Meet the City Council Candidates

Brent Finnegan -- October 7th, 2008

A while back, we asked readers to help us formulate questions for Harrisonburg City Council candidates to answer. We compiled them, divided them into categories, and emailed all the candidates the first two questions about their qualifications. This is the first of many. We’ll be emailing candidates questions and posting answers periodically throughout the month of October. All responses received by deadline are listed unedited, in the order in which they were received.

What qualifies you to serve on city council?

Roger Baker: My education was in history and government at the Bachelors level and a Masters of Public Administrtion. I have over 30 years of public service experience with 21 of those in Harrisonburg, the last 7 as City Manager.
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Charles Chenault: First of all, I begin with the premise that all of the candidates are qualified to serve on city council. What sets me apart? I have spent my entire adult life working in areas related to local government, especially in the areas of municipal planning and infrastructure development. I will soon recently complete four and one-half (4 ½) years on city council. I believe my service can been characterized as non-political, collegial and without any allegiance to special interest groups. Recreation is very important to me, and I have served for over twelve (12) years on the City Recreation Commission. I know this city and its people like the back of my hand because I spend so much time in each and every neighborhood through my cycling and community contacts. Again, finally, there are my striking good looks and professional singing abilities which show that you better have a sense of humor to succeed in the job.
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Tracy Evans: First, I grew up in this community and watched my dad grow a professional business in the city. Second, as a partner at Eldridge Elledge & Harding PLC, I am a small business owner in our city, and understand the issues that face our small business owners. Third, I feel that my career as an attorney has taught me how to analyze difficult problems and find creative and unique solutions. Finally, at 32, I’m relatively young, and I feel that my youth will bring a fresh perspective to city council and help guide our city into the new millennium. I’ve had the opportunity to observe other municipal governments in action and have seen what they have to offer.
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Richard Baugh: The typical answer to a question like this is to start reciting from your resume. For anyone who is interested, this information can be found at my campaign website, richardbaugh.com. Click on “About Richard.” You will see that I am and have been involved in the community, including holding various leadership positions.

A better way to get at the heart of this question is to ask why I am running. As a member of the Planning Commission for almost 5 years, I have consistently voted against proposals that were at odds with our plan for growth and development, especially when the developer made no case that the development serves the larger needs of the community. This has meant often being on the losing side of votes, as well as watching these proposals ultimately get approved by City Council.

The thing is, I have no ax to grind on this issue other than just trying to make decisions that are best for Harrisonburg. I study my materials, talk to people and try to do what I can to help us make decisions that will let us be the kind of place most of us want.

As I said, this kind of thinking has put me on the losing side of a lot of votes. If I am right that the voters want different decisions from its Council, guided by different principles, then THAT’S what qualifies me to serve on Council. I want to help us have the kind of city WE want. Not the kind of place that a handful of well-connected individuals want. Moreover, these are not just positions I took once I became a candidate. They are positions I have been taking on Planning Commission for almost 5 years.

The pillars of my campaign are 1) my positions on growth and development that I have already outlined, 2) the broader need for more open government, to solicit citizen input BEFORE decisions are made and to end the “done deal” mentality, and 3) putting the community first in making all decisions, not the opinions of my friends or those who just happen to have my ear. If you agree with me that these are the fundamentals for helping us get better representation by our Council, then again, THAT’s what qualifies me to serve.

And if you disagree with me that these are the key fundamentals, then I have good news for you. The field of candidates gives you plenty of people who will give you the same old decisions, made the same old way, looking out for the same old interests.
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Rodney Eagle: My experience on City Council, 8 plus years. I have never missed a meeting. Knowing the citizens of Harrisonburg, and to be all inclusive, being able to listen to everyone’s point of view, not necessarily agreeing with everyone but at least listening. I always vote for and encourage what I feel is in the best interest for the City of Harrisonburg. I am very accessible to all 24-7. I have the strength, time and enthusiasm to continue my work on City Council.

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Kai Degner: I joined the race for city council with three objectives in mind:

• To offer proactive leadership in increasing public participation while developing solutions for Harrisonburg’s opportunities and challenges
• To offer proactive leadership in issues such as smart growth, public transportation, and energy efficiency
• To offer representation of a part of the community not currently represented on council, like the young professional crowd

I feel my main qualifications are these:

• I have direct experience in a number of areas that relate to city council’s work.
– I sit on the Board of Zoning Appeals for Harrisonburg.
– I have worked with city officials and staff in my role as Executive Director of the Arts Council.
– I have two degrees from JMU (Integrated Science and Technology and a Masters in Business Administration). JMU’s new engineering and ISAT program will continue to be relevant as SRI develops, and I believe we need city council members who not only understand the opportunity of a growing knowledge economy but can actually relate to leaders in the field.
• I am knowledgeable about and connected with a community of people successfully implementing meaningful public participation processes throughout the country. In fact, I just returned from the National Conference on Dialogue and Deliberation where 400 people were discussing this very topic. For cynics, I attended a session outlining a National Academy of Sciences report that shows tangible benefits to effective public participation.
• I am an active listener, and have a knack for synthesizing input from various sources to develop thoughtful solutions.
• I am a generalist who looks at the big picture, and I’m interested in a range of topics.
• Sometimes what’s NOT there is just as important: I’m not a builder, developer, or real estate agent. Obviously, these folks offer the community a great deal and significant economic contributions, but I believe it helpful to my considerations of growth concerns that I don’t have personal or business relationships or financial investments in the work of building.
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J.M. Snell: The majority of decisions made by local government officials concern finance, land use, planning, and some business administration. As a small business owner I am acquainted with the many challenges similar to running the business of our city. I have been a Planning Commissioner for five years and am certified by Citizens Planning Education Association of Virginia. I have served our community in numerous non-profit capacities, some as a worker and some in an advisory capacity. I have a lot of experience solving problems in a committee forum. My best qualification is I care about our city’s future. I am concerned about our neighborhoods and especially the children. I worry about taxes and fees and the impact they have. Excessive spending and too much debt is no way to operate. I am willing to serve our community with considerate, thoughtful, and deliberate decisions.
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Dave Wiens: First, my education and experience. After graduating from college with a degree in social work, I began working as a child protective service caseworker in a medium size city. While doing this, I also became involved in some community organizing and, as a result, I was in a position to see how government works and became interested in this. After completing graduate school in social work, I began work with the residents of a children’s home and, in the process, became quite aware of the stressors many families experience. I then moved from Pennsylvania to Kentucky where I established a nationwide program to bring groups to that region to not only help improve the housing situation of many families but also to teach them about the issues these families are experiencing.

Since moving to Virginia, I have held a number of positions including brief teaching assignments at Eastern Mennonite University and James Madison University. I then accepted a position at Gemeinschalf Home as the director, I was owner of Garrison Press and, finally, I am the owner of Highland Court, an apartment complex.

My service to the city includes servicing on the Social Services Advisory Committee, eight years on the Planning Commission, I am a member of the Harrisonburg Board of Zoning Appeals, I was on the Landscape Committee (which developed Denton Pocket Park) and I have been a member of the Bicycle Committee.

As a result of my education, which included many classes on public policy and how governments run, my experience as a Harrisonburg businessman and my service to the Harrisonburg city government, I feel that I have acquired the knowledge and experience necessary to place me in a unique position to be a member of the Harrisonburg City Council.
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A total of eight candidates are running for three available seats on City Council.

Thanks to the participating candidates, and to Emmy for her help.

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10 Responses to “Meet the City Council Candidates”

  1. finnegan says:

    Updated with J.M. Snell’s response.

    Seven out of eight ain’t bad. I hope readers take the time to read them.

  2. Renee says:

    I know one of the candidates personally, and I just met another for the first time yesterday, which reminded me how little I know about our local city political arena which probably affects me as much as the national one does. As of today, I wouldn’t know which 3 I would want to win on election day. It’s great to allow them each to introduce themselves here on the blog, and I hope to get to know the City Council candidates better through this format. Thanks!

  3. finnegan says:

    Before I started hburgnews in 2006, I could barely name two people on council. I didn’t even know how many members there were (there are five). Through this blog I’ve gotten to know several council members.

    Many of the registered voters I’ve spoken to either don’t plan to vote for City Council, or don’t know that you can vote for three of eight. Hopefully this will help.

  4. Josh says:

    My total election bias: I will most definitely be voting for Charlie and Kai as they’re regular participants on hburgnews.com. I’m using this series to figure out my third vote.

  5. Thanh says:

    Thanks Brent and Emmy for sending out this question and posting the responses here. I am looking forward to reading the next questions and responses.

  6. JohnLL says:

    Should someone let Dave Wiens know that some of us will make our decision mostly based on these questions? (I say mostly…. I may have made up my mind already on a couple of these seats…) JLL

  7. finnegan says:

    We contacted all the candidates the same way; through email. I’ve sent Dave Wiens no less than three emails. I don’t want to give anyone an unfair advantage (or disadvantage) so I’m not going to try to convince anyone to participate. Participation is completely voluntary.

    Also, a brief note about method, just FYI:

    We’ve taken measures to keep everything as fair and even as we can. All the questions being asked were solicited from readers, and fleshed out by myself and other hburgnews contributors.

    As most regular readers know, Kai used to be a contributor here. He was removed as a contributor before we started this process, so he was not privy to those discussions. Also, I’m not the one contacting Kai. For ethical reasons (to avoid any conflict of interest) Emmy is handling email communication with some of the candidates.

    … in case anyone was wondering.

  8. finnegan says:

    This post has been updated with Dave Wiens’s response.

  9. ammc says:

    Thanks for taking the time to run this series Brent and Emmy. Like most everyone, my free time is limited and this is a nice way for me to keep up when it’s convenient. No out of context blurbs or media bias either. Well done!

  10. watchman says:

    A salute to Emmy and Brent. Always keep new possibilities before us. “The truth shall set you free”. If you are throughly convinced, be open to change.

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