A 27-year veteran of the Army National Guard is seeking to represent the Union Hall District on the Franklin County Board of Supervisors.
John Hinkell, 49, said he was inspired to make his first run for office after reading an opinion piece in which John Warner, a former U.S. senator from Virginia, argued people with military backgrounds make strong candidates.
“I’ve always been interested in politics and I absolutely love the area here, so I thought what a great way for me to transition from the military into something where I could help the community,” Hinkell said.
Hinkell has spent the bulk of his career as a human resources officer in the Army National Guard, but is now transitioning to retirement. Before that’s finalized, Hinkell plans to participate in the Veterans Local Government Management Fellowship program.
Hinkell bought a home at Smith Mountain Lake in 2007, and since then has been splitting his time between Franklin County and Alexandria. But Hinkell said he plans to make Franklin County his permanent home in a few weeks.
The candidate, who is running as an independent, has zeroed in on the Summit View Business Park as a focus area. Hinkell is calling for a “strategic pause” to the project, suggesting additional analysis on the park’s return on investment and reevaluation of the overall strategy, which he believes is lacking.
In conversations with county residents and business owners, Hinkell said he has found the Summit View Business Park to be widely unpopular. He said many have cited concerns with the debt taken on to finance the project. The candidate said he would not support tax increases to fund Summit View debt payments.
“They’ve overcommitted themselves significantly on this project,” he said.
Last year, the board adopted a 6-cent increase in the real estate tax rate. Some of the money generated by that increase was allocated for debt payments related to Summit View.
Citizens feel their voices have not been heard in relation to the business park, Hinkell said. He proposed creating district offices where supervisors could have a presence in the community and meet with their constituents as a potential solution.
Hinkell said he believes money invested in the business park would be better spent by helping small businesses to grow through efforts like a business retention program. He also said the county needs to support vocational and agricultural training to create a qualified workforce.
The county can’t expand its career and technical education offerings or invest in its village centers because “every last penny” is committed to the business park, Hinkell said.
Strengthening the Tri-County Lakes Administrative Commission to make sure Smith Mountain Lake is developed responsibly, improving broadband access and providing better benefits to volunteer firefighters are also among Hinkell’s initiatives.
Hinkell is the first candidate to file his paperwork with the registrar’s office for the Union Hall seat. Voters will also choose supervisors in the Blackwater, Blue Ridge and Gills Creek districts in November.