By Mac Trammell
The candidates running for office in Buena Vista are talking a lot about the issues: the perception of the city, its aging infrastructure and the consequences of defaulting on the city’s Vista Links golf course debt.
Six candidates are running for three city council seats and one candidate is running unopposed for mayor.
Council member Larry Tolley, the city’s vice-mayor, is the lone candidate for mayor. He will replace Frankie Hogan, who served as mayor for four years. Hogan, instead of running for re-election, is one of the six candidates running for city council.
Two incumbents seek re-election: Steve Baldridge, a professor at Southern Virginia University, and Lisa Clark, principal of Kling Elementary. Those two are opposed by Bill Fitzgerald, a contractor, Tyson Cooper, an administrator at SVU, Andy Wolfe, president of Mariner Media, and Hogan.
“Buena Vista gets the negative end of the publicity” said Clark, who is in her second year as principal at Kling after serving 13 years in the same position at Waddell Elementary in Lexington.
She was only one of four candidates to bring up that concern in a recent candidate forum and in interviews with The Rockbridge Report. The word they tend to use for this is “perception.”
“In my opinion the number one problem facing Buena Vista is perception,” echoed Cooper, who is the director of Student Financial Services and associate director of human resources at SVU. “It’s not a financial problem, although that’s number two for sure. The number one problem is perception.”
Cooper wants to change the outlook of Buena Vista from the inside out. Once residents of Buena Vista take pride in their city, he says, only then can a proper public relations campaign convince the surrounding areas (i.e. Lexington and Rockbridge County) that BV is a wonderful place with much to offer. One of Cooper’s opponents, Wolfe, the president of Mariner Media, an advertising and marketing company on 21st Street, emphasizes that he knows something about changing the culture of institutions.
“What I do for a living is help people imagine or reimagine what they can be,” he said. “Buena Vista needs to change its business model… [It] has a lot of assets it needs to be reconsidering.” Wolfe said that he wants to take a turnaround business model and apply it to the city. “I’m going to take my way of thinking and change the way people look at Buena Vista.”
Tolley, the shoo-in candidate for mayor, voices a similar approach. “I think we need to go out and resell the city, what it has to offer,” he said. But he stressed that he would not endorse anyone in the council race.
The candidates also say that Buena Vista’s infrastructure needs maintenance.
“We’ve got to have a concerted effort to make the investments to repair,” said Baldridge, who is an adjunct professor of politics and education at SVU. “And not just to repair, but to improve because we have to be strategic.”
Mayor Hogan spoke of water line replacements and a million dollar state grant for street paving. Council member Clark said that Route 60 and parts of 501 will be repaved in three years. She also mentioned that there will be sidewalk replacements.
Fitzgerald, a member of the school board, said he would replace sidewalks if elected, and more. “We got our water treatment plant … our infrastructure… which is in bad need of repair, our roads . .” he trailed off at the thought. “Just walk on the sidewalk. Walk from one end of the block to the other. The sidewalk, the trees pushed the concrete up! The trees need to be removed.”
Such improvement would be a lot easier, Fitzgerald said, if “we take the golf course debt away.” This debt was a topic every candidate mentioned.
While it seems that, for the time being, the prevailing hope is that ACA, the insurance company that guaranteed bonds on the golf course, will accept a one-time payment that will be considerably less than what its current arrangement with the city would garner, not every candidate is down in the dumps about Vista Links. Cooper and Wolfe called the golf course an asset for the city that could be the linchpin of a recovery.
Two of the incumbents are impressed by such a strong show of participation in the races.
“I will take the number of people running to be an indicator that people are being more hopeful about the community,” Baldridge said. “I think a couple years ago nobody was interested in running because it was going to be so hard, and I think now people see that there are possibilities, there are opportunities, there’s hope.”
Mayor Hogan echoed the sentiment, saying that he’s glad to see people running for office. “People need to take interest,” he said. “The more the merrier.”
An open forum, which will function like a debate, will be held next Thursday, Oct. 29. Election Day is Nov. 3.