By Peggy Mackenzie
A candidates forum, held at the Greenbrier Valley Theatre (GVT) and presented by the Greater Greenbrier Chamber of Commerce, was a heedful reminder that election time is once again upon us.
Tuesday evening’s Meet the Candidates Forum was moderated by Mike Kidd, President of the C of C, and broadcast on Radio Greenbrier and local TV. It is the first of two forums presented for the public to learn about the political platforms of those running for office in the November elections.
On the dais that evening were two contenders for county commission; Republican Lowell Rose and Democrat Christian Giggenbach; and former Sheriff Jim Childers running for county clerk against incumbent Robin Loudermilk, who was unable to attend the forum. Also not in attendance was County Commission President Karen Lobban who has thrown her hat into the ring as a write-in candidate to retain her seat on the commission. The second forum presentation will cover the Senate and House of Delegates races on Oct. 14.
Kidd read a dozen or so questions previously submitted by audience members pertaining largely to county commission concerns.
Both commission candidates emphasized that balancing the county’s budget and cutting waste within courthouse departments are starting points to what was described as the commission’s “lax internal controls.” Neither advocated cutting salaries, but as Giggenbach stated, “The stark reality is we must tighten our belts.”
Rose said he would make having a contingency plan a priority should he be elected. “Money cannot be doled out continually,” he said.
With credit given to the planning commission, the comprehensive plan was favorably viewed by both candidates as a well developed “living” document covering the needs of the county. Both said it should not be made into an ordinance.
Rose expressed concerns for the lack of infrastructure development within the county in both Districts # 1 and #2 and that funding for water in the western end and extending utilities on the east side are things he would address. Giggenbach urged finding ways to work together as a whole, county-wise, and said he would seek consensus-building avenues, cuts to waste spending, and to resolving the county’s water issues.
Neither brought up the New River College court cases which the commission is currently dealing with, however, they did address it indirectly when asked by Kidd to state what was their top priority, other than overseeing the finances. Both were emphatic that restoring confidence and respect for the commission was their top priority.
“We need to be cheerleaders for the county and to set an example as ambassadors,” Giggenbach said. Both men are life-long residents of the county. Rose, describing himself as financially and fiscally conservative, having been in business for 40 years, stated he knows how to stay within a budget. Giggenbach reported that as a moderate democrat he, too, is fiscally conservative, but said he is focused on fairness, equality and “giving everyone a fair shot.” He said he will work across party lines. Both emphasized that politics has no place in the commission and the business of the county will be their only concern.
Their differences, given the questions posed, were not overly pronounced. Both held that coal severance is dwindling, that local traffic issues will require review, and that arts and tourism create a major economic impact for the county. Questioned about their views on the development of the Marcellus shale, both contenders stated they would support drilling, but with oversight and emphasis on safety. Giggenbach did not support putting drilling waste in the landfill. Rose, however, said he supported safe transportation of drilling waste.
Giggenbach said he would be a full time commissioner and that he believes the county is at a major crossroads point. “We can look to the future or remain in the past,” he said.
Rose spoke to finding funds for processing produce grown in Greenbrier County, one of the most profitable agricultural counties in the state. Processing plants are needed and funding, Rose said, will have to be worked on through the legislature.
Kidd also posed a few questions for Childers, beginning with what changes he would oversee in the clerk’s office.
Childers said there are serious areas which need attention in the county clerk’s office beginning with setting an earlier opening hour. He said all the other courthouse departments open at 8:00 a.m. for the convenience of the public with the exception of the county clerk’s office. It opens at 8:30. Additionally, Childers said he would enhance the department with updating records, generating a friendlier atmosphere, providing additional seating for the public who are waiting for service, and creating a more private setting when meeting with a clerk.
He said his qualifications for the position starts with his familiarity with the courthouse, having served a term as the county’s sheriff. He said he has had considerable supervision training and was experienced with financial challenges and working within a large budget. He professed he would bring a professional attitude to the department.
“I take pride in helping people,” he stated.
At the close of the evening, Kidd announced the second candidate forum will be presented at GVT on Oct. 14 at 5:30 p.m. and will feature the contenders for the House of Delegates – incumbents Ray Canterbury and George “Boogie” Ambler and challengers Courtney Cressman Jesser and Dr. Coy Flowers – and State Senate incumbent Democrat Ron Miller and challenger Republican Duane Zobrist.