District 5 candidates speak at forum

Marsha Shruntz

Editor’s note: This is the second part of a forum held for District 5 Board of Supervisors candidates.

STRASBURG – Candidates running for the District 5 seat on the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors squared off  in a forum last week.

District 5 Supervisor Marsha Shruntz seeks a second term on the board. Former supervisor Dennis Morris is challenging Shruntz to return to the district seat. Shruntz is running as an independent while Morris is the Republican Party candidate. Morris and Shruntz appeared at the forum held Thursday at the Toms Brook Volunteer Fire Department hall with several dozen people in the audience.

The Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce organized the event with the Shenandoah County Education Association, the Shenandoah Forum, Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River and the Farm Bureau of Shenandoah County.

Kerry Crawford, a political science teacher at James Madison University, served as moderator and allowed each candidate to give an opening statement before she read questions submitted by audience members before the forum. At times, Crawford had to remind participants they could not ask each other questions. Crawford warned candidates on several occasions that they exceeded their time for responses or rebuttals.

Dennis Morris

Candidates responded to the following questions from Crawford:

In light of the need to work productively with community members of different opinions, what will you do to gain respect of the voters regardless of how you vote?

Morris – With community members? What do you mean by that?

Crawford told Morris she did not write the question.

Morris went on to respond – Well, I’ll tell you what. Just to clarify things I can work with anybody and I voted for nine different boards of supervisors and got voted before we got along well. I think a real key to the board, being effective and respected is you’ve gotta show respect to get respect, whether it’s department heads, whether it’s the citizens you represent, whether it’s the businesses in the community, so I don’t think I can do anything that I’m doing now. I show respect and you know I show the professional courtesy of people that I work with. I’ve worked for a lot of different organizations and I’m very blessed to have had the opportunity to do that. But these organizations expect things from me and I’ve tried to deliver. At the same time you know we have a good rapport, whether it’s People Inc., whether it’s Friends of North Fork, the Alliance for Shelter, my Ruritan Club. So, I mean, I don’t know exactly what the question is but I do work with individuals.

Shruntz – I’m most proud of working with, the past four years, I have a very good working relationship with Jenna French. She’s just been promoted to economic development coordinator and I wish her all the best. I’ve worked with her for four years now and she helped me in the process of getting through the program called Fields of Gold. She helped me get Orndorff’s trout farm involved in the Fields of Gold program and I’m very proud of that. Also working with Ed Carter on VDOT issues. I would say 90 percent of my work with my constituents for the past four years have been VDOT oriented and the whole team, Charlie over at the VDOT shed and Mr. Balderson and Ed Carter. I work very well with them. I have respect for every single department manager and so I’m proud of that. Thank you.

Morris gave a rebuttal – We’ve heard a lot about morale. The elected officials, and I’m talking about the Board of Supervisors particularly, if they know their department heads, know their employees and go by and knock on the door and say hi and get a line of communication going, goes a long ways. There are department heads that have told me that there are supervisors in this room that have never darkened the door of their office in four years.

Do you have any idea as to help diversify our revenue stream in the county?

Shruntz – Well, that is a big question. Would we want to start with economic development? Let’s do that. Mr. Poling is head of the economic, I mean, the IDA and his committee that have been place for a long time. We need to start with some fresh new faces as we transition from the IDA to an EDA with Jenna French heading that up. She’s got a lot of contacts. She knows the business of Shenandoah County with tourism. She’s been the head of tourism all these years and she does a fine job. We need to promote business. We need, we need to promote new business and we need to support our existing businesses. Personally would like to concentrate on our development of the two industrial parks that we have in the county – one being north, one being south of here, Mount Jackson. The comprehensive plan calls for cluster subdivisions in and around our towns because of the utilities available and so we go from there. We need to promote at every chance that we get to develop our, in and around our services. Thank you.

Morris – Apparently my opponent doesn’t have the connect of what public education does or doesn’t do for prospective new industry. The number one question raised when a new industry wants to come into a locality or wants to expand into a locality is what is the school environment. They don’t ask the supervisors. They don’t ask the School Board. They go to existing industries to ask them what is the environment of the school system. What is the environment between the School Board and the Board of Supervisors. Right now, ladies and gentlemen, it’s at the pits and I tell you what, if you’re gonna attract good industry into Shenandoah County, number one we gotta get our ducks in a row and we gotta clean up some things we need to clean up. It’s nice to say you’re going to support existing industry. It’s nice to say that, well, number one, you didn’t even support an economic director during the budget process. You voted against that so that all of a sudden during the election you thought well, that’s a pretty good deal. So, anyway, we need to get our house in order first.

Shruntz gave a rebuttal – Mr. Morris, did you get up at the Reagan-Lincoln Dinner and say that Shenandoah County schools suck? Did you do that?

Crawford told Shruntz she could not ask questions.

Morris – No. I said we had a wonderful educational system. The school system is great, the environment sucks and it does. It’s in poor –

Crawford cut Morris off to go to the next question.

Please describe your view of fire and rescue needs in our county?

Morris – OK. I think we can have the best school system and the best zoning ordinances, the best comp plan. But if we don’t have good public safety and welfare for our county, we’ve lost it all. In the last three years, in 2015, we had 9.5 percent turnover in our Shenandoah County fire and rescue. In 2016, we had a 14.2 percent turnover and, this current year, as of today, it’s 11.9 percent. There again it goes back to morale. You’ve got to be able to connect and be supportive. When I was on the board, they had, it’s called graduation, and when they had six, eight or 10 ladies and gentleman that went through the school system of being a paid staff, they would have graduation for them. I never missed a graduation during my term on the board. That’s one thing that builds the morale between the Board of Supervisors and the county fire and rescue. I’m real proud to say today that I got endorsed by the Shenandoah County career firefighters and you know what, it goes back to when I was on the board and, number one, I went by and visit them. Number two, I went to every graduation they had. Number three, I went and spent a day riding the rescue squad with our fire and rescue personnel. I went to the hospital. I went in a house to watch them put a patient on the bed. I was with them for 12 hours to see what they went through. Those are the things that build morale. Those are the things that fire and rescue need. They like to have some appreciation and maybe a merit pay every now and then. But they need that day-to-day morale.

Shruntz – My opponent, he a talks a good program about fire and rescue and if you would take notice of his statement just now, he never mentioned the volunteers. Volunteer the departments and fire volunteers – he never mentioned them. The paid staff that’s assigned to the fire halls in Shenandoah County, they need to support, we need to support the volunteer system. They are the backbone of all fire and rescue, EMS services and fire and rescue. They’re the backbone of our system and if we don’t promote the volunteer system, we’re in trouble. The restrictions of training for the volunteers that would like be involved in training and become a fireman, they need to be lessened. It’s very restrictive program and we need to do anything and everything that we can to promote volunteerism in our county. And also, of course, we need to support our paid staff and we need management. It’s starts at the top with management, allocating to disburse the paid staff that we have out into the rural areas. They need to be more accountable for allocating the staff into the rural areas of our county, the most western –

Morris provided a rebuttal – When I first got on the board, we had a full volunteer system in Shenandoah County. Right now we have the best volunteers we can ask for but we don’t have enough of them. We’re not the only locality doing that. We have to supplement our volunteers with paid. You didn’t answer her question. But I tell you what, we gave health insurance. We gave $30,000 a year and then $45,000 – They’re scaled. But we were very supportive but we just don’t have enough of the good men and women that we had in years gone by. I don’t have time to elaborate but we just don’t have ’em.

Over the last couple of years, what community-related events have you participated in?

Shruntz – Well, I’ve served on the Tourism Board. I currently sit on the regional, the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission in Front Royal. I just recently went to Sandy Hook Elementary for reading day, citizen reading day to the student and I was in the class, I think it was the second-grade class at Sandy Hook Elementary, and it was for the eclipse and so I read three books for the eclipse. The kids enjoyed that and most of my related, the citizenship efforts are related to my work with VDOT and my constituents in my district.

Morris – How long do I have? I’m very active in Valley Baptist Church. I’ve been there for years but I’m very proud of that. But I’m very involved with People Inc. One project I’m real proud of, the renovation of the Toms Brook School one out here was one of the worst buildings in the county. Now it’s one of the best and nicest so I’m proud of that. I’ve been very blessed being asked to serve on the Alliance for Shelter and, by the way, we’re having our Empty Bowl coming up here the Friday before Thanksgiving. It’s a great way contribute back to your community. I’m on the Friends of the North Fork. Very honored to be that and we’re having our fish fry Saturday evening to raise money so come on out at the Woodstock Moose. I am chairman of the regional planning commission, which it encompasses the northern district here, counties and towns, 14 different jurisdictions. I’m real proud of that and we’ve worked together very closely. Let’s see I’m on the, I’m very active in the Ruritan Club, the Maur-Brook-Olive Ruritan Club. I’m a member of the Farm Bureau. I’ll stop now. I hate to brag.

Shruntz offered rebuttal – I would like to ask my opponent –

Crawford reminded Shruntz she could not ask Morris a question.

Shruntz – I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I would like to relate to constituents here tonight that my opponent sits on the board of People Inc. and I would like to suggest that he tried to pull a scheme with acreage down in Mount Jackson.

Crawford told Shruntz she ran out of time.

Shruntz – Down in Mount Jackson

Crawford again said Shruntz was out of time

Shruntz – and I want to know if he ever paid

Crawford reminded the participants of the need for civility in the forum.