Elkins residents gathered Tuesday at the Elkins High School Auditorium to meet and greet candidates in contested races in the Elkins City Election set for March 5.
Candidates were introduced by The Inter-Mountain Publisher/General Manager Heather Goodwin Henline, followed by a five-minute introduction by each candidate. Questions submitted by members of the community and The Inter-Mountain staff allowed each candidate to share their stance on issues important to Elkins residents.
Charles Kinnison, incumbent for City Council in 1st Ward, thanked those attending the forum.
“It is important for you to be involved in your local government,” Kinnison said. “I have worked with a strong council and want to see work continue. I am looking forward to the future. It is a privilege and an honor to hold a council seat.”
Lonnie Randall is challenging Kinnison for the 1st Ward council seat.
“I am just an ordinary, average citizen – I am not a politician,” Randall said. “But I want to work for this city. There has been lots done, but there is still lots that need to be done.
“I am not blowing my own horn, but blowing the horn for the 1st Ward citizens. I do not see a lot happening with our downtown area, and I want to get ideas together to help move Elkins forward.”
Kinnison and Randall were asked to outline the three greatest issues facing 1st Ward. Kinnison said the first issue would be drugs.
“We need to focus on drug use in Elkins and all of West Virginia, and the focus needs to be the symptoms, not the disease,” Kinnison said. “Our jails are overrun and we need to focus on the cause rather than the effect. If we cut off the supply, it won’t cut off the demand. If we cut off the demand, they won’t need a supply.”
“Second, we need to make a long term plan to make Elkins a great place to live. Third is recycling – an item I have not done a lot of research on. I believe we need to look into electronics recycling.”
Randall said his top issue is the city’s proposed water treatment plant.
“I think we need to get the water treatment plant going,” Randall said. “The money is there, but the ground has not been (broken). Let’s get it going because our current water treatment plant is old and needs replaced. We need water.
“The drug problem is too large for such a small town. Every day you read about pills and meth. We are trying to add to our police force. (Elkins Police Chief) Rob (White) is doing a good job, and now we have a drug dog.”
Randall said local resident Kathy Vance is trying to organize a drug task force and he would like to see the city and county get behind her.
“I also think we need to work hard and talk to department heads,” Randall said. “When we ask them a question, we need to get an answer and go back to them if you don’t get an answer. We need to have more follow-through to assure things get done.”
Candidates for 4th Ward City Council are incumbent Nanci Bross-Fregonara and Hollis Vance.
Bross-Fregonara said city council members work hard and they have the best intentions for the city.
“I enjoy working with the Randolph County Development Authority and the Randolph County Commission,” Bross-Fregonara said. “We can do great work when we work together in parallel directions. We need to make sure there is enough here to keep families from moving away. We want to have a vibrant downtown. We are a unique community and we need to attract more businesses.”
Bross-Fregonara said she has tenacity and doesn’t take no for an answer.
“Just because something did not work before does not mean that it cannot work now,” she said. “If someone says we cannot have an ice skating rink, I want to know why. I will go down all roads to see why.”
Vance thanked everyone for coming out and showing their support.
“My goal is to help the city improve,” Vance said. “With the economy like it is we must work in a budget. I have a background in business, having owned my own companies.”
Bross-Fregonara and Vance were asked to outline the three greatest issues facing 4th Ward.
Bross-Fregonara said she thinks the business climate in Elkins needs to be improved.
“We need to work to bring together the Chamber of Commerce, the county commission and the Randolph County Development Authority and find ways to work together,” she said. “I think we need to utilize the property behind the City Building and the 11th Street Sanitation garage. Websites have bits of information on one or two sites, and we need a small business administration that would expand and make the environment attractive for new businesses.”
Bross-Fregonara said new businesses are not necessarily competition for existing businesses.
“When there are more businesses they help one another,” she said.
Vance said the city needs to continue to improve and maintain.
“I think we need to have free parking downtown to attract shoppers,” he said. “We have hotels and motels and a couple of theaters. I think we need to promote our railyard.”
Van Broughton, Mark Scott and incumbent Duke Talbott are competing for the mayor’s seat.
Broughton said he brings the experience of serving under four different mayors to the table.
“In this campaign I have knocked on more than 1,100 doors and I have talked with and listened to the residents’ concerns,” Broughton said. “I want to bring more activities for the young folks. The water plant should begin construction by the end of summer. We have purchased Glendale Park and have added a skate park and are building new bathrooms. I have seen lots of positives.”
Broughton said it is not about “I” but about “we” working together.
Talbott said the city has made some significant changes over the years.
“Mayor (Judy) Guye worked on the sewer and water and we are waiting for an approval from Charleston before we break ground and move ahead,” Talbott said. “We found a funding package with a lower interest rate which will have a net savings of $14.5 million. We are making early payments and getting discounts for those payments, and have no late fees. Our budget is balanced and we are in the black.”
Talbott said there have also been major changes in the Elkins City Police Force.
“It costs $40,000 to train an officer, and we had a problem with officers leaving for other agencies once they were trained,” he said. “Since the changes were put into place, we have not had an officer leave for another department in four years.
“Substance abuse is a great challenge,” Talbott said. “We now have a drug dog and a drug enforcement officer. We need to work together with those suffering any addictions to get them back into a productive lifestyle.”
Scott said he considers it a privilege to live in Elkins and raise his family.
“We need to have a plan,” Scott said. “We have problems with homes and rental properties in the area and new businesses are not coming here. I know we cannot tear down the 25 to 30 homes that need to be demolished, but we can do it one at a time.”
Scott said since the town’s landfill closed, the city of Elkins has in effect become the landfill.
“Since we removed free trash days, residents are dumping trash all over the city,” he said. “I want Elkins to be the envy of West Virginia and to do that we need to look to other cities to change the way we do things.”
All candidates agreed the old National Guard Armory building could be converted to include usable space for activities in the community.
“I would like to consider using the facility as an indoor soccer or indoor athletic space with conference rooms,” Bross-Fregonara said.
Randall said he thought it would be a good space for elimination dinners or a roller skating rink.
Broughton said it may work if all civic organizations came together and it was used for seminars, youth and conventions.
“We also have to consider the green space, parking and classroom possibilities,” Broughton said.
Kinnison agreed, saying it would only be feasible if many organizations came together.
“And these would have to be revenue-generating uses,” Kinnison said. “It might also serve as an emergency shelter in time of need.”
Scott said that if there were partnerships to use the facility, they would have to be agreed upon ahead of time.
“We would have to assure the city would not be dumped on and all entities would have to be responsible,” Scott said. “I would love to see it used.”
Talbott cautioned the need for much additional information before making decisions about using the building.
“Right now it is very much up in the air,” Talbott said. “It has lots of potential for good, but we need more information.”
Vance agreed that the use of the armory would have to be a money-making entity to get back the money put into the building.
The candidates discussed 911 mapping and took questions from audience members.
Henline thanked the candidates and audience members for their participation.
“We covered lots of interesting and informative topics,” Henline said. “Come out and vote. Your voice does count.”
The municipal forum will be televised at 7 p.m. Tuesday on WETV Channel 3.