Candidates debate issues

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 29, 2007

MURFREESBORO – Citizens here can now place a campaign sign with a face.

Last Thursday, nearly every seat in the Vaughan Auditorium on the Chowan University Campus was filled as people came out to see where incumbents and candidates for town council stood on issues their community is facing.

The forum was hosted by the Murfreesboro Rotary Club. Dr. Colin Jones with Ahoskie Family Physicians served as moderator.

The event featured incumbents seeking reelection, including Lloyd Hill, Gloria Odum, Bill Theodorakis and Sarah Wallace. Councilman Bill Stephens has filed for mayor.

Four of the five newcomers running for town council also participated, including Craig Dennis, former Town Administrator Molly Eubank, Joe Murray and Terry Williams. A fifth candidate, Robert Vincent, could not attend due to a previous engagement.

With written statements and the occasional candid comment, the participants answered each of the five questions submitted by the public.

Rotary member Lee Canipe stated to the crowd that each of the participants had a week to study the questions and were welcomed to use their notes.

“They’re not cheating,” he quipped.

Canipe also explained the candidates and incumbents had two minutes for an opening statement and to answer each question. They also had one minute each for a closing statement.

A love for Murfreesboro

For opening statements, many participants spoke of their thanks to the Murfreesboro Rotary Club, their connection to the area, thanked the Murfreesboro citizens and their love of the town.

Opening statements began with incumbent Hill who said he was born and reared in the town and has seen a multitude of change, mostly for the positive over the past 32 years. Hill noted Chowan University, the historic district and downtown with its businesses among those positives.

“I hope to continue to improve (the community),” he said.

Murray, who has been a resident of the town since 1993, noted his professional and community affiliations, including being a member of Murfreesboro Baptist Church.

Odum, who is a native of the town, joked she left Murfreesboro for about 20 minutes.

“I would like to be reelected to continue the projects we started,” she said.

Theodorakis, who was also born and raised in the town, stated when he first took his position on town council he simply wanted to help. He also listed projects the current town council has worked on including, the library, the revitalization of Main Street and the waste water treatment plant.

“That’s what I want to see finished,” he said about the latter project.

Wallace, yet another native of Murfreesboro, listed her community involvements, including her membership with the Meherrin Baptist Church, Historical Association and Relay for Life.

She said she would like to continue to help Murfreesboro “be the best it can be.”

Candidate Williams, who was born and raised in Northampton County, gave the audience a little background information. He said he attended Chowan University when it was still a junior college before attending Elizabeth State University where he majored in criminal justice.

Williams also thanked the Rotary Club.

Dennis, an art teacher at Riverview Elementary School, thanked the Rotary Club for coordinating the event.

“I believe in the town,” he said. “It’s the most welcoming place anyone could live.”

Former Town Administrator Eubank began by introducing herself to those who may not know her and thanking the Rotary Club. Eubank noted her history with the town as she has served as town clerk and then as town administrator.

Along with her 23 years of experience with the town, Eubank also stated she would take the same approach with citizens as she did while working as administrator; her door would always be open.

“I feel my open door policy has been the key to my success,” she said.

Reason for running for council

Each of the candidates and incumbents expressed their own desires and reasons for running for a seat on the council or why they would like to keep their current seat.

Murray began by noting his experience especially with Sprint, and how he moved around a lot, but had now found a home in Murfreesboro.

“I guess you can say I’ve made it home,” he said.

He said with the upcoming bid package for E911, his experience with Sprint could help with the project.

Odum said her number one reason for running for reelection was to be “a voice for the voiceless.” She said being a female and of color would help with inclusion of different groups and add diversity.

Theodorakis stated his reason for reelection was to finish what was started. He noted how the council had worked on bringing the fund balance back to where it needed to be and for many years had worked on the waste water treatment plant and getting the moratorium lifted.

Theodorakis said he wanted to see the council finish that project.

“That is the key for us (the town) to grow,” he said.

Wallace said her reason for running for reelection was because Murfreesboro is her home and for the past two years she had seen quite a few changes.

“I want to be a part of the growth and development,&uot; she said.

Williams said his reason for running was to be the voice of the people.

Dennis stated his reason for his bid was because he believes people should be involved within their community and with his relationship with Riverview he would be able to forge a relationship with the schools in the area.

He also noted his background in art as helping with revamping Main Street.

Eubank quipped some may say with her running for town council she’s a glutton for punishment. She said with her past experience serving as town clerk and administrator she was familiar with the procedures.

Hill said when he was asked to step into a council seat three years ago he was not sure of what he was getting into. He noted the experience from the council, running his own business and having fiscal responsibility for both.

He said he wanted to make sure every decision was being made in fairness and was best for the town.

Priority number one

The waste water treatment plant and the sewer moratorium was on the minds of many of the candidates and incumbents as they spoke about their number one priority.

Odum spoke of this project for the top of her list and that it had started before her tenure.

Theodorakis agreed by noting the project was almost 70 percent completed due to the dry weather.

“If we don’t have it we can’t move forward,” he said.

Wallace concurred as she said the waste water treatment plant was priority number one for the town.

“We’re now at a point that soon the moratorium will be lifted,” she said.

She added the utilization of the water front on the Meherrin River and developing the town while “keeping true to its integrity and history” as being priorities as well.

Williams said his number one priority was bringing the town together. He stated that town could be improved through unity instead of being divided.

For Dennis, his number one priority was to work with the Murfreesboro Public Works Department to improve Main Street. He explained regular maintenance like fixing broken street lamps and clearing the street of debris and grass would make the town more inviting.

At the top of Eubank’s priority list was providing more space for emergency services like police and the fire department. She also noted recreation of all kinds for the town’s citizens from biking to just plain walking. Eubank said working with entities like Hertford County would help with recreational “pitfalls.”

For Hill, the sewer moratorium was number one when it came to priorities.

“No new sewer connection, means no new homes,” he said.

Hill also noted the project would help the growth in the Tidewater/Virginia area spilling into Murfreesboro, the growth of Chowan University and investors looking at the waterfront.

Murray said he struggled with this particular question as he stated any person running for council for the first time should not have an agenda. He agreed with the previous speakers about the sewer moratorium as it was important for the town to grow.

Growth in a small town

When the issue of attracting growth was questioned many of the candidates and incumbents had their own ideas.

Theodorakis said one of the important factors is the widening US 158 into a four lane road between Winton and Murfreesboro, which would link US 13 to the town and shorten drive time. He said the widening of the road would help to bring “more possibilities our way.”

Theodorakis also stressed the town needed to attract small business and take care of those already in town.

“We need to be aware of their needs,” he said.

Wallace said a web site with an inventory of vacant buildings is needed to help with the growth of the town.

“We need to encourage developers to look at us,” she said.

Williams suggested growth should come from within. He stated with forming stronger ties with the high school, Roanoke Chowan Community College, Chowan University and various non-profit organizations could help with growth.

Dennis said the council should be working more with the Murfreesboro Chamber of Commerce and the Murfreesboro Economic Development Task Force to give updates on local businesses. He also noted working with Public Works to keep the streets clean would encourage developers to look at Murfreesboro.

Eubank spoke about the biggest hurdle between Murfreesboro and growth as the sewer moratorium.

She also noted working with Hertford County and the Mid-East Commission would help with the development.

Hill said with more citizens in town there would be more commercial development. He noted subdivisions in the town that needed to be completed, including Maple Street Extension and the program affordable Howard Hunter Development. He also stated dilapidated structures needed to be torn down and some homes needed to be repaired.

Murray said a strong relationship between the town and Chowan University would help with growth.

He also agreed on the need for US 158 to be widened and the waterfront to be utilized.

Odum agreed, stating the town needed to work with the University and RCCC. She also stressed working with small companies that guaranteed jobs and perhaps initiating an education and certificate program for small businesses.

She also said continuing to have the town meeting program for council to assess and hear the needs and wants of citizens.

Murfreesboro Rescue Squad

While the issue of the Murfreesboro Volunteer Rescue Squad (MVRS) has been a popular topic for the current town council members, having a rescue squad or truck in the area is a need each of the individuals on the forum expressed.

Wallace noted MVRS has not operated over the past few years. She said while the squad was once a thriving group a skeleton crew was now left to handle emergencies.

“The (rescue squad) building is an idea spot for an EMS truck,” she said.

Williams also expressed the need for a rescue squad vehicle in the area as 43.3 percent of the population is older.

“This may be an area for (the county) to consider to cover,” he said.

Dennis said he did not see a future for MVRS as well. He noted that a unit from Hertford County could help with filling that vacancy.

“Five days a week is better than one,” he said.

Eubank agreed.

“I personally do not see it continuing,” she said.

Eubank noted her own involvement with Como Rescue Squad and that it was tough being a volunteer rescue member. While she believed hats should go off to the members,

having a Hertford County EMS truck stationed in Murfreesboro would help the town, Como and the communities north of the area.

Eubank also said patients being transported by county EMS should have a choice as to what hospital they are taken to.

Hill also agreed with Eubank and noted by having a county EMS vehicle in the area would help with the response.

Murray concurred, quipping if what he read in the newspaper was true MVRS cannot run legally and therefore obtaining a truck for Murfreesboro should happen as soon as possible.

Odum’s opinion on the matter also coincided with the others. She also recalled a personal incident where a person that needed medical attention passed away in her car.

“I know we need it,” she said about the county vehicle.

Theodorakis echoed those opinions that came before his.

“The Rescue Squad at this time is not functioning,” he said.

He noted that though the town had been supportive of MVRS in the past, the town had to work on getting a Hertford County Truck stationed in Murfreesboro.

Growth without raising taxes?

The final question of the evening held mixed opinions and suggestions from the candidates. Can the town grow without raising taxes?

For Williams, a close inspection of how money is spent will help prevent taxes from rising and allow the town to grow. He said each council member should look carefully at the investments made by the town.

Dennis said looking at the current resources available could prevent higher taxes.

“We first need to look closely at what we have here,” he said.

He noted to several of entities within town like Public Works, local schools and the library.

Eubank agreed, saying the town needed to partner with local entities like Chowan University and Hertford County Middle School.

“The town needs to take care of the space they already have,” she said. “But to provide a service, taxes would rise.”

Hill noted with the growth of the town, taxes would rise, but the tax base would as well. He agreed that current resources would need to be utilized.

Murray addressed the recreational need in the town as well as the other desires and said each of them could be done if the tax base grew.

Odum also address the need for recreation and noted for the town to grow and provide services to its citizens, taxes would rise.

“We can’t do things in isolation,” she said.

Theodorakis said the library is one of the best things the town has to offer as it brings individuals from all over to use it. He again addressed the sewer moratorium and possible seeing tax growth after it’s been lifted. He also agreed with Odum in that council often gets blamed when it comes to the recreation in town. Theodorakis suggested a full time recreational director would help to solve the problem.

Wallace also spoke about recreation and the importance to utilize what the town had. She also talked about possible putting a track across from the Jenkins Center where citizens could walk. She said trying to obtain grants and spend the money where it is greatly needed.

During their closing statements, many of the incumbents and candidates encouraged citizens to use their right to vote, whether it was for them or not.

Elections for Murfreesboro Town Council and mayor will be held on November 6.