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Two retirements on the board of supervisors leave a leadership gap that requires realistic replacements.
Sunday, May 5, 2013
Roanoke County needs visionary leadership that will be wise enough and bold enough to guide it safely through the daunting economic challenges that lie just ahead. U.N. helicopters, it should not need saying, are not among them.
The real-world challenges hardly make the county unique in the Roanoke Valley: slow economic growth, strict new storm water rules that likely will be hugely expensive, and a critical public-private regional broadband initiative that’s on the horizon.
Unlike valley municipalities, though, the county has an election coming up, and the outcome could determine whether it takes a reasoned, fiscally sound path forward or veers off into the right-wing fringe and tea party territory, where ICLEI lies as a shadowy threat.
This, just as two longtime Republicans on the board of supervisors are retiring.
When they depart in January, Supervisors Mike Altizer, of Vinton, and Richard Flora, of Hollins, will leave a leadership gap not easily filled. A third supervisor, Ed Elswick, is seeking re-election as an independent in Windsor Hills, a district that also figures heavily into whether the board will move steadily forward, or tack hard to the right.
Adding to the drama, the county Democratic Party has yet to put forward a candidate in any district, though the chairman says it continues to recruit and plans to have a full slate on the November ballot. Party infighting appears to be hampering those efforts.
Meanwhile, voters in one magisterial district — Windsor Hills — should understand that any real choice between electing a traditional fiscal conservative and a populist with tea party leanings will occur at the Republican party’s firehouse primary Saturday.
The choice will be between former Supervisor Joe McNamara, who was instrumental in devising the county’s money-saving capital funding plan before narrowly losing the party nomination four years ago, and RoxAnne Christley, whose Republican Party credentials reflect a different, far-right GOP establishment that has taken root in the county in recent years.
The winner of that contest will face Elswick, who after eliminating McNamara as the GOP candidate and winning the last election soon abandoned the party and declared himself an independent. District voters should be eager for a second chance to decide the winner of that match-up.
If so, they should show up Saturday at the Brambleton Center, 3378 Brambleton Ave., anytime between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., and vote for McNamara.
The GOP also will hold a firehouse primary in the Hollins District Saturday, same time, different place: the Hollins Library, 6624 Peters Creek Road. Less will be riding on the outcome there. Both candidates are politically to the right of Flora, who is backing independent Gary Jarrell in the general election.
Both Republican hopefuls, former party chairman Mike Bailey and Al Bedrosian, profess perplexing alarm about the county’s $200 million in bonded debt, the usual way localities finance big capital projects like schools and libraries. The debt is well in hand.
Voters should not confuse debt with a budget deficit, which the county does not, and by law cannot, have. It has a balanced budget. Its reserve of capital funds, built up year by year, helped the board keep the tax rate flat when real estate values fell, despite having lowered the rate — twice — in fatter years.
Hollins residents determined to vote Republican, however, might find Bailey to be the preferable choice: At least he supports the board’s decision to modify its prayer policy rather than pour taxpayer dollars into a court fight the county certainly would lose. Bedrosian would return to past practices, and invite a constitutional challenge.
Board meetings, by the way, continue to open with prayer.
Only one Republican filed to run in the Vinton District, so there will be no party contest there. It remains to be seen if the district’s residents will have a choice to make on the November ballot.
In Hollins and, especially, in Windsor Hills, though, Saturday’s party canvasses will determine the direction of Roanoke County’s Republican Party, and perhaps the county, at a crucial time. Old-school, fiscally sober Republicans must show up to be counted.
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