Jay Graham was appointed to fill an unexpired term on Pound town council. He is running against David Gent in a special election to fill the rest of that term.
• Town council recently changed its meeting process to limit agenda matters to only those items that require a vote.
— Would you support town council conducting workshop meetings, non-voting sessions where members could more fully discuss issues of both immediate and long term consequence?
— Or, would you support switching to another established meeting format where discussion is a formal part of the agenda, with council establishing time limits as needed.
— Or, do you support the current format, with no workshop necessary?
Explain your position.
David Gent: I would support another established meeting format. To limit the agenda to only items that have to be voted on limits citizens to only a five-minute period to express concerns or problems they may have.
Citizens have every right to speak and be put on the agenda if they have specific problems. To limit agenda to only items to be voted on suppresses citizens of the town. Public comment has been voted against at three meetings. Whether it be a workshop or regular meeting, citizens should be heard. Also a three-hour time limit is not enough time when you spend 45 minutes discussion and still no decision on one topic, and it happens all the time. People sit for three hours to voice their concerns and opinions only to hear a vote taken to not have public comment. Town business should be our number one priority but citizen views are important too.
So set time limits on discussions, but don't suppress our citizens just because you don't like what your gonna hear. They have workshops and then another workshop for the workshop they just had and nothing gets done. If you can't reach a mutual agreement in 30 or so minutes, your just wasting time. I have seen council members leave workshop meetings because they have been there for hours and nothing has been accomplished. Hash it out in front of the citizens. Put a time limit on discussion.
Jay Graham: This is the process as I see it. I feel workshops are for certain committees such as EDA, Planning Commission, or Administrative Committee, for example. Most of these committees have representation of Town Council. This is the place for brainstorming, bouncing ideas back and forth, and compromise. The results of these meetings are then presented to town council and to the public at the same time, typically during council meetings. This is the place for public engagement on the issues.
All of the above meetings, EDA, planning commission, or admin committee, are open to the public. I personally would love to see everyone to come out to every meeting, every time.
• It would be more comfortable for public officials to hash out complex matters like town operations and budgets without having the public and the press peering over their shoulders. But governing is neither comfortable nor easy. And the state's open meetings law says its rules are intended "to afford every opportunity to citizens to witness the operations of government." If elected, how would you propose to lift the level of public discourse in Pound and guide the public conversation toward productive answers and positive action?
Gent: I would lift the level of public discourse by having council minutes made available to the public on the Pound website for interested individuals. Invite the public to attend meetings, ask for their opinions, after discussion ask for audience opinion, they may have a different and more feasible idea but limit time to a couple minutes.
Our citizens need to get involved. If they are a part of the process, I believe they would be more receptive to some of the issues facing our town. It's so simple. Personally invite the business owners to attend the council meetings. Owners in our town feel as if they have no voice because they can't vote but they are so important to the survival of our town. Have the mayor report every week and his report printed at the town hall for anyone who wants it. Let everyone who wants to find out what's going on in our town have that information.
We do not need to alienate our citizens and business owners. We as a community need to come together and work toward one common goal — the preservation of our town!
Graham: See response above.
• One prominent federal lending agency told the town any future financing for water and sewer system improvements would be conditioned upon consolidation of its utility systems with a regional provider such as the Wise County Public Service Authority. PSA's not interested in a sewer system partnership with the town but is studying an outright takeover to merge the two.
— If elected, would you support selling, merging and/or consolidating the town's sewer system, if the price and offer from PSA are right?
— If elected, would you endorse pursuing consolidation of the town's water system or other partnerships?
— Or, should the town maintain ownership and control of its utility systems, imposing its own rate and fee increases as needed to support operations?
Explain your position.
Gent: I would support merging if and only if PSA guaranteed rates for sewer customers would not raise for five years. Improvements to our present sewer system will cost in the neighborhood of $3.4 million, for which the town could be responsible for $1.6 million. If there is no debt relief, where will the money come from? I will tell you —rate hikes. I say if we sell, the responsibility of the debt falls to PSA and not just our sewer customers. If the price is right, sell if we could benefit from a merger. Whatever benefits the sewer customers most, let's pursue the best option.
If consolidation of water service were feasible then, yes, but who would you consolidate with? I have heard no such talk. If the costs would be shared equally and the profits if any were shared equally. But I have heard of no such consolidation and until I do I don't think I should comment either for or against.
If the town maintains control, we are definitely facing rate hikes. And to raise any rates would be a strain on the customers of the town and our out-of-town customers. Already talks of maybe a $2.50 raise on out-of-town customers and a $5 raise on in-town sewer customers has been discussed at a recent meeting.
If the town maintains control of rates, rates will have to be raised to provide revenue to do much needed improvements. Already under an infraction alert, our water system may have to be upgraded to a more efficient system. That costs money. Our sewer system needs a much needed improvement that may cause our sewer rates to rise. If that happens, our customers will suffer financially. If someone comes forward and wants to buy our utilities, well, let's just say, we would entertain any and all offers.
Graham: If elected, I would listen to every option from all three scenarios. Next, I would consider what is in the best interest of the citizens and business owners in Pound. I would also give those affected by this situation an opportunity to speak with me in a manner where the individual(s) would not be “put on the spot.” I would make an educated decision based on the information gathered.
• The Pound Police Department has been both a source of pride and controversy, with serious divides on council over how much the town should spend on police as well as how much police spend and how accountable they are for that spending.
— To candidates who support cutting police expense, what is your plan for doing so while still maintaining community law enforcement protection? Be specific. What size force would you propose? Would you eliminate the department? Would you propose a reduction in police protection services? Defend your position in the face of drug and drug-connected crime in the community.
— To candidates who support current police spending levels and practices, what is your plan for sustaining the cost of law enforcement protection, which now constitutes almost half of the town's general fund? Be specific. Would you consider increased taxes if necessary to maintain requested police staffing? Defend your position against assertions that Pound is just too small to afford a department its current size.
Gent: There are state mandated plans that can be implemented in our town to stop all the overtime. You ask about spending in the police department, well so have certain council members and they have yet to receive any spending reports. Request after request and still no answers.
A four-man full-time police force dedicated to the protection of the people of Pound could use the 168-hour work week to not only serve and protect the citizens of Pound but provide the 24-hour protection the town must have to receive much needed grants for our police force.
To eliminate our police force is absurd. We need to exercise the internal control policies that are already in place. I will admit there is a drug problem but other towns are experiencing the same dilemma. To pursue drug dealers out of our jurisdiction is not our police problem. That's why we have the Southwest Virginia Drug Task Force.
But drug busts in our town are few and far between so why are we concentrating all our reserves toward that end? Stay in town. Not on the four lane.
Graham: This is a topic that has basically divided the Town of Pound. I am, and will always be, in favor of a strong police force in Pound and everywhere.
One of the problems I have is the wording used when discussing this topic. When the terms spending levels, overspending, excessive spending are used, it would lead people to believe the police department is purchasing unnecessary items, which is not the case. Over budget on salaries due to hours worked would be a better description in the face of drug and drug-connected crime, state of emergency situations, and so on.
Cutting the number of police officers will not decrease the overtime. Other areas need to be looked into to decrease overtime for the police department.
We must ensure correct budgeting processes are in place to begin with. This fault does not fall on any one person.
In creating budgets in the past at different locations I have worked, the department head would come up with a budget for his/her department. That budget would then go to the department head’s supervisor, and then finally to the individual or group who made the final decision. Before it made it to the final draft, there was always compromise. Give and take. The process was always the same.
The Town of Pound has an Administrative Committee that should meet first with the department heads after each individual department develops their respective budgets. Then it continues down the line finally to public hearing and final vote.
As a pharmacist, I see first-hand the prescription and illicit drug abuse that is plaguing Pound and surrounding areas. Unfortunately, this is a problem that only seems to be getting worse across the nation. In a town with decreased police presence and without an effective mechanism in place to reduce crime, crime rates go up. Once you lower the crime rate, then you will have an increase in economic growth which Pound desperately needs.
I am not a fan of increased taxes. If we continue down the road of decreasing crime rate in Pound, put forth effort into improving the appearance of the town, we can increase our economic growth by attracting new businesses and residents to Pound. By doing this we can increase our tax revenue.
• Do you believe the managerial, financial and operational relationships among town manager, town police and town council are working effectively, efficiently and as they should be? Critics complain of lack of police compliance with spending controls and lack of accountability. The town manager has said repeatedly he has no authority over the police chief and his department and that town council is the one with that responsibility.
— Should town council be the exclusive overseer of the chief and police department? What should be the role in that regard of the town manager, who is the chief administrative officer of the town? Elaborate.
— Or, do you believe these questions are all irrelevant because everything is working just fine, thank you.
Explain your view of how the navigation among these three decision-makers is, is not, and/or should be working.
Gent: The working relation between our town managerial staff and town council is horrendous. Town council should be the sole overseer of any and all monies or grants received by the town. That means chief of police. He is appointed by town council and any and all reports asked for should be given by him, not any assistant.
Yes, the mayor/ town manager is paid to do a certain job. He is supposed to be the chief financial officer, know all spending and stay within the town's budget. But that hasn't happened! Over budget in the police department. Why? No one knows all the details or no one will tell. Again, I ask why?
I think the reason is there have not been sufficient reports of financial spending. When a council member asked if any money from a police state fund had been utilized, the answer was, yes, monies had been given to an officer to the tune of nearly $2,000.
Who authorized this transaction? No one would say, even after being asked seven different times. Who can you hold accountable when you can't get answers?
Working for the good of the town should be the priority of the governing body of the town. Decisions should be made to benefit the citizens of our town instead of trying to push one's own agenda but that's just not happening. The alienation of some council members is apparent.
When you come into a council meeting and time is running out and a council member asks, do you have the police proposed budget, and you are told, yes, I have it right here. And another council member says, yes, I have a copy. Why did they wait until the end of the meeting to say anything about it? They were working on the budget. What's wrong with this picture? Why are not all council members receiving the same reports or information? They will not work together.
Graham: I feel a definitive chain of command should be established. I do not feel it is within the scope of town council to manage every detail of every department. I believe we should empower the town’s department heads with responsibilities and decision-making authority within the scope of their expertise. When employees are treated in this manner, it gives them a sense of pride and respect. This will lead to greater pride in their work, which in turn gives rise to improved job performance.
These individuals will of course be held responsible to quality and performance controls. The current control policy is not a policy from what I have seen that has been looked at closely. The policy in place, I feel, should be reviewed closely and personalized for the Town of Pound.
• Financial budgets are targets, adopted with an understanding that no one can predict the unforeseen but also with an expectation that they be met. Adopting the financial plan is one thing; adhering to it is the next task. Explain how, if elected, you will ensure financial accountability and where that falls on your list of priorities.
Gent: Financial responsibility can be insured by placing accountability on the different department heads, not just the police but every department head. Make financial reports weekly. Obtain purchase orders for necessary items, making sure every receipt is accounted for. Make penalties for not following all internal spending controls. They are in place. Make sure they are enforced.
These are the duties of the mayor and town manager. They see all financial balance sheets. They know when overspending occurs. They know when unauthorized spending occurs. Hold them accountable and, if elected, I will.
I will let the people know I will hold open town meetings and let our citizens know the truth.
Graham: A budget for any business, town or household is essentially an educated guess. Past performances, indicators and workload can and should help with a starting point for the next budget. If sound, quality research goes into the initial budget then it makes the task of sticking to that budget much easier. If not, then the process becomes a lot more difficult.
• Some fear Pound's very existence as an incorporated town is at risk and believe the town should fight for its town identity. Others actually view that prospect of dis-incorporating as a good thing for the community. Where do you stand and defend that position.
Gent: Let's not talk dis-incorporation. I know my signs say, "Shut Down Town Hall." I had to get your attention.
If we continue overspending and not adhering to budget controls, we are headed for a downfall. There is no accountability for anything.
Another council hopeful points out the long path to dis-incorporate, but I say the people should decide whether to continue paying double taxes or be a local tax-free unincorporated community. It wouldn't happen overnight.
If we dis-incorporate, we would lose our individuality and I like who we are. We are a town full of possibilities. We had a pilot shot down in a foreign land. Do you know his name? Do you know the name of the man who perfected the jump shot right here in Pound? At one time, we had the largest earth-built dam in the United States.
People have fought for this land and we buried our families here. Let's not forget who we are — The Pound, the proud and the strong. Fight for our town. Stop town hall from overspending. Someone has to be accountable.
Graham: My answer to this question doesn’t have any numbers, calculations or code sections. My answer is somewhat over simplified.
I feel the citizens and business owners in Pound have lost enough. Now some want them to lose what’s left of their identity as a town. The people of Pound have so much pride in community and history, I feel it is the only thing that has held the town together to this point. I want to applaud the people of Pound for doing this, either knowingly or unknowingly. You have done it.
I have only been a council member for a short time. But in that time, all the employees, citizens and business owners have heard is “no,” “can’t,” and “I don’t know how we can do that.” I want to take those words out of the council’s vocabulary. I want to say, “I am not sure how we can do it but if we work together, I am sure we can figure out a way.”
Thank you for your participation. If you've got something else on your mind, one last comment here.
Gent: I hope everyone knows my views. I have lived in Pound on South Fork, went to first grade at the old white school on the hill and went to elementary school in what is now town hall. I loved the high school and remember the paddlings "Shorty" Lawson gave me. My mother and father are buried just up South Fork. I have heritage here in The Pound and it is so sad to see the shape our town has fallen into.
I hope that on May 1, citizens of our town give me the chance to make a difference, to hold accountable those who spend without restraint, who give no account of their actions and who will not follow the policies of our town. If elected, I will try to cut spending to a minimum. There is a lot our town can't afford but there's a lot we can do so we can afford something for the citizens of Pound.