Radford is guaranteed to see some new faces on its city council and school board with only one incumbent running for reelection.
Vice Mayor Dick Harshberger is one of nine candidates — four for council and five for school board — running for two openings on each governing body in the May 5 election.
City Registrar Tracy Howard said Radford’s polling places are scheduled to be open on Election Day, but he’s encouraging citizens to register for absentee ballots in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The election could be delayed depending on actions taken by Gov. Ralph Northam, but Howard said people wanting to vote in person will have the chance to do so.
The deadline to request an absentee ballot is April 28, though Howard said voters should probably wait no later than April 20.
Because mail is now routed through Greensboro, North Carolina, it takes longer for his office to get the ballots, and those received after the election are not counted under current Virginia law, Howard said.
“The General Assembly did something about that this year, but that doesn’t go into effect until July 1, so it will affect the May election and the primary in June,” he said Friday afternoon
There are roughly 10,000 registered voters in the city, and turnout for the 2018 local election was around 30%, up almost 10% from 2016, according to Howard.
Regardless of whether Radford University students are back in time for the election or not, Howard doesn’t see it affecting the outcome.
Despite many on social media saying college students swayed the 2018 election that saw a more liberal city council take control, Howard said only roughly 80 votes were cast by residents ages 18-25.
“It wouldn’t have changed results even if they hadn’t voted,” he said.
With any already low turnout rate compared to national elections, Howard said he wouldn’t be surprised if the numbers resembled the 2016 local election.
“As of now folks are concerned due to the many unknowns, I do expect people to take advantage of absentee in greater numbers for the May and June primary elections, but I think that will be just a shift in how voters vote, not the overall turnout,” he wrote in an email Thursday.
The city has four polling places divided by district: Central, East, New River and West. Howard said those not sure where to vote can go the city’s website.
The deadline for registering to vote, submitting address and name changes, is Monday, April 13.
Here’s a look at the candidates:
Two seats are open on the four-person council, not counting the mayor, which is a separately elected position not on this year’s ballot.
Councilman Rob Gropman announced earlier this year he will not be running for re-election.
Harshberger is running for his fifth term.
The retired Virginia Tech professor said he’d like to continue working on the progress the city has made in recent years.
“I’ve contributed a great deal to our present momentum and now, even more than ever, I want to be a major force in sustaining it,” Harshberger wrote in an email.
Andrew Crane, an engineer for Baker Hughes in Salem who moved to Radford in 2015, said he’s running for office because he believes in “good governance.”
“I think our City Council has been doing a great job. I really appreciate the rapport between Council and School Board over the past two years and would like to continue that relationship,” he wrote.
Onassis Burress, a financial advisor in Christiansburg, has been involved in the Radford community as the current president of the city’s Chamber of Commerce and as a member of the city’s American Legion post.
“I see the role of city council as the next level of servitude as it allows me to serve our city and provide leadership in a greater capacity,” he wrote.
The fourth candidate is Forrest Hite, an editor and data administrator for HeartCry Missionary Society, a Christian nonprofit.
He said that role has prepared him well for a seat on the council.
“Words and numbers are a key part of my daily life; and I want to use my experience to serve my neighbors in Radford … I would bring that same attention to detail to every meeting and every vote — carefully checking that the numbers add up and that the verbiage is just right for the benefit of our community,” he wrote.
Retired teacher Joe Hester and attorney Adam DeVries will not be seeking re-election after just one term, which will ensure the board has two new faces.
Justin Mosby, the assistant director of philanthropy at Guideposts Foundation, said, “Innovation and access to education has been at the core of my working life since graduating college.”
He wrote that he wants “to support the expansion of CTE programs in the High School and STEM programs in the lower grades” and is interested in “building stronger advocacy for students with disabilities and their pursuit to make meaningful impacts in the community.”
Jenny Riffe, the co-founder of nonprofit Bobcat Backpacks, which provides food for the weekends to underprivileged students, is also a licensed clinical social worker.
“I have spent my life working to help children and families in need … I hope to use my experience as a mental health professional and a champion for children, families, and educators in my role on the Radford City School Board,” she wrote.
Chris Calfee, who works at Atlantic Union Bank, said his children are his inspiration for running for school board.
He said he believes a “plain-spoken approach to matters is often the best approach.
“There is an opportunity to increase the communication between the board and the parents, students, faculty, staff, and public at large. By opening all lines of communication we can better understand how to provide the best education for students and environment for the faculty and staff,” he wrote.
Mary Smith, a licensed physical therapist assistant, is running to ensure the city “keeps moving in a positive direction.”
“I’d like to promote communication/transparency between the school system and students’ families, increase recognition of RCPS strengths and talents, and continue the growth of our CTE program so that along with academics already offered RCPS can be competitive with not just surrounding school systems but those throughout the state,” she wrote.
Jody Ray, who has worked as a principal at the middle and high school level, is currently an IT manager at Volvo.
He wrote that he is running for school board because he desires to work with the community and bring his experiences in dealing with educational opportunities to the city’s schools.
He said career and technical education, and how to make sure certain students are prepared for the real-world when they leave high school are two priorities.
The Roanoke Times will have more in-depth coverage of each candidate in upcoming issues of the NRV section.