By: Terry Harris | Email: Click Here
Posted: November 12, 2019 | 3:00 p.m.
SUSSEX – The potential for significant change may be on the horizon for Sussex County following the November 5 election, based on voter turnout and statements made by several victors.
County General Registrar Bill Jenkins reported that the overall voter turnout was “pretty darn good,” adding that, while the voter turnout was not as great as for presidential elections, participation was considerably higher than is typical for local Sussex County elections.
“There were a lot of signs, a lot of participation,” Jenkins said. “I could tell it was an active campaign and a couple of districts had heavy absentee turnout.”
In all, there were four active campaigns for seats on the Board of Supervisors in this election. Chairman Susan Seward and Board Member Rufus Tyler were unopposed, and of the other four current board members, the only incumbent to retain his seat after a contested race was Supervisor Eric Fly.
Sixteen-year BOS member Fly defeated challenger Daryl S. Boykins by winning 62.7% of the votes. When reached for comment following the election, Fly had several things to say.
“I am grateful for those who supported our campaign, and grateful to win reelection,” he said. “I think the citizens of Sussex County sent a clear message that they want the county to go in a different direction and it’s time to break the cycle of poverty in this county that’s had a grip on us for 50 years. And the way we’re going to do that is to change the economy in Sussex County in such a way that we can attract high tech data centers and content distribution centers which bring lots of jobs and lots of tax revenue, but don’t change the rural nature of the community. One thing which I’ve learned over and over again is that in our county, people like living in the country. They’ve been able to hunt and fish and camp and they don’t want us to look like Petersburg. So these high tech data centers that are really into Virginia are the perfect thing for us. We just have to change our economy – our tax codes – make ourselves more attractive, and I think that’s what this election was all about. Because up to this point we did not have the votes to do that. All we had was what I call a poverty broker environment where a few individuals in the county are letting our people stay poor and they want to keep them poor. What we’ve heard over and over and over again when people are voting is they clearly want a new administration in the county; they don’t feel like the administration is responding to the people. They don’t feel like it’s an efficient administration that runs the government efficiently and think that too many things go on and on and on answered. When citizens hear about $10 million county administration buildings while they let the old courthouse fall to the ground they get very upset. So I think two things that were very, very prominent in this election were that they want the Sussex economy to go in a different direction and they want new administration – new leadership. So we will start working on that in January.”
“One thing that I was very disappointed in during this election,” Fly continued, “is that for the first time we saw a lot of the ministers in the county get involved in the political arena, pushing certain candidates, speaking from the pulpit about which candidate you should vote for, calling other candidates very derogatory negative comments. I had a preacher call me the white devil from his pulpit, and he told his flock that they should vote against me. I was very disappointed to see so many ministers get involved – especially in Waverly – as they did in the election. I think that’s a dangerous trend. I’m just disappointed that the pastors’ coalition, instead of acting like pastors, became a political action committee. I think when your ministers creep over into the political arena they have done us a big disservice. We need our ministers to minister to the flock and keep the spirituality high, to keep them uplifted, to uplift the hands of the poor and help them. And when they wade into the politics then they become a political entity. For the pastor coalition to have gotten as involved as they have in certain campaigns, they have become a political group and the county will not and cannot donate to political action groups, and that’s what these ministers that got involved in the politics became – political action committees. We will not donate to political action committees. The pastor coalition that has come to the board several times about what they want to do for the county, I believe they just shot themselves in the foot, because it is clear that they are political entity and not a religious entity, and therefore I do not plan to ever vote for anything they bring to us ever again.”
New Board Member Debbie Parham Jones (Stony Creek District) who will take over the seat currently held by Board Vice-chair Keith Blowe after defeating him by a margin of 53.95% to 45.52%, said that she was very excited and happy about the results of the election, and listed some goals going forward when she takes office in January.
“I’m eager to begin working with citizens of Sussex county in an effort to improve our community,” Jones said. “From what I’ve learned while campaigning, listening to ideas from the citizens – one thing definitely sticking in my mind is trying to get some type of grocery store. It doesn’t have to be big, just something small that will supply the foods they need so they won’t have to depend on other localities to go to for meats and vegetables. Any type of resource that’s beneficial to our community – like we once had a laundromat and some have expressed to me that that is something they would like to see again. Things like that, I’m interested in getting into the community. I really want to work with the people and get their thoughts and ideas on what would make living better for them.”
Rising board member Wayne Jones (Wakefield District), who defeated John A. Stringfield with 55.54% of the vote, said “I feel great about the win. I was looking forward to it because I’ve wanted to see this county move forward. I put a lot of pressure on myself to make it happen. I’m a no-nonsense guy – don’t need my name to be in the spotlight. I’m just happy working in the background to get things done for the citizens.”
“My first goal,” he continued, “is I hope this board can come together for the common goal of serving the county and people of the county for better in things like improvement in tax breaks for the elderly, better budgets for first responders and the sheriff’s department, and bringing something into the county for youth. I want to see us getting along so we can all agree and work together to bring good things about for the good of the people of the county. I don’t think personal agendas will make it for this board, like the previous one. With the board members we have now, hopefully, we can stand together on common ground and move this county forward. We need economic growth. We need some industries in this county – so that’s one of the things at the top of my list also. We have to take care of our citizens first and foremost, but at the same time improve the infrastructure to make people want to come here and live here.”
Upcoming board member Marian D. Johnson (Waverly District), who defeated incumbent A.G. Futrell, with 56.7 % of the votes, said, “I feel very good about the win. I thank God for the victory and the people that voted for me and those that couldn’t vote for me but encouraged and something me all the way. I’m looking forward to working with the board. It’s the first time serving on Board of Supervisors for me, and I’m looking forward to learning everything I can, getting the education I need, working with the other board members to move forward as a team member to do everything we can to use the resources we have, to bringing businesses to the county.”
One thing that will not change was the lack of a county-wide Meals Tax, as nearly 60% of voters rejected the proposed levy of a county tax on prepared food by 58.6%.
Following the meals tax proposal’s defeat, vice-chair Blowe, who introduced and was a leading proponent for the tax, said, “Obviously I was disappointed, but at the same time the voters have spoken this go around. It doesn’t help when you have a low voter turnout and that certainly, I think, was an issue across the county. But, again, there’s another group of people that if you just say the word ‘tax’ they start thinking dirty things. But sometimes taxes are important. That’s what you use to improve the community. That’s certainly what the effort was, but yes, I was disappointed. But at the same time, the voters that voted, spoke, and hopefully in the future if it comes up again we’ll have more voters that vote, and I will support the measure again. It’s difficult for me to understand why voters vote against their own interest, and I believe this certainly was against their own interest.”
Rex Davis, owner of several travel centers in Southside Virginia, including one along Interstate 95 in Sussex, and vocal opponent of the proposed meals tax, said that he was pleased with the outcome of Tuesday’s referendum vote.
“I don’t want to rub people’s noses in it from the other side,” he said. “I’m just happy with the result.”
Davis continued, “ I do think it bears noting that three out of the four supervisors that supported the meals tax were defeated and lost their bid for reelection,” referring to Blowe, Stringfield, and Futrell’s defeats last week. Throughout the course of the meals tax proposals, the three expressed their support for the implementation of the tax.
“And I do think [there are] different ways to accomplish what we’re all trying to accomplish,” Davis explained. “I’m just coming at it from a business approach rather than just a ‘Let’s raise taxes!’ approach. The world is passing us by while we are over here fighting over stuff that we should not be fighting over. We’ve got to grow our way to prosperity, we cannot tax our way to prosperity. The idea that revenue only comes from new taxes is categorically false, and it needs to change. With this new board, I think we can make that change. I think they will work together and build our credibility once more and Sussex County will be open for business. This is a win for all of us. I’m very hopeful for this county.”
Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing
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