Candidate criticizes treatment at forum

A candidate running for the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors claimed he didn’t receive fair treatment at a forum this week.

District 3 Supervisor David Ferguson and challenger Richard Walker participated in a forum held Wednesday by the Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce, the Shenandoah Forum, the Shenandoah County Education Association, the Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River and the Farm Bureau. Ferguson is seeking another term on the Republican Party ticket. Walker is running as an independent.

Ferguson was not available for comment Friday.

Walker said Friday the forum was unfair to him and not non-partisan. Walker noted that Ferguson received more opportunities to rebut his answers or to give the final response before the moderator, George Daugharty, read the next question. At no time did Daugharty ask Walker if he wanted to rebut Ferguson’s answer, Walker recalled.

Organizers sought to keep the forum from turning into a back-and-forth debate between the candidates. However, as Walker recalled, whenever he gave a rebuttal to Ferguson’s answers, the moderator offered Ferguson a chance to give another response.

“In every case, he was permitted to have the last word and that’s not fair and impartial,” Walker said. “Whether that was because of the moderator or whether that was because of the instructions given, I did not feel that it was fair and impartial.”

Cheri Wright, executive director of the chamber, said Friday that she explained the format to Walker before the forum. Daugharty also explained the format at the beginning of the forum, Wright said. She said that at no time were candidates told they could use a rebuttal once during the entire forum. Rather, candidates were told they could give one rebuttal during each question to keep the forum from becoming a “ping pong match,” Wright explained.

The back-and-forth action organizers tried to prevent did happen twice, Wright admitted, adding that she had to intervene during the second instance.

Organizers allowed rebuttals only if a candidate made a “slanderous” comment about an opponent, incorrect statement or needed to provide a clarification, Wright said. During the forum Wednesday, rebuttals were allowed when candidates questioned dollar figures provided by their opponent, Wright added.

“At the end of the night, these forums are supposed to let the voters leave with the correct information,” Wright said.

Wright said the concerns raised by Walker about the amount of times a candidate can give rebuttal would not prompt any changes to the forums scheduled for Tuesday and Thursday. Wright said Walker realized early on that candidates could give a rebuttal during each question.

Walker said he felt good about his performance after watching a video he recorded of the forum.

“I did feel I was able to get my points across,” Walker said. “But I felt, in a lot of instances after I made those points, instead of letting it sit, it was like OK now do you want to say that’s not true.”

Wright said “I did not think it was overly biased one way or the other.”

“I thought they were both able to talk,” Wright said. “And I understand that Mr. Walker feels he didn’t get his whole point across … Mr. Ferguson called me the next day and though he was happy with the forum he, too, didn’t feel he was able to get his whole point across.”

Seth Coffman, chairman of the Shenandoah Forum, states in an email sent to Walker: “Please know that Shenandoah Forum sincerely regrets any miscommunication, and we are taking steps with the other sponsoring organizations to ensure that the guidelines are well understood by the moderator and the candidates before the next two forums. We will be communicating with representatives of the sponsoring organizations to discuss your concerns and will get back to you as soon as we have done so.”

In an email to Walker, Wright states that Daugharty “was an excellent moderator. He was very fair and was just interested in making sure the facts reached the voter.” Wright added that she thought Walker “did an excellent job and am surprised by his comments.”

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com