BUCKHANNON — The Buckhannon Upshur Retail Merchants Association (BURMA) hosted a candidate forum co-sponsored by The Record Delta on Wednesday April 20 at 6 p.m. The event was held at the Bicentennial Inn for both City Council and Board of Education candidates.
The forum opened its doors at 5:30 p.m. with questions until the start of the forum. At 6 p.m. BURMA member Jerry Henderson started the evening with introductions and passed the attention to moderator Colonel Robert J. Kincaid Sr. for rule review. Rules included that responses would be limited to a two-minute maximum with no reserve for time not used, no rebuttals, stay on subject and no character assassinations. In addition, it was noted that questions may be open to the entire panel or directed to a specific candidate. The forum would end with each candidate getting to speak a two-minute-long summary.
Following the Pledge of Allegiance and prayer, City Council candidates were first, with five of them present. Those in attendance included Laura Foulks, David McCauley, Sheila Sines, Dave Thomas and Jim Valenson. All candidates were very vocal with the exception of Foulks, who remained more reserved during the forum in regard to questions directed to the panel of candidates. Foulks did have to respond to questions directed to her, specifically one that asked, “It is public knowledge that you are suing the city and have organized or been involved in several protests outside City Hall during council meetings until you filed for office. How would you remain objective and have a positive working relationship with fellow councilmembers and city officials with an ongoing lawsuit against them?” Foulks replied, “Well, I don’t have any individual issues with the people that I would be working with and I can’t really talk about my lawsuit.”
All candidates for City Council seemed to share the sentiment regarding the ongoing drug epidemic. Sines reported in one of her comments, “We need preventative care, not just aftercare.” Thomas brought up the Opioid Litigation Trial and Settlement and addressed the need to discuss and plan where those funds will go.
Valenson addressed a question regarding budgeting and planning. He expanded on this stating, “What is the plan, what is the long-term plan? What is it going to be? We have to plan five years from now, 10 years from now, 15 years from now. What do we want to leave behind for our children and our grandchildren? We can’t do it without a plan. Have a budget without a plan? Budget, what are we budgeting for? If the plan is in place, then we already know how much money we need. I am for short-term and long-term planning.”
Another question presented to the panel involved the subject of eminent domain. Eminent domain refers to the process by which the government may seize private property with proper compensation, but without the owner’s consent. Sines was the first to answer the question stating, “I wholeheartedly disagree with eminent domain. I believe that people work very hard. I can see putting rules and regulations if there are safety issues as we can’t allow building to be a hazard to the community. But eminent domain is just a whole different level for me and I do not agree with it at all.”
McCauley then responded saying, “Eminent domain has been a part of our constitution since it was ratified in 1788. It is right in the constitution and there is a school of philosophy known as utilitarianism particularly in politics in which people have to look at the greater good. For example, let’s say there is a property by the courthouse, hospital, sewer plant, or school and we need to expand for some reason. And we’ve got someone and offer appraised value and then some and they have this notion that there are bottomless tills of money with local government which there isn’t that they’re going to hold somebody over the barrel because somebody else wants to buy it. We’ve been involved in eminent domain cases in this community where the property was up for sale and after an offer had been made they declined the accept that price and that is wrong. Eminent domain is an important part and function of our constitution and I think there are certain cases which eminent domain is called for.”
Following a brief intermission, it was time for the Upshur County Board of Education Candidates to take their seats. Most views were shared amongst the candidates, including the fact that Upshur County does need a new middle school. However, many candidates acknowledged that timing of the $49 million bond was an issue. Candidates spoke of the fact that the community had just come out of a pandemic and with rising economic costs, other options have to be considered.
Tom O’Neill summarized, “We absolutely need a new middle school but that can’t happen until there is a reestablishment of trust between the community and the board itself.”
“We just came through a pandemic. People lost their jobs and have struggled to keep food on the table and the lights on in their home. Do we need a new middle school? Yes, but do we need something like that right now? Taxpayers can’t afford that and why did a board approve for this to happen? Why put that burden on our community at this point in time?” Sherry Dean said.
Candidates commented on current issues of bullying and reports of students afraid of going to the bathroom in school. Some suggestions among the candidates were to look further in the Pro Officer program and implement stations for teachers to overlook. Other candidates noted that teachers are already overworked and that tacking on additional duties may be troublesome.
Another topic discussed was critical race theory. According to discovery.org, “Critical Race Theory (CRT), a relatively young legal theory that has been circulating in legal academic circles since the 1980s, suddenly burst on the scene of public consciousness in the past year. It continues to be a topic of controversy due to its being advocated for inclusion in K-12 instruction. As with other subjects that become political footballs, CRT elicits very strong views — especially among those with minimal understanding of the theory. Unless a person has taken the time to earnestly read source materials from CRT’s original authors, it is all too easy to fall into one camp or the other — while still remaining in the dark about its meaning.” Candidates shared the sentiment that history should be taught how it occurred without bringing in political views. History cannot be changed but can be learned from.
The video of the forum can be seen by visiting Channel 3 on Facebook or YouTube. The video is titled “Meet The Candidates April 20, 2022.”