The six candidates in the three contested races for local office in Albemarle County appeared at the Senior Center on Wednesday at a campaign forum sponsored by the Senior Statesmen of Virginia.
“We’re bringing the election down to the local level where it is significant and important for all of us to know what’s going on and to know the people who are in office locally,” said John McCauley, president of the Senior Statesmen of Virginia.
This is the third time Board of Supervisors hopeful John Lowry, a Republican, and incumbent Democrat Liz Palmer have faced off at a campaign forum this election cycle.
“I was chair of the airport board when the new airport was being built and was chair of the economic development authority for 12 years,” Lowry said. “I am running for office because I believe I can better represent the constituents’ interests in the Samuel Miller District.”
Palmer was first elected in 2013, when she defeated incumbent Republican Duane Snow.
“I’m having such a good time and feel we’ve done a good job and I want to continue,” Palmer said. “When I moved here I was struck by the condition of our water infrastructure, which is where our built environment meets the natural environment.”
The county’s Comprehensive Plan designates 5 percent of Albemarle’s 726 square miles as the growth area. Candidates were asked if that should be expanded to spur economic development.
Lowry said the county first needs to fully staff its economic development department following the resignation of its first ever director late last year.
“We don’t have an economic development director,” Lowry said. “I think we should have an economic development real estate manager.”
Palmer said there are plenty of economic development opportunities in the rural areas and so there is no need to expand the growth area.
“What we’re trying to do is leave the rural areas for rural purposes,” Palmer said. “We have wineries and breweries. We have farms that are successful. We are looking now at a project that will process hops from different farms. We have cattle operations. We have all sorts of things in the rural areas.”
Candidates also were asked if they would seek to change the revenue-sharing agreement wherein the county pays the city of Charlottesville a portion of its tax revenues to prevent annexation. The agreement was signed in 1982 and is still in effect despite a moratorium on annexation that remains in place.
Palmer said she would ask the city to begin using the money to pay for infrastructure to address issues at the city-county borders.
“There are a lot of congestion problems in the periphery,” she said.
Lowry said the agreement is a contract that was very poorly written.
“I wish it had been written in with a sunset agreement,” Lowry said. “The only way to break the contract would result in lawsuits.”
Lowry said he would first pursue relief at the General Assembly.
School board races
After about 45 minutes, the event shifted over to the two contested School Board races.
Katrina Callsen and Mary McIntyre met for the first time in a campaign forum in their race to succeed Pam Moynihan for the Rio District’s School Board seat.
“Three important things to know about me is that I care about children, I care about my community and I care about education,” said Callsen, a graduate of Yale University who once served with Teach for America.
“Education is one of the best chances we have to deal with systemic inequities,” she said. “Now is the time to put someone on the board who has a proven track record working with children.”
McIntyre moved with her family to Albemarle County in 2016.
“I’m a teacher and a mom and not a politician, so all of this is new to me,” she said. “I haven’t had a traditional education career but I’ve taught in four other school systems.”
McIntyre said that in her travels she has found universal truths about public education.
“Every child wants to learn but across the country we are struggling to meet the needs of all students,” she said. “We need to address social and economic justices in our community. Until we do that, we are going to continue to have an achievement gap.”
Graham Paige, the incumbent School Board member for the Samuel Miller District, answered questions alongside challenger Julian Waters, a 2017 graduate of Western Albemarle High School.
Paige pointed to two particular accomplishments since he was first elected to fill the seat vacated by Eric Strucko.
“One is the accomplishment of the first phase of renovations at Red Hill Elementary School,” Paige said. “The second is the expansion of foreign language classes in our schools.”
However, he said there is a need to continue making improvements, especially to close the achievement gap.
Waters, who was born in 1999, said he has lived in the county his entire life.
“If there’s one thing I have noticed in our schools it is that change is constant,” Waters said. “As we continue to move forward, it is critical for us to have a perspective on the School Board that has recent experience in the classroom.”
Waters said he wants to expand pre-school education to prepare more students for learning and to make sure all students have transportation access to the county’s academies.
Other questions probed the candidates’ positions on teacher salaries, multiage classrooms, redistricting and the appropriate level of homework.
All candidates for school boards in Virginia run as independents.
Supervisor Diantha McKeel, running as a Democrat, was in attendance at the forum but was not invited to participate because she is unopposed in her race for a second term to represent the Jack Jouett District. Democrat Ned Gallaway also was not invited to participate because he is unopposed in his race to succeed Brad Sheffield, a Democrat who did not seek re-election, in the Rio District.
Kate Acuff, the Jack Jouett representative to the School Board, also is running unopposed.
School Board candidates will meet again at a forum held by the League of Women Voters of the Charlottesville Area at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 19 at the main branch of the Jefferson Madison Regional Library.
Supervisor candidates will meet again at a league forum at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 26 in Lane Auditorium at the Albemarle County Office Building.
TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:
00:45 - Introduction from moderator Terry Cooper
01:50 - Opening statement from Republican challenger John Lowry
04:15 - Opening statement from Democratic incumbent Liz Palmer
07:00 - Question #1: The county's Comprehensive Plan limits its growth area, the area in which economic development may occur. Do you favor or oppose keeping the five percent limit? Would you be willing to swap land within the growth area that is not suited for development because of topographical reasons for other land that is suited for economic development?
12:00 - Question #2: Can light manufacturing bring in revenue that exceeds the cost of county services for it and its employees? If so, what conditions would have to be obtained for that to happen?
15:40 - Question #3: Question about conservation easements
19:10 - Question #4: Question about revenue-sharing
23:30 - Question #5: Question about addressing traffic issues in growth areas
26:30 - Question #6: Question about releasing answers to Together C'ville survey
29:00 - Closing statement from John Lowry
31:20 - Closing statement from Liz Palmer
34:10 - Introduction for School Board candidate forum
36:50 - Opening statement from Katrina Callsen
39:20 - Opening statement from Mary McIntyre
42:00 - Opening statement from Graham Paige
44:50 - Opening statement from Julian Waters
47:10 - Question #1: Teacher compensation
53:10 - Question #2: Multi-age classrooms
58:20 - Question #3: Redistricting
1:05:05: Question #4: Follow-up on redistricting
1:10:45: Question #5: What is your view on how much homework is appropriate?
1:16:40: Question #6: Budgetary question
1:21:45: Question #7: What are your views on charter schools?
1:27:00: Closing statement from Julian Waters
1:28:10: Closing statement from Graham Paige
1:30:15: Closing statement from Mary McIntyre
1:32:00: Closing statement from Katrina Callsen