Editor’s note: This is one in a series of question and answer articles about local candidates running for office. The Northern Virginia Daily asked candidates three questions. The unedited responses are below.
Delores Oates is running against Shae Parker for the North River District seat on the Warren County Board of Supervisors. Incumbent Dan Murray is not seeking reelection.
What actions will you take to regain citizens' trust in public officials in the wake of the embezzlement scandal at the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority?
As a citizen of Warren County, my own trust in our public officials has been shaken. It was the primary motivation for my entrance into the election for North River Supervisor. As I have discussed the scandal with members of our community, there are two requests that I heard in every conversation. Our community wants to see justice and a return of the stolen money. They also would like to know who is in charge.
In order to regain the citizens’ trust, it is necessary to aggressively pursue justice in the embezzlement scandal. I will use every avenue available to return tax dollars back to the taxpayers, pushing for the seizure of assets of those found guilty of crimes associated with the embezzlement. Those who have perpetrated crimes need to be punished and taxpayers should not have to bear the brunt of the financial loss.
The people of Warren County work hard and deserve to be represented by someone working in the communities’ best interest. Accountability is key in this relationship, and it requires a regular exchange of information. For this reason, I plan to propose a monthly citizens forum where citizens can ask questions and express concerns. As I have visited with taxpayers, a common theme has been expressed. Our citizens don’t feel as though they have a voice. When they attend the Supervisors meetings or the work sessions, there is no exchange of information. A forum would allow those who wish to be heard, an opportunity to do so.
Voters have grown weary over the finger pointing and lack of accountability in government. It is important that taxpayers understand who is in charge of their funds. To establish trust, an organizational structure must be clearly defined and communicated. There also must be clear processes to oversee those in charge of money. I plan to review those processes to make certain all disbursements of funds are reviewed and approved at multiple levels.
Do you believe that any officials who were in office or employed as the embezzlement scandal unfolded should remain in their positions and why?
I believe that everyone employed or in office during the embezzlement scandal should be given individual consideration. It is unfair to assume because a few used their positions for personal gain, all are guilty. With that said, I firmly believe those who were charged with oversight must be held accountable. The evidence suggests there were multiple red flags, and highly suspicious circumstances that went uninvestigated. It is my intention to follow the chain of command to the top and determine why these suspicious occurrences were not pursued. Our citizens expect government officials, elected or appointed, be held to the same standard as they are. If someone is found derelict in their duties, then appropriate actions must be taken.
Outside of the issues at the EDA, what is the biggest issue facing the community and how will you solve it?
There are two issues outside of the EDA that are critical to the future of our community. The first is the ability to attract companies that provide a diverse set of jobs. Front Royal/Warren County is perfectly situated for commercial development. Our access to I-81 and I-66, along with our Inland Port, provides an ideal location for economic growth, yet it seems our neighboring communities are attracting government agencies and private industry instead. Many of our citizens spend greater than two hours a day commuting to other areas for employment which adversely affects our families.
Commercial development is vital to the future of our County and it needs to be a priority. For this reason, I will work with state and federal representatives to identify incentives to attract federal government agencies and commercial businesses to Warren County. Making out county a place where businesses want to exist is another priority. Current bureaucratic processes or red tape hinders business development. It is important that we examine what processes are in the way and remove them. Modeling the business practices of successful counties should be a way to improve without spending taxpayer dollars.
The second issue vital to our community is education. Warren County Public Schools recently ranked the lowest among all neighboring counties on a credible website that ranks schools. Our kids are the future of our community and preparing them for the work force is essential. I plan to work with educators to determine how we can improve our standing. We are facing many issues, like chronic absenteeism, low test scores, and teacher retention. We can tap into how other school systems address these issues and adopt some of the same tactics the higher performing schools use to overcome challenges.
Warren County is a wonderful community and with visionaries and a plan we can make this community all that it was meant to be!