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2019 Virginia Beach Elections: Questions for Republican primary candidates for city treasurer

THE INDEPENDENT NEWS

Ed. — The following are responses to questions posed by The Independent News to candidates in the Tuesday, June 11, Republican primary to become the party’s nominee for city treasurer. The answers to our questions in this series generally are not edited, aside from obvious punctuation issues, spacing and formatting or for clarity. 


Leigh Henderson

Residence: Pungo 

Age as of Election Day: 40

Occupation: City Treasurer

Key endorsements: State Del. Barry Knight, Circuit Court Clerk Tina Sinnen and the Virginia Beach Professional Firefighters Association

Website: voteleighhendersonvb.com

Phone number: (757) 621-2523

Email: voteleighhenderson@gmail.com

Social media: @voteleighhenderson on Facebook

What are your specific qualifications for this office, and why should you be the Republican nominee? I have been in the City Treasurer’s Office for more than 18 years, beginning as an entry level accountant after graduating from college.  Throughout the years, I worked my way up through the ranks to Accounting & Investments Administrator and then to Chief Deputy Treasurer.  I was appointed as the Chief Deputy by the former Treasurer, knowing that when he retired, I would become the next Treasurer. I have been the City Treasurer since January.  I am the only candidate that has any experience in the Treasurer’s Office, and the only candidate with multiple financial degrees and certifications.  With my years of experience, I have been part of every technology and financial project in the office.  This position requires relationships with other departments and other financial professionals that I have worked hard at forging over the years. Being Treasurer also requires a great degree of compassion and understanding when dealing with citizens, and I have dedicated my career to these values.  Experience and education in these responsibilities are needed to hold the position of Treasurer.

 Please describe your specific credentials in the areas of finance and/or revenue collection. I have earned the designation of Master Governmental Treasurer from the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. This is a certification that requires years of classes covering Roles and Responsibilities of the Treasurer, Accounting, Virginia Law, Investment Management, Collections and several others. I had most of those classes before becoming Treasurer, and finished the certification shortly after. I also hold the Certified Treasury Professional certification from the Association for Financial Professionals. Both of these designations require continuing professional education to maintain.  I earned two Bachelor’s Degrees from Old Dominion University, one in Accounting, and one in Finance.  With my years of experience in the office, I have either done the job or am knowledgeable in all aspects of operations within the Treasurer’s Office.

Please describe your management experience. For over seven years, I was the Accounting and Investment Administrator with approximately 20 employees reporting to me. For two years, I was the Chief Deputy Treasurer responsible for approximately 75 employees and all operations of the office.  With my work on all of the technology projects, I have managed and coordinated activities with multiple stakeholders, both within the City Treasurer’s Office and partnering departments/vendors.  I believe in leading by example.  I believe in learning operations from the ground up.  I believe in serving the citizens of Virginia Beach and have spent more than 18 years dedicating myself to this mission.  As Treasurer, I try to impart this philosophy to my employees.

Is the constitutional office of treasurer needed in modern times when revenue could be collected by a municipal department? Why or why not? Eliminating the elected Treasurer has some very critical costs, such as losing the inherent system of checks and balances provided when you have separately elected tax assessment and tax collection officials.  You can’t have the same checks and balances with an appointed finance director who handles all of those duties in one office.  Also, citizens tend to favor having the Treasurer directly responsible and accountable to them.  Additionally, under Virginia law, an elected Treasurer has more collection authority than an appointed finance director.

Your predecessor, assuming you are elected, engaged in a public campaign against extending light rail service, placing himself in opposition to some local leaders on a local policy matter. Do such activities hinder relationships with the local officials with whom a treasurer must effectively work? Campaigning for issues that don’t pertain to the Office of the Treasurer can potentially cause conflict between local officials who need to work together. My stance is that assisting citizens and efficiently running the office is the first priority. If issues arise that impact Virginia Beach taxpayers and the City Treasurer’s Office operations and ability to serve, I will advocate for what is best for the citizens. This could be changes in State laws, City ordinances or other issues related to tax collections.


John “Clay” Atkinson

Residence: Northend

Age as of Election Day: 43

Occupation: Real Estate Broker/CFO of Atkinson Realty, Inc.

Key endorsements: State Del. Glenn Davis, state Del. Jason Miyares and state Sen. Bill Desteph

Website: clayatkinson.com

Phone number: (757) 285-7055

Email: clay@atkinsonrealty.com

Social media: @atkinsontreasurer on Facebook

What are your specific qualifications for this office, and why should you be the Republican nominee? The difference between us is pretty clear.  I’ve spent my career in the private sector as a CFO and my competitor has spent it entirely in government.  For the last 20 years, the foundation of my success was to build relationships with our clients by providing high levels of customer service.  My candidacy and my experiences represent more of what real people deal with in the real world every day.  I should be the Republican nominee because I am the candidate who is actually a Republican in thought and action.  I have been a member of the local party since 2006(my competitor just joined last month) and have served the local unit as operations chair, special events, and on the executive board as Treasurer.  I strongly believe in Republican values of limited government, low taxes, and personal responsibility and accountability.  I have also volunteered my personal time, talent, and treasure to get many Republicans elected to office and to defeat light rail.  I will be an advocate for you.   

Please describe your specific credentials in the areas of finance and/or revenue collection. As CFO of my family’s real estate company, I’m responsible for the accounting of over $120,000,000 in transactions every year between our sales and property management departments.   I handle the corporate accounting and cash management as well as banking relationships.  Part of my other duties as an executive for the firm is facility manager as well as the IT department.   Every month we have 400+ tenants that pay us rent and after we collect it, we then disperse to our clients.  If someone does not pay, we will begin legal collection actions in accordance with the applicable laws of the Commonwealth.  Recently, I led the effort to deploy substantial upgrades to our account systems that streamlined workflows and automated processes.     

Please describe your management experience. To be an effective manager is to give a clear vision of what is expected from staff and to provide the necessary tools and training to accomplish the organization’s goals.  Our company has 40 personnel (agents/staff) and 3 office locations which is very similar to the 75 personnel and 4 offices that the city treasurer office has.  One important aspect of management is to align the right people with the appropriate skills for the task you want accomplished.  The most unpleasant part of management is when you have to let an employee go. It is not fair to let someone who is constantly underperforming stay in an organization when it causes others to have to work more to cover the gap.

Is the constitutional office of treasurer needed in modern times when revenue could be collected by a municipal department? Why or why not? Absolutely it is needed.  Most Americans have never heard the name George Grenville but he was the British minister who decided he had the legal authority to impose the Stamp Act on the colonies without consultation or consent from the colonial assemblies. This one man’s arrogance veiled in the guise of bureaucratic efficiency started the political calamity that lead to the American Revolution. Virginia sacrificed to ensure that its citizens have a voice in tax policy and collections. By having an elected treasurer, it gives voters the power to hire and fire the treasurer and provides them with the ultimate authority over tax collections and tax management. The scheme of eliminating the City Treasurer and the Commissioner of Revenue and folding those departments under the director of finance and city manager (in the veiled guise of bureaucratic efficiency) would ultimately lead to a consolidation of power in the city manager’s office with less accountability to the voters.     

Your predecessor, assuming you are elected, engaged in a public campaign against extending light rail service, placing himself in opposition to some local leaders on a local policy matter. Do such activities hinder relationships with the local officials with whom a treasurer must effectively work? If I see an issue that is not in the best interest of the taxpayers, I will bring attention to it even if it is against someone else’s agenda. It is important to remember that John T Atkinson did not intend to start the largest grass roots movement in the city’s history when he paid for and published his first ad. He was just upset the Virginian Pilot refused to print his editorial critical of light rail after he reviewed the city budget and the DEIS. The ground swell of support completely blindsided him, but once it was clear that there was substantial opposition to the light rail expansion he moved past the snub from the Virginian Pilot and formed the No Light Rail campaign.  


© 2019 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

The Independent News

3 Comments

  1. If I am reading this correctly, if Leigh Henderson was treasurer 3 years ago, would we be funding light rail now?

  2. I am not a VB resident but have lived in this area most of my life. The VB phobia on light rail is interesting. Most of the prior emphasis on “regionalism” that has been endlessly advocated has been lead by the VB tourism and real estate community. The goal has been to optimize the commerce in VB by “outsiders” as long as they leave soon after they spend. So having a regional authority to build tunnels/bridges/roads with no control by the electorate was perfect for VB, not so much for Isle of Wight county. So light rail, another “regionalism” project, would connect downtown Norfolk to the oceanfront. Why no enthusiasm? What about the rest of us paying to pump sand back onto the VB beaches and doing so for six decades? This is the VB establishment perfect definition of “regionalism”. And now the sea level rise hucksters will make us ship sand from who knows where.

    • Warren, can you clarify what you mean by “what about the rest of us paying to pump sand back onto the VB beaches”? Since you’re not a VB resident, how did you have to pay for beach replenishment in VB? I’m curious what organization or tax would have paid for this besides the city of VB or their taxes (except for state funds). I don’t live in VB either, but I’d like to know if I’m paying for improvements there as well. Thanks.

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