The candidate forum covering the election for three Lewisburg council seats and the city recorder’s position generated an overflow audience, estimated at 175, held at the Greenbrier Valley Theatre on Tuesday evening. Participating in the evening event, presented by the Greater Greenbrier Chamber of Commerce, were incumbents city recorder Shannon Beatty and council member Heather Blake and fellow Citizens Party candidate Kim Moore Dean. The newly formed Majority Voice Party office-seekers included Mark Carver, Dorcas Teubert for council seats, and Allen Petrie, vying for the recorder’s seat. Two other candidates not present were Citizens Party incumbent Mark Etten and Majority Voice Party contender Debra Crites-Sams.
Moderator Mike Kidd stated there were a raft of questions presented at the forum, but said the rules excluded questions asked to a specific person or party, so only five were given to the candidates.
The first four questions dealt with several undisputed infrastructure improvements that all candidates agreed were needed, from parks to sidewalks, from a new water plant to a new fire station, and ways citizens can participate in local government, though the incumbents were more knowledgeable with current city communications and opportunities to access city hall.
It became apparent with the final question there was a departure of views between the two parties when Kidd asked about the non-discrimination ordinance, passed unanimously in 2016 by the Lewisburg City Council. “If elected, would you give your word not to repeal?” he said.
At the time, the “bathroom bill” generated controversy across the country, and the county. Ordinance 254 was approved in February 2016, following a lengthy third reading held at WVSOM’s Alumni Center where more than 500 people aired their differing views to the city council for more than five hours until 1 o’clock in the morning. As the seventh city in West Virginia to do so, Lewisburg stood to protect members of the LBGT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community from housing and workplace discrimination.
Neither Petrie nor Teubert could promise not to repeal the ordinance. Teubert, who had attended the 2016 meeting, said, “It did not make sense” that the city council did not confer together or show consideration for the dissenting voices before passing the ordinance. To mirror Teubert’s remark, Crites-Sams’ written statement included a reference to the night of the ordinance passage as, “Voices were brushed aside and decisions were made ahead of time.”
Mark Carver acknowledged, “That ordinance scared a lot of people and divided the citizens of Lewisburg.” He contended the ordinance “was pushed through,” and said the issue ought to be put to a referendum giving the people a direct vote on the matter. Petrie said, “If the majority wants a referendum, then, if legal, we will get it.”
Beatty, after confirming her promise not to repeal, said that in Lewisburg’s representative government, the council’s job is to vote on issues in the place of the citizenry. She said she believes it is illegal in Lewisburg for the citizenry to vote on referendums. That information was later confirmed by Beatty in a call to the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office, elections division director, who stated “Lewisburg cannot hold a referendum.”
Heather Blake defended her support for the expansion of human rights and promised not to repeal the ordinance. Blake said her decision in that 2016 vote was based on studying factual information, listening to constituents, both for and against, studying other states’ ordinances and querying WVU law consultants’ legal opinions, and, finally, to pray.
Dean, a newcomer to West Virginia since 2014, called Lewisburg an anomaly in a state where youth move away in many other communities, but here, she said, she has found the opposite to be true, inspiring her to serve on the council. She said the five-hour-long 2016 meeting was a remarkable experience in local government in action. She promised not to repeal.
At the close of the forum, in considering the great passion this question has summoned, Kidd said, “Lewisburg might have a more than 12 percent turnout on Election Day, June 13.”