Lewisburg candidates answer community’s questions at Chamber forum

By Sarah Richardson

On Monday, May 20, the Greater Greenbrier Chamber of Commerce hosted a community forum at the West Virginia State Fairgrounds for Lewisburg City Council and mayoral candidates. The public was invited to attend and submit questions, and the Cecil H. Underwood Building had most tables occupied with interested citizens wanting to hear the stances of local candidates on issues such as Ordinance 254, commonly known as “the bathroom bill”; funding the new water plant; local business development; and more.

On the Citizen’s Party ticket is mayoral candidate Beverly White, Edward Johns and Sarah Elkins both running for open four-year terms on city council, and incumbent Arron Seams running for a two-year term. With the Lewisburg People’s Party is mayoral candidate Mark Carver, Tom Shannon and  Martha Hilton running for four-year council terms, and Joe Taylor running for a two-year term.

The first question asked the mayoral candidates what their plans are to utilize the Lewisburg Foundation during their administration. Both White and Carver had praise for the group, with White saying, “they do a wonderful job,” and that the council is currently very pleased with how well they work together. Carver said they are, “one of the better grantors to locals in the area,” and he wants to work with the foundation to establish common goals and projects in the future.

Next, historic district standards were questioned, and whether the city council candidates support strengthening, relaxing, or leaving the standards as they are. People’s Party candidate Shannon said they need to be met with “a dose of practicality,” and even though he supports maintaining history, “you can’t overburden” the process.

Citizen’s Party candidates Seams and Johns both voiced support for upholding the current standards, with Johns emphasizing, “the city is what it is because it has been protected over the years, and it needs to be protected.” Seams maintained that the current limits help raise the property values in the area, and draw tourists to come to see those specific historical qualities.

Mayoral candidates were then asked, “What is your understanding of how economic development occurs, and what specifically do you believe the role of the city of Lewisburg is in promoting economic development?” Carver responded that, “We need to be more aggressive,” and said, “we need to bring in jobs.” To accomplish that, he said, “we can sell this place.”

White followed by saying that the entities that control economic development in the city are the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation and the Chamber of Commerce. She specified that the city’s job is to provide infrastructure, a safe police department, fire department, and the like. “I can’t just call Red Lobster and ask if they would like to be here, if that was the case we would have had one already,” she joked. She referenced the city’s comprehensive plan, saying that they track the data “to see where our growth should be.”

City council candidates were also asked why Lewisburg needs a new fire station to replace the current Fire Station Number 1 downtown. Citizen’s Party candidate Elkins said the current structure doesn’t provide enough space for the firefighters to work efficiently and safely, stating the building was designed to fit the parameters of older fire trucks. She mentioned that the current council is “close” to finalizing a plan for a new firehouse.

People’s Party candidate Hilton echoed that the age of the firehouse is a concerning factor, since it was built in 1969. As the number of calls they receive has been rising every year, an accessible new building is important.

Council candidates were then asked if, and how, Lewisburg should support artist organizations. Both sides offered resounding support for local artists, saying they help add to the community and bring diversity to the region. Trillium, GVT, and Carnegie Hall were all mentioned by name and recognized for the work they do, with Elkins asserting, “If we don’t have art, we don’t have Lewisburg.”

Mayoral candidates were asked for their stance on Ordinance 264, which was an update to the city code in 2016 that added protections for transgender restroom use. When asked if he would change the ordinance, Carver said, “At this point, I would think that if we went in to try to change an ordinance like that, it would create the chaos that we had when we put it in.” He emphasized, “I’m not saying I’m against the ordinance, but I’m saying division has taken place.” He added that if the community felt strongly about repealing the ordinance and came forward about it, it’s something he would look at. During the last municipal election, which saw a lot of tensions over the ordinance, Carver ran for a city council seat under the Majority Voice Party, which was endorsed by the West Virginia Family Policy Council (WVFPC). The WVFPC, according to their website, is a “Christ-centered organization” and has taken an active stance against transgender protection bills, including the one recently implemented in Beckley.

White responded by saying, “I would not change it for anything,” and said the bill is something she is very proud of. “We have to be respectful of all people,” and added, “I would never do anything to change an ordinance that was put in place to protect all of God’s children.”

Last, but not least, the mayoral candidates were asked how they plan to pay for improvements to the municipal water system. “It’s true that your water rates are going to go up,” said White, “It is a $31.5 million water treatment plant that has to be built. Water is the necessity of life. Do we want to do it? If we didn’t have to, we wouldn’t.” She added that our current plant has to run 22 hours a day, while the new one will only need to run eight, and will have a larger tank capacity and other improvements. “This job should have been done 20 years ago, and we will work with Region 4 and the planning commission,” she said. “We’re asking that you understand we are doing this because we have to.”

Carver added that theses updates have been needed since 2008, and at this point, he wants to work on getting leak rates down. “Under the new system, there’s a lot of things we can do better so we can be more responsible about the water we are producing.”

Check the Mountain Messenger on June 1 for our informational Meet the Candidates page. Election Day is June 11 for the Lewisburg Municipal Election, and early voting begins at City Hall on May 29.