FRONT ROYAL – The seven Board of Supervisors candidates during a Thursday forum shared their thoughts on how to get the community on the right track and heal after being left in the wake of alleged rampant corruption within the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority.
The candidates include: incumbent Tom Sayre and Walter Mabe in the Shenandoah district; Cheryl Cullers, Robert Hupman and Leslie Matthews in the South River district; Delores Oates and Shae Parker in the North River district.
Asked how to heal wounds from the EDA scandal and ensure that such a disaster never recurs, Matthews said her number one goal is providing citizens exact details of what happened and not just “little pieces.” She said the ordeal has severely damaged Front Royal and she will stand up for what is right.
Oates said the situation calls for new leadership and vision. To heal, she said officials must let people express their opinions, listen and respond. She said those culpable must be identified and accountability will heal the community.
Sayre said the schemes of “some public officials” have resulted in citizens losing faith. He said a “quick fix” is not wise and any guilty parties must be criminally charged because it will be difficult to gain trust “without proper prosecution.”
Parker said there are a lot of pieces to the EDA puzzle, adding that the EDA’s charter must be reviewed and rewritten. He noted that all county books must be examined to ensure “every bit of corruption...is vetted,” even if it cost $2,000 to discover a $50 loss.
Cullers compared corruption to cancer and said every bit must be removed or it may return. She advised against rushed judgments, and to remember “people are innocent until proven guilty.” She encouraged community involvement and for supervisors to listen.
Hupman said all of the county’s books must be examined, not just the EDA’s, by a third party auditor. He added that while he believes in due process, perhaps “we should excuse” some EDA board members” and regain trust.
Mabe said the EDA must be “redeveloped” but not dissolved because it provides vital services to the town. He said having been a project manager, he was “a budget person” and the county’s budget must be examined. He also noted “we need to settle in” and listen to citizens.
Asked how to change the perception that local leaders are out of touch and how to improve communications, Cullers noted that her phone number is on cards she hands out and “I encourage you to call me.” She added that her past employment as a nurse fostered a nurturing quality, which the community needs, “and I look forward to doing that.”
Hupman said he will listen to all citizens, whether or not they live in his district, and he will get answers to any questions while working for solutions. He said transparency is a key solution to the county’s problem, saying “call me anytime” and “I’m here to work for you full time.”
Mabe said he is positive his electoral bid will be successful because “we will communicate because communication is the key.” He said he will institute a quarterly “public meeting” for citizens to speak with supervisors “face to face” because if there is a problem, he wants to know.
Matthews said she will always be available to South River district citizens by phone or email. Upon victory, she said: “I will make it known where I’m at” and citizens can always “stop in.” She said she will reach out to citizens and her main goal is transparency.
Oates said the perception of out-of-touch leaders arose because citizens feel they have no voice and that “there is no dialogue.” She said supervisors sometimes hold 9 a.m. Tuesday meetings, for which she will request a more convenient time. She added that there should be town hall meetings.
Sayre said it is important to restore the trust and that town halls are a great idea, noting there are public comment periods during meetings in which “there has been open dialogue.” He added that he answers all emails and calls and has a constant conversation with citizens.
Parker said leaders should put citizens first. He noted that the supervisors need a “uniform meeting schedule” and to change the structure of meeting agendas so that officials absorb citizens’ opinions before making decisions.
The candidates were also asked if term limits are a good idea.
Oates said the longer a candidate serves, the more opportunity for corruption. Staying around too long, she said, fosters complacency and the failure to ask obvious questions.
Sayre noted term limits for supervisors and EDA board members would be a way for new people to examine issues. He added perhaps elections should be held every two years.
Parker said he supports term limits, that he wants to set policy and make decisions, but that he is "four [years] and done." He said he does not want the job but he is willing to do it, saying: "I have experience, I figured I would offer it up."
Cullers said she supports a two-term limit, and encouraged current politicians to mentor candidates to “get a better sense of what you’re getting into.”
Hupman said a two-term limit is a good idea because one can get “stagnant” after a “tiring” eight years in office.
Mabe said eight years is enough, adding that elections are every four years and “if I’m not doing the job, vote me out.”
Matthews said “in today’s world,” she supports a two-term limit. She added that her grandfather served for 28 years while always doing the right thing and “I’ve got his blood in me...and I will always stand up for what’s right.”