments,” Turner said on his website. “As a result, (I) am frequently in Richmond working with our local delegation on our behalf and have testified in front of Congress.”

Question One: What do you see as an important aspect of the relationship between the city and the local colleges?

The most important aspect of the relationship between the city and its local colleges is the partnership between the two. The city needs to work with the colleges to help them grow and develop the way their Trustees desire. Our city’s colleges are a crucial part of our local economy. They are tremendous employers, their students are assets to our community, and our businesses thrive on the availability of their graduates.

Question Two: What key city projects do you plan to focus on if elected?

We need to assess the city’s most pressing needs in order to prioritize projects and see them through to completion. One example would be the intersection of Timberlake Road and Ward’s Ferry Road. This intersection functions very poorly and creates traffic congestion on both roads. I also tend to favor projects addressing the city’s water and sewer infrastructure. Clean, safe water is a fundamental service, and it is our duty to protect it. Replacing old, broken and clogged lines improves the water quality throughout our city, and I support those projects.

Question Three: Would you agree to City Manager Kimball Payne’s recommended tax hikes? Why or why not?

No. I do not support the City Manager’s proposed tax increases. As a sitting council member, I was able to gain unanimous support for a motion to strike down the proposed meals tax increase. Additionally, I proposed a motion to keep the tax rate flat, which would force the city to spend within its means. Unfortunately, this motion failed 3-4. Our citizens are struggling to make ends meet. The prices are increasing, but wages are not. The city has to make difficult decisions to curb spending and keep our tax rates low.

Question Four: Tell a college student why they should or should not vote in Lynchburg.

College students are vital to our community, and we want all members of our community to express themselves during local elections. It is every citizen’s duty to vote where eligible. Our society is built on the principle of one person, one vote. I hope the students choose to cast their votes in the place where they have chosen to work, live and be educated.

Question Five: Today’s economy requires families to budget tightly. How can the city handle projects such as Heritage High School and the cross town connector in its budget?

These two projects are completely different. The cross town connector is funded entirely by the state and does not require any local dollars. On the other hand, the Heritage High School project will be funded exclusively with local tax dollars. I believe that this project, through proper financial management, can be completed without raising taxes. Last year, I successfully proposed that Council reserve funding for the future school project. This reserve fund can be built upon every year in order to reserve enough money to afford the loan payments on the new school. Simply put, it works the same way as a family setting aside money until they know they can afford to make the payment on the house or car that they want. It is simple, prudent financial planning, and we can complete the project without raising taxes to support it.

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