CHAPMANVILLE - Candidates running for Chapmanville mayor and Town Council on Friday got the chance to let voters know why they are the best choice for office at a candidate forum held inside the Tracy Vickers Community Center.
Moderated by Phillip Williamson and streamed live to his Chapmanville Town Council Meetings - Nonofficial Facebook page, the forum sought to better inform residents of where their local municipal candidates stand on issues facing the town. Five candidates for mayor - Estel Murray, Dean "Doc" Williams, Elbert Vance, Tommy Kirk and incumbent Raamie Barker - and five candidates for Town Council - incumbent Sadie Ann Christian, Ronald (Joey) Wilson, incumbent Ben DesRocher, Joel McNeely and incumbent Robin Adams Mutters - were in attendance.
One mayoral candidate, Roger L. Meade, was not in attendance and five candidates for council - incumbent Gary D. Neil, Tony "Psycho" Robison, Gary Bledsoe, Cody Perry and Paul Watts - were not in attendance.
The forum was split into two sections, with the first hour for mayoral candidates and the second hour for council candidates. Each individual was allowed to give an opening statement and each was then allowed to give a timed response to questions submitted by residents in advance. At the conclusion of each, the candidates were allowed a 30-second closing statement.
The first question asked was what the candidates thought the biggest problem facing the town is and how they plan to help resolve it. Every candidate agreed that the drug epidemic is the biggest problem, with other issues like finances and infrastructure being major as well.
Barker said combating the drug problem requires keeping repeat offenders out of town and providing better educational and recreational opportunities for the younger generation. Williams said the town needs to work on getting the community more involved in betterment efforts, while Vance said the town needs to prioritize saving money. Kirk called for getting children more involved to prevent them from getting into bad things later in life.
Candidates were then asked what they feel the biggest responsibility of mayor is.
Vance and Kirk both said it's to take care of the people and businesses in the town, while Murray said it's to gather all the concerns of residents and businesses and bring them before the council to discuss. Barker said the answer is laid out in the town's code - that the first responsibility of mayor is that the operation of municipal government complies with the law. Williams said it's to oversee everything and stay in contact with every facet of town, including residents, police, fire and more.
The next question was what the candidates would do with a surplus revenue fund. The general consensus was that extra revenue should be spent on infrastructure improvements such as sewer and waterlines, drainage systems and contacting the West Virginia Department of Transportation to fix roads, which Williams said has "neglected" the town of Chapmanville for years.
Murray said he would like to see some surplus money be put back into the Tracy Vickers fund, which he said was "squandered away." Kirk said he would like to buy a sweeper truck to run in the evenings to help with the litter issue and once again emphasized getting children more involved by investing in activities for them to do.
The last question the mayoral candidates were asked is why they're running and what their vision for the town is.
Vance said he is running to improve the town and that he'd like to give citizens more to do, such as having a bowling alley or skating rink in town. Murray said he decided to run because he loves Chapmanville and wants to be active and find out what the needs of residents and businesses are.
Kirk said he is running for mayor because he wants to help the town and make it cleaner by preventing littering and passing a requirement to keep grass cut. Williams had a similar tone, saying he'd like to make the town's properties clean and respectful and continue some of the successes of current mayor Barker's leadership. Barker himself said he is running to continue work that has gotten underway during his time as mayor, remarking that he "doesn't have much time left in this life" and has "more Saturdays behind" him than ahead.
During the council forum, candidates in attendance were asked similar questions, including what their top goals and priorities for the town are, what the biggest problem to solve is, what other revenue sources are available aside from businesses, how to utilize resources without acquiring debt and whether they'd support a change in rules regarding seat vacancies.
DesRocher brought up annexing Airport Road and expanding the Hatfield-McCoy Trail as one of the town's top priorities, and both were unanimously agreed upon by the others. McNeely said he would like to see the old East Chapmanville Grade School property somehow awarded to the town; Wilson agreed.
Christian said the town needs more activities for young people and tourists. Mutters said maintenance and infrastructure hold top priority.
On the question of whether a seat vacancy should be awarded to the next highest vote-getter in the previous election, all but one candidate said the answer is "tough." Most agreed that a seat should be given to the most qualified person, which may not necessarily be the next top vote-getter. Only McNeely affirmed that the next vote-getter should get the seat.
When asked what the town's biggest problem is and how to solve it, drugs were a hot topic once again. Wilson said the town is missing out on numerous potential grants and agreed with an earlier point made by McNeely that a grant writer should be hired. McNeely said the biggest issue is vacant properties that need to be cleaned up, which he later added would attract more revenue if they are cleaned up because businesses and residents would be more attracted to the town.
Mutters proposed the idea of holding more festivals and assessing other towns' successes for other sources of revenue. DesRocher said annexation of Airport Road would bring in more B&O tax collection, and grants need to be looked into. Wilson said cabins can be built on cleaned-up properties.
Most agreed that the town is doing a good job currently when asked how to utilize current resources without debt adding up. Wilson said not to waste money and save it for an emergency "nest egg." McNeely said the town should hire one or two more maintenance personnel.
To watch the entire forum, visit Chapmanville Town Council Meetings - Nonofficial on Facebook.
The election will be held Tuesday, June 11, at the old Town Hall/physical therapy building by the police station. Early voting begins May 29 and runs through June 8.
Dylan Vidovich is a news reporter for HD Media. Contact him by phone at 304-896-5196 or follow him on Twitter @DVidovichLB.