By Maria Rachal
Five Lexington women are competing for three seats on the Lexington City Council. The winners will serve until 2020.
Mollie Fox, Michele Hentz, and Leslie Straughan are all newcomers, while Marylin Alexander and Camille Miller are up for re-election. The third open seat is now occupied by Frank Friedman, who is running for mayor and not for re-election to council.
Fox moved to Lexington in 2014 with her husband, a Washington and Lee professor who teaches marketing. She works part-time as a veterinarian and is the mother of three young boys. After getting increasingly interested in local government the past few months, she decided that this year was the perfect time to run for office. She said her emphasis would be keeping Lexington family-friendly and strengthening town-gown relations.
“I’ve never had an interest in running for office in any of the other places that I’ve lived. I’ve never felt like I was so quickly part of a community,” she said. “I want to make sure that this place stays a great place to raise families, and that it continues to be a great place for people who are past that life stage, because I’m hoping to be here that long as well.”
Fox said one of her strengths is the perspective she brings after having moved around the country. She went to college nearby at Virginia Tech, but has since lived in Florida, Georgia, and Texas.
“I think I do offer a fresh perspective. I’ve seen what places have done well and what they have
not done well, and I hope that I bring that to the table.”
Michele Hentz moved to Lexington in 1997 with her husband, a professor of international studies and politics at Virginia Military Institute, and has two teenage daughters. She currently serves as chief financial officer at Rockbridge Area Health Center, and has a history of non-profit work with the Lime Kiln Theater, Habitat for Humanity, and Rockbridge Area Hospice.
“I have now 25 years [under] my belt managing finances and fundraising,” she said. “We have a lot of challenges coming up, funding infrastructure, things like that … I’m very good at asking the right questions, analyzing, and coming up with some solutions. I’m always trying to find new sources of money.”
Hentz said the nature of her work has helped her get to know people from all over Lexington and Rockbridge County.
“I’m in touch with many people in the city. So it’s not just the donors – I see the less fortunate members of our community who really do need services, whether it’s affordable healthcare, affordable housing… I know their stories, I see them struggle a lot, so I feel like I have that empathy and compassion and I think their voice is important as well,” she said.
Leslie Straughan moved to Lexington in 2000 with her two now-grown sons and her husband, who is now dean of the Williams School of Commerce at Washington and Lee. She manages the office at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church and has served as chair of the Lexington School Board for five terms. One of her key efforts there was the renovation of Waddell Elementary School.
Now that the Waddell renovation is complete, Straughan said she would like to step up to a new role to make sure
other projects happen for taxpayers.
“Part of my incentive for running for council was [when] I advocated for Waddell, I knew what the tax increase would be, and I wanted to make sure we could do the rest of the city’s projects –the rest of the city’s goals – while still being able to do the Waddell project,” she said.
But education isn’t Straughan’s only area of expertise. She said she’s interested in moving public works projects along.
“I have a background in environmental engineering, so infrastructure and waste disposal aren’t interesting to most people, but I find them right up my alley,” she said.
Marylin Alexander is a native of Lexington who attended Lylburn Downing Middle School, Lexington City High School, and Virginia State University, and now lives in the city with her husband and two daughters. She has served on the council since 2008 and works as a property manager for Rockbridge Area Housing Corp.
Alexander said that, if elected, she wants to continue advocating for parts of Lexington’s population that she feels are underrepresented in decisions made by the council.
“There are so many people who are near poverty level,” she said. “I know a little bit about
another segment of the Lexington population that a lot of people may not even have an awareness of or may not encounter. And I feel I need to speak for them.”
She also said her lifetime experience in Lexington seems to appeal to voters.
“I am able to provide history that some are not aware of – what was Lexington like when we went through the integration process? What was it like when the downtown had department stores, hardware stores, grocery stores?” she said. “Being able to describe that and give a picture of what that was like – that’s my goal.”
Camille Miller has served on the city council since 2012 and has additional city experience from work with the Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals. She is president of The Virginia Group, an organizational consulting firm. She is married to a retired VMI professor and has one grown son.
Miller said she’d like to see many of the current city council’s initiatives through to completion.
“We still have some big decisions ahead of us, such as how to keep the infrastructure projects going,” she said.
Miller said that in addition to recent steps to improve the city’s aging water infrastructure, the city has a ways to go with roads and sidewalks as well.
One of Miller’s most important goals, if re-elected, will be to develop a strategic plan that the city council can refer to for the next several decades.
“If you’ve seen successful ones written and implemented, then you recognize that you really shouldn’t be moving forward without it because otherwise you stay in reactive mode most of the time … without having a cohesive understanding of how it fits all the other moving parts,” she said.
All five women spoke at a candidates’ forum sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce Tuesday evening, where they answered questions from local residents, the Mayor’s Youth Council, and audience members on the need to balance downtown vitality with university development; the city’s role in non-profit funding; park maintenance; and the expansion of the Kendal at Lexington retirement community.
J. Patrick Rhamey, Jr. and David Sigler will remain on the council, with seats that don’t expire until 2018.
Charles “Chuck” Smith, who has served on the council since 2010, is running for mayor, but would retain his seat if he does not win. His council term also expires in 2018. If Smith is elected mayor, the new council would appoint someone to fill his seat.