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2018 Virginia Beach Elections: Questions for candidates for City Council, Lynnhaven District

Voters citywide choose one candidate to represent the Lynnhaven District. [City of Virginia Beach]

THE INDEPENDENT NEWS

Ed. — The following are responses to questions posed by The Independent News to candidates for the Lynnhaven District seat on the Virginia Beach City Council up for election on Tuesday, Nov. 6. The incumbent is noted. The answers to our questions in this series generally are not edited, aside from obvious punctuation issues, spacing and formatting. Our full 17-page voter guide is now on stands.


Susanne M. Henderson

Residence: Lynnhaven District 

Age: 39

Occupation: Residential Realtor

Education: Double Bachelor’s Degree

Website: www.VoteSusanneHenderson.com // Phone: (757) 524-2270 // Email: Henderson4VB@gmail.com // Social media: https://www.facebook.com/SusanneHendersonForCouncil/

What are your specific qualifications for this office? I am an average citizen looking to protect the interests of all citizens. I’m not a career politician, I have no financial interests, and I owe no one. I’ve always volunteered my time freely to various nonprofit organizations & in the community. I love Virginia Beach and want to be able to make a difference.

What, to you, is the most important issue facing the city and how will you address it in office? Currently I feel the most pressing issue facing Virginia Beach is flooding. In some areas it only takes minutes of heavy rain to flood. We are significantly behind on maintaining our ditches and watersheds. Getting caught up on this maintenance and finding additional solutions for all citizens is important to protecting their homes and property.

What are your policy priorities as a potential member of the City Council? Our current council has an issue with wasteful spending & Virginia Beach is in significant debt that is being paid by taxpayers. As a member of City Council, I would fight to discontinue wasteful spending immediately! Our spending efforts need to be placed in Public Safety, flood remediation, and our infrastructure systems. We have a shortage (80+) of Police Officers and we need to increase pay & benefits for our First Responders. We also need to reduce the massive backlog of under-funded city employee pensions. Lastly, Virginia Beach needs to fix the issue of pay compression and Virginia Beach Police an attractive place for them to stay, instead of shifting to neighboring cities with more desirable benefits packages.

Additionally, our infrastructure system is failing. A quick drive around Virginia Beach and you will find many issues with our infrastructure system. We need to improve traffic flow and maintain our roads! Lastly, small businesses are the heartbeat of our community and I’d like to streamline the process to start a small business. I’d also like to reduce regulations on ALL small businesses, not just a select few, to help them grow and create jobs!

Where should redevelopment or development efforts be focused? I recommend that Virginia Beach City Council make an effort to halt further development projects until the flooding is under control. I don’t believe we should be focusing taxpayer dollars on new developments when we haven’t properly protected the homes, assets, and personal property of our citizens!

Virginia Beach has allowed limited development in the transition area between suburban and rural areas of the city, yet some of this development has proved costly to taxpayers. Should the city further limit projects in that area due to flooding and density concerns? These types of projects should be limited and temporarily halted. The city has approved properties that are built directly on marshlands. Development will only further worsen the flooding issues our city is facing. It doesn’t matter what we build if it’s under water!

Should city services such as water and sewer be extended south of Indian River Road to promote development of rural communities? Yes, water and sewer should be extended South of Indian River Road, but not to promote the development of the rural communities. This should be done to allow access of fresh water to the current properties. The water table is high in the area and at different times there are factors that can pollute the drinking water that is available. The well water isn’t always reliable and this gives the residents another option for water.

Do you support the agricultural reserve program, or ARP? Should either the program or its dedicated funding level be changed? The Agricultural Reserve Program (ARP) needs to be reformed. Currently, Farmers are receiving tax subsidies unfairly. There are sitting members of the current council that have voted yes to having more general fund money placed into the ARP account. These unfair subsidies could be put to better use and help our entire community! Reforming this program is one step we need to take to help discontinue wasteful spending in the Virginia Beach budget.

How should the city address concerns about sea level rise and recurrent flooding? Our city needs to make flooding a priority! The city over the years have been reactive and not proactive to this issue. They are years behind on the maintenance, and now there so many issues that it is costing taxpayers millions to fix the cities neglect. We need to actually use the money that was assigned to maintenance of our ditches and storm water systems, as a start. I believe Virginia Beach will see a huge difference once our systems/ditches cleaned and maintained. After this, we will be able to evaluate the severity of the problem much more accurately.

Voters from across the city select members of the city council, including members who represent district seats. Should the city consider another way of selecting members of the council, such as a ward system? No we do not need a ward system, also known as district voting. This type of system at the local level is a way to divide and conquer to ensure certain politicians remain or get into office. This system also takes away the voice of our citizens. Currently, you must live in a district to run for that seat, but all of Virginia Beach can vote for all City Council members. This would give voters the ability to only have a say in 5 of the 11 seats in Council. Taxpayer dollars are not divided up by districts and are voted on by the entire City Council. This would mean that, for example, if you lived in Windsor Woods that a representative from the Beach would vote on decisions in your area. This type of voting makes it so there will be less representation for you if a problem arises. I want all voters of Virginia Beach to be heard, and represented!

There is a sense that some developers in Virginia Beach are favored by government. What will you do to either ensure fairness for all business or fight this perception? The city should no be selecting winners or losers. There needs to be a fair and even process, where all interested developers can apply to propose their ideas & plans for their projects. The city should have a system for how these developers are selected and guidelines for which criteria must be met.

The city administration has faced controversy, including an effort to shutter the ARP to pay for storm water projects. Is it time to change city management? The city management needs to be evaluated and reviewed by the new City Council. There are individuals in certain positions and they need to be replaced. The city has the income but lacks prioritizing the spending in certain areas. Our city has in essence, bought all the fancy items for inside of your home, instead of spending the money on the foundation when your home is falling apart.

Over the past few years, the City Council has not taken decisive action to address short-term rentals, despite clear concern about them within residential communities. What should be done? Should Sandbridge be a special case? If so, why? Short-term rentals are operated with a significant amount of screening that takes place before the rental is permitted. When I was 20, I was the Assistant Manger of a resort hotel, and there is no screening required for hotel rooms. In the hotel industry, you may rent a hotel room as long as you have a credit card. I do not believe that short-term rentals pose any safety risks to our community due to the more rigorous screening process. I believe that individuals should be able to use their properties for short-term rentals with as few regulations as possible. Many homeowners do not want their property destroyed, know how many people the home can sleep, and rely on this income for their families. The individuals choosing to use their properties for short-term rentals would not want to make decisions that will jeopardize the property or this income. Additionally, these properties usually stay in better condition than yearly rentals. If a short-term renter doesn’t abide by the owners rules and regulations, or city ordinances they can easily be made to leave. With long-term rentals it could take months (with no income) to get rid of difficult tenants.


Michael P. “Mike” Maskell

Residence: Columbus Station Apartments

Age: 39

Occupation: Patent Examiner and Attorney

Education: Bachelor and Master of Science in Physics from Old Dominion University; Juris Doctor from George Washington University

Endorsements: Councilwoman Jessica Abbott; Stop the Flooding Now

Website: www.ilikemike.org // Phone: (757) 797-4009 // Email: mikemaskell4vb@gmail.com // Social media: www.facebook.com/mikemaskell

What are your specific qualifications for this office? My combination of scientific and legal training makes me an ideal liaison between the engineers that will work on our infrastructure improvements and the lawmakers who decide what projects to do, where to do them, and who to hire to do them. I also have no conflicts of interest – I have no connections to the development, construction, tourism, or banking industries, or any other industry that has a major interest in city council decisions.

What, to you, is the most important issue facing the city and how will you address it in office? While the most immediate issue is our flooding problem, the issue behind all others is the at-large electoral system that has kept wealthy and powerful interests entrenched in city council, and has kept residents from gaining a voice to address their problems. I will push to change to a system where each district elects its own council member, and still having three members elected at-large along with the Mayor. This will stop the dilution of residents votes, which currently allows council members to ignore entire neighborhoods and communities in their districts in favor of wealthy corporate donors.

What are your policy priorities as a potential member of the City Council? Catching up on the stormwater maintenance backlog and improving our flood protection systems needs to be a top budget priority. As discussed above, reforming our election system must be another top priority, because without local representation, flooded neighborhoods will not receive the attention they deserve. 

Where should redevelopment or development efforts be focused? Redevelopment and development efforts, to the extent they are not required to be in a certain place, should be focused on inland portions of the city that are at less risk for flooding. Sea level rise will eventually create the need for managed retreat from the coastline, and beginning to focus our development efforts more inland will reduce the difficulty that will be created. Development efforts should also be kept north of the Green Line separating the northern suburban part of the city from the southern rural part. The agricultural land in the southern part of the city is a crucial buffer against flooding, and new neighborhoods built there will not only worsen the flooding problem, but will flood themselves, creating new problems.

Virginia Beach has allowed limited development in the transition area between suburban and rural areas of the city, yet some of this development has proved costly to taxpayers. Should the city further limit projects in that area due to flooding and density concerns? Yes. Some of the more recent flooding problems have been created by new developments in the transition area, and we should learn from this and stop building homes that are going to subsequently flood.

Should city services such as water and sewer be extended south of Indian River Road to promote development of rural communities? No, the creation of new developments south of the Green Line should be discouraged for the reasons given above.

Do you support the agricultural reserve program, or ARP? Should either the program or its dedicated funding level be changed? I support the use of ARP to preserve agricultural land and to support the historic farming tradition of this area; however, the ARP should be used primarily for actual farmers, and not to provide an investment payout to parties that do nothing with the land they claim.

How should the city address concerns about sea level rise and recurrent flooding? As discussed in my other answers, we need to take proactive measures to deal with sea level rise and recurrent flooding, which are problems that will only get worse as time goes on. Hard measures such as stormwater system improvements, drainage ditches, and retaining ponds must be built; and soft measures such as ending the rezoning of agricultural land and refocusing development to prepare for managed retreat from the coast must be taken.

Voters from across the city select members of the city council, including members who represent district seats. Should the city consider another way of selecting members of the council, such as a ward system? The city should have voters in each district elect their own representative, and retain the existing three at-large members and mayor for at-large election. This would increase the influence of voters in each district by an order of magnitude, while still retaining their voting power for the at-large members. The end result is more voting power for everyone, similar to how a $10 bill and four $1 bills are worth more than eleven $1 bills.

There is a sense that some developers in Virginia Beach are favored by government. What will you do to either ensure fairness for all business or fight this perception? We need to increase transparency and insure that we follow the law for all government contracts and procurement. Currently, the city uses institutions like the development authority as loopholes to get around the debt limitations of the city charter, as well as the transparent procurement processes required by state law. The city also routinely engages in picking winners and losers in business by subsidizing particular businesses (e.g. renovation of the Cavalier) while leaving other businesses in the same local industry to fend for themselves. By ending these practices, we can repair our reputation as a city, and become known as a place with a level playing field for business.

The city administration has faced controversy, including an effort to shutter the ARP to pay for storm water projects. Is it time to change city management? The current city management has shown too many times to lack the proper priorities and temperament to continue to lead. As an additional example, the City Manager went to great lengths to try to avoid hiring his first female manager (the manager of the VA Aquarium), even going as far as to apply for an H1-B visa to bring a Canadian man in for the job, despite the fact that there was already a qualified American female interim manager leading the Aquarium (who was later confirmed as the permanent manager). It is time for a new City Manager.

Over the past few years, the City Council has not taken decisive action to address short-term rentals, despite clear concern about them within residential communities. What should be done? Should Sandbridge be a special case? If so, why? Short-term rentals is a complicated issue, with the competing rights of property owners to use their property for profit, the rights of neighbors to quietly enjoy their property, and the policy interests of the city in preventing the long-term housing rental market from drying up. Such an issue cannot be satisfactorily addressed with one uniform policy for the entire diverse land area of Virginia Beach, so distinctions should be made between areas like Sandbridge which have a large concentration of vacation rental properties (and thus short-term rentals should be less restricted) and areas like Windsor Woods, where most property owners purchase homes with the idea that they will be living in a neighborhood with long-term neighbors (and thus short-term rentals should have significantly more restrictions).


James L. “Jim” Wood

[Incumbent]

Residence: Kings Grant

Age: 56

Occupation: Owner/Manager of small businesses in construction and real estate investment 

Education: Princess Anne High School; BS Commerce Washington & Lee University; MA History Sam Houston State University 

Endorsements: Virginia Beach Education Association, Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce and the Fraternal Order of Police 

Phone: (757) 785-4342 // Email: JLWood1987@gmail.com // Website: www.votejimwood.com // Social media: https://www.facebook.com/votejimwood/

What are your specific qualifications for this office? I am former police officer and current business owner. A strong believer in lifelong education, I recently earned a Master’s Degree in History, thirty years after earning a Bachelor’s Degree. I have recently been elected by City Council to serve as Vice Mayor. I am a commissioner and Chairman of the Transportation District Commission of Hampton Roads and Council Liaison to the Audit Committee, Hampton Roads Transit, the Volunteer Council, Town Center, Sister Cities, the Technology Committee and the Bayfront Advisory Committee. I am committed to Virginia Beach and appreciate the opportunity to serve all of Virginia Beach.

What, to you, is the most important issue facing the city and how will you address it in office? Our most pressing issue is improving our stormwater infrastructure, which we’ve already started addressing as a significant part of the city budget.  I was appointed by the Virginia Senate to the Joint Subcommittee to Address Recurrent Flooding. Virginia Beach is among the top cities in the nations at risk for recurrent flooding due to stormwater impacts, and the City needs to leverage local, state and federal funding, and we need to proceed along a path shown by engineering modeling.  That way we minimize cost, maximize effectiveness and limit the shifting of flooding to other neighborhoods.

What are your policy priorities as a potential member of the City Council? My policy priorities are public safety and education primarily as they are core functions of government and I think investments in those bring real dividends to our city.  I also favor policies that protect and enhance our core industries that generate revenue to fund our core services.  Agriculture and tourism are two great examples of industries that create many jobs and provide lots of tax revenue that help keep our real estate tax rates the lowest in the region.

Where should redevelopment or development efforts be focused? We created Strategic Growth areas to make sure development in the future was encourage in the northern part of the city in specific corridors of transportation.  I support that vision, and redevelopment should be looked as a strategic way to improve the capturing of stormwater runoff through private sector investment.

Virginia Beach has allowed limited development in the transition area between suburban and rural areas of the city, yet some of this development has proved costly to taxpayers. Should the city further limit projects in that area due to flooding and density concerns? I believe that we should take care to scrutinize development in areas that have traditionally flooded, and not just during major storms.  We have serious flooding infrastructure improvements to implement in the coming years, and we should make sure we aren’t making the job tougher by adding more homes that need flood mitigation improvements, which will be costly as we have seen.  

Should city services such as water and sewer be extended south of Indian River Road to promote development of rural communities? I support the current green line and transition area policies and wouldn’t favor extending it further south.

Do you support the agricultural reserve program, or ARP? Should either the program or its dedicated funding level be changed? I believe the in the ARP and fought to restore it when it was ending it was proposed. I think it has done a great job in preventing development below the green line and has saved the city millions and millions of dollars.

How should the city address concerns about sea level rise and recurrent flooding? The Dewberry study will spell out the science of how to proceed, but we have accelerated the schedule of dredging our lakes and other water retention areas back to design depth. We have identified millions of dollars of stormwater upgrades that will need to occur and we are committed to those improvements.

Voters from across the city select members of the city council, including members who represent district seats. Should the city consider another way of selecting members of the council, such as a ward system? I’m happy with whatever electoral system the voters would prefer, but I think it needs to be for the right reason. I don’t think voters have much sympathy for politicians who think campaigning is too hard. Voters want the electoral system that gives them the most influence, as well they should. I hear most often that voters like having all Councilmembers accountable to them. I do think a referendum should be held before any change is considered.

There is a sense that some developers in Virginia Beach are favored by government. What will you do to either ensure fairness for all business or fight this perception? One of the major problems is communication. Many companies want to participate but aren’t aware when RFPs are issued or become aware near the deadline to submit an application. The city needs to improve communications and be a partner in helping companies qualify for available work.  Everyone should have a fair chance to compete.

The city administration has faced controversy, including an effort to shutter the ARP to pay for storm water projects. Is it time to change city management? I don’t support efforts to fire the city manager, but I do take issue with some of his public statements and proposals. Council disagreed with his proposal to end the ARP and we changed that in the reconciled budget that was passed unanimously.

Over the past few years, the City Council has not taken decisive action to address short-term rentals, despite clear concern about them within residential communities. What should be done? Should Sandbridge be a special case? If so, why? There is nothing short about the debate over short term rentals. Council has tried to craft an ordinance that allows neighborhoods that oppose them to restrict them and neighborhoods like Sandbridge that have relied on them for revenue to be able to continue. That is not as easy as it sounds, but we hope to have that put together in the coming months.


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The Independent News

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