Ed. — The following are responses to questions posed by The Independent News to candidates for the Beach District seat on the Virginia Beach City Council in the special election on Tuesday, Nov. 5. Answers to our questions in this series generally are not edited, aside from obvious punctuation issues, spacing and formatting or for clarity. Our full voter guide is now on stands.
RICHARD W. “RK” KOWALEWITCH
Age: 59 years
Occupation: Self-employed construction
Military Service/Education Completed: 2 years of college
Phone: (757) 831-6143
Social media: @RKforCityCouncil on Facebook
What are your specific qualifications for this office? I am uniquely qualified to represent the Beach District on City Council because I owned and operated a retail business in the resort area for 31 years. I’ve also lived in the District for 30 years. I love this City, I love the beach, and I understand the unique challenges and concerns of the resort businesses and residents unlike any other candidate. I am seeking elected office, because I believe the incumbents, along with the majority of our current council, have lost sight of our priorities, and we are headed in the wrong direction.
What, to you, is the most important issue facing the city and how will you address it in office? I think the most important issue that is facing our city right now is corruption. It appears that our government has prioritized to take care of their “buddies” and their special interest groups, instead of the citizens’ needs. We need to change the City Charter to make sure that these conflicts are much harder to occur and the consequences much more severe. I have met with my state representative on changing the state conflict of interest code section as well. If corruption does not matter, then no election will ever matter. Corruption is a city and business killer.
What are your three main policy priorities as a potential member of the City Council?
► Corruption. It appears that our government has prioritized to take care of their “buddies” and special interest groups, instead of citizens’ needs. The City Charter needs to be changed to make these conflicts much harder to occur and consequences much more severe.
► Stormwater. Stormwater has to be addressed NOW. We have plenty of money and will not have to raise taxes and fees today to fix it. We need to cut off special interest money and start spending it on the citizens’ needs.
► Fairly compensate and fully fund and staff police, fire, and teachers. We were 80 police officers short in 2002, and today we are 100 police officers short. This needs to be addressed immediately along with pay compression for police officers and firefighters. There is a real teacher shortage around the country. The city needs to keep salary competitive to attract and keep teachers in our area.
Should city services such as water and sewer be extended south of Indian River Road to promote development of rural communities? No. Part of the purpose of creating the green line was to stop development. We don’t need to build on every square inch of this city.
Do you support the agricultural reserve program, or ARP? Should either the program or its dedicated funding level be lowered in favor of stormwater and flooding projects? Yes, it needs to be audited and tweaked.
How should the city address concerns about sea level rise and recurrent flooding? In the year 2002, storm water revenues were around $12M, and currently our revenues are around $40M with only $14M going to maintenance. Most recently, the current city council reduced the maintenance budget for storm water for the city. This is a very irresponsible decision. I will work to reverse this policy and focus our government in providing funding for our aging infrastructure problems. I have already reached out to the hierarchy of the Stormwater Maintenance Department and had a lengthy discussion on fixing the problem.
How should the city balance the need to embrace transportation options such as electric scooters with the need to ensure safe operations and pay for enforcement? First, the electric scooter companies should not be allowed to run their business off of city property. Second, the scooters are dangerous. I have heard it from many citizens at forums around the city that they do NOT want the scooters, and they are a nuisance. The job of the city council member is to do the will of the people.
What quality do you value most in a potential city manager? It should be a person that has the wisdom and common sense to say “no” when it needs to be.
Should the city ban all firearms from municipal buildings, aside from those carried by sworn law enforcement officers? No, but there needs to be policy, training and certification procedures put in place for persons that are authorized to carry within the city buildings.
Do you believe that maintaining the hybrid local election system, including district representation with residency requirements, is necessary? We need to go to a real district system where only the voters in that district vote for a candidate. This will allow the candidates that are not heavily funded to reach out to all of the citizens in their district. It will also help to eliminate some of the corruption that is going on in our city. This would be a start in the right direction to leveling the playing field for all citizens and businesses. This needs to be put on a referendum for the citizens to vote. I would honor the outcome of that vote.
Residence: Cavalier Shores
Occupation: Retired lawyer/mediator
Military Service/Education Completed: University of Virginia, B.A., J.D.
Campaign website: towerforvbcouncil.com
Campaign phone: (757) 304-0022
Social media: @towerforvb on Facebook
What are your specific qualifications for this office?
► Beach District Councilman since April 2019
► Former attorney with major local law firm (Kaufman and Canoles) and founding member of state’s largest mediation firm (McCammon Group)
► Experience includes complex financial contracts and negotiations involving national corporations
► Former executive director of Virginia Bar Association
► Past chair of Virginia Beach Library Board
► Former member and vice chair of Virginia Alternative Dispute Resolution Joint Committee
► Virginia Bar Association Walker Award of Merit for “Exceptional Service to the Bar”
► Virginia Beach African-American Cultural Center, Charter Member
► Father of four, grandfather of seven and husband of a retired Virginia Beach juvenile and domestic relations judge
What, to you, is the most important issue facing the city and how will you address it in office? The most important decision that a city council makes is the hiring of a city manager. Council’s job is to set policy. It’s the manager’s job to recommend and implement a nearly $3-billion annual budget. Fortunately we have an able interim but only for a short time. We must provide a national search firm clear direction on the type of person we want. That individual must have strong management experience and be able to quickly gain the trust of ALL members of City Council and the general public. I believe my skills will be valuable in that selection process.
What are your three main policy priorities as a potential member of the City Council? As stated above, my top priority, as it should be for all incumbents and candidates is to secure the employment of a first rate city manager. Second, we must continue to address the recurrent flooding we are experiencing as a result of climate change and rising sea levels. The storms of 2016 were a wakeup call and resulted in a substantial capital improvement plan to install new infrastructure to move stormwater away from neighborhoods and into rivers, streams and the bay. We must maintain our focus on this challenge. Third, we have the opportunity to pursue the proposed Dome Site development, which I believe offers exciting potential for our city. It would create new residential and shopping opportunities, a surf park and entertainment venue and make our valuable oceanfront a more attractive destination for residents and visitors. But we must do this right, and I have devoted my legal and negotiating skills to this endeavor.
Should city services such as water and sewer be extended south of Indian River Road to promote development of rural communities? I am reluctant to see our green line abolished or extended without significant input from “county” residents and a clear cost benefits analysis on how that would impact on the quality of life in Virginia Beach. Bringing city water and sewer would be expensive, as would the construction of new fire and rescue stations, roads, libraries, schools and more. We have no interstate access in that part of the city, but we do have a strong rural character that provides citizens with choices of how and where to live. I would want to protect that.
Do you support the agricultural reserve program, or ARP? Should either the program or its dedicated funding level be lowered in favor of stormwater and flooding projects? I support the ARP. It has been a check on residential development and a reduction in the need to extend major urban infrastructure and provide additional services in the southern part of the city. It has allowed agriculture to continue to contribute to our diverse economy and protected environmentally sensitive land and waterways and preserve open space. While I understand the objections of some citizens that certain landowners benefit impressively from the ARP, on balance, I believe its contribution to flood control makes it worthwhile.
How should the city address concerns about sea level rise and recurrent flooding? I believe our city staff and council have reacted properly to this concern by allocating more dollars to infrastructure. Council must be diligent in how we respond to requests for zoning variances to allow for increased development that might exacerbate flooding in low-lying areas. Climate change and rising sea levels are real and serious. Hampton Roads is one of the most impacted regions in the country, and we must work with our partners at the federal and state levels as well as adjoining jurisdictions to catch up and remain current. No business or talented person will want to come here if we do not.
How should the city balance the need to embrace transportation options such as electric scooters with the need to ensure safe operations and pay for enforcement? We cannot ignore the fact that many of our residents and visitors do not have cars and prefer other modes of transportation, including scooters, to get from place to place. At the same time, I was dismayed by reports of accidents and injuries caused by scooter riders running into vehicles and pedestrians. We must set strict limits on where and when they can operate and secure a vendor contract that covers costs, while understanding that the world is changing, reducing the carbon footprint is wise and providing mobility options is a civic responsibility.
What quality do you value most in a potential city manager? Our next city manager must be open, transparent and honest with all members of the governing body and able to articulate a vision for how mature cities like ours can attract and retain talent. It trouble me to hear parents say their children have to leave Hampton Roads, not just Virginia Beach, to find suitable employment. Everyone’s goal is to grow old around his or her grandchildren. I want the city manager to work toward building a community that appeals to all generations, using our natural assets as incentives but understanding, as Pharrell Williams clearly does, that our strength is in our people.
Should the city ban all firearms from municipal building, aside from those carried by sworn law enforcement officers? I can appreciate that many city employees would like to have firearms in their desks or close by should there be an active shooter in their building as occurred on May 31. Nothing is more frightening or as we saw, deadly. But I also fear that having armed workers roaming the halls looking for an assailant will complicate matters for law enforcement who may not be able to distinguish between the good and bad guys. I am all for more security and training in how to spot and report troubled individuals. Our last option should be more guns in confined spaces.
Do you believe that maintaining the hybrid local election system, including district representation with residency requirements, is necessary? I do believe in a district/at large system because it provides residents with a council representative who lives in their area and who should be more accessible and attuned to local development, crime, transportation and other issues. Whether everyone should be elected at large, as we do now, is another issue, and I am inclined toward ending that practice. It makes it too expensive to campaign city-wide and can rob a district’s residents of the ability to elect the councilmember of their choice. It’s time to have a special commission study and stage a public referendum on this issue.
Residence: Resort Beach
Military Service/Education Completed: Summa Cum Laude graduate of Old Dominion University
Endorsements: Virginia Beach Education Association, Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce, Virginia Beach Police Benevolent Association
Phone: (757) 301-1052
Social media: @RosemaryWilsonVB on Facebook
What are your specific qualifications for this office? I have a lifelong love for Virginia Beach, and I want to continue to serve you in this role. As a former teacher, I am proud to have served as Vice Chair of our School Board and serving you on City Council. I was part of the team that saved Oceana from closure and am a leader in economic development and bringing jobs to Virginia Beach, including biotech and broadband technology companies as we as helping veterans become active in business.
What, to you, is the most important issue facing the city and how will you address it in office? We absolutely must solve our issues with recurrent flooding, both tidal and stormwater and I have supported major investments to solve these issues. There is much more to do, and we will need assistance from state and federal resources to fully implement everything proposed. I supported the Dewberry study so we would have a plan that was sound and effective, and we’ve made the commitment to see it through.
What are your three main policy priorities as a potential member of the City Council? I’m working on protecting Rudee Loop from commercial development and have a plan for a free park for all to enjoy, which will not be paid for by the taxpayers. My plan is to have a non-profit organization raise money for the park, as has been done with other amenities in the past. This way we can make sure Rudee Loop remains free and open to everyone. Also, a top priority is education. So much of who we are as a city is because of our great school system and our teachers, and I don’t want to jeopardize that. An educated workforce brings jobs and economic promise. I also believe in small business as the backbone of our economy and want to keep Virginia Beach as a business friendly city, which is why I sponsored elimination of BPOL taxes for new businesses for the first two years.
Should city services such as water and sewer be extended south of Indian River Road to promote development of rural communities? I don’t support development and those city services in the southern part of the city. I want to preserve the rural nature of this area and that’s why I support and always have defended the green line and the agricultural reserve program as ways to limit development that would destroy the character of rural Virginia Beach.
Do you support the agricultural reserve program, or ARP? Should either the program or its dedicated funding level be lowered in favor of stormwater and flooding projects? Yes I have a 100% voting record supporting the ARP, and when it was threatened with budget cuts, I stood up and restored its funding. I don’t think we should rob Peter to pay Paul to fund flooding solutions. We should have a long term funding strategy for flooding that doesn’t compete with other funding streams.
How should the city address concerns about sea level rise and recurrent flooding? Move ahead with our plan as quickly as possible. Because of the studies and work that has already been done, we have a solid base of knowledge to know what needs to be done and how to implement solutions without impacting nearby neighborhoods negatively.
How should the city balance the need to embrace transportation options such as electric scooters with the need to ensure safe operations and pay for enforcement? When Council first dealt with the scooter issue, I insisted on a sunset clause so there would be a guarantee that it was truly a pilot program and not an open-ended approval. My caution was well-founded because we voted to fully ban the scooters in the resort area due to misuse. Now we are working on franchise agreements to ensure that these scooter companies obey laws, commit to regulations on safety, and pay city taxes for their operations like other businesses.
What quality do you value most in a potential city manager? I support a city manager who is professional and treats everyone with dignity and respect, who is transparent and open in public engagement, and implements Council priorities and directions with urgency and effectiveness. But the most important quality is being and effective and positive communicator, both with the Council and the public. In many ways, the city manager is a reflection of the city and the Council who should enhance our city’s image and not detract from it.
Should the city ban all firearms from municipal building, aside from those carried by sworn law enforcement officers? The General Assembly controls gun laws in public buildings, so the City Council can not decide this issue one way or another. Our Police Chief has said that no new laws would’ve changed the horrible tragedy that happened on May 31st. I do believe that Virginia still has a long way to go in funding and structuring mental health care services, but again, that is a General Assembly decision and not City Council.
Do you believe that maintaining the hybrid local election system, including district representation with residency requirements, is necessary? I believe the voters should choose the electoral system they want. I supported holding our city elections in May because I thought the move to November would get the political parties involved in nonpartisan elections, and so it has. I do believe some voters are confused by the hybrid system of voting for everyone on the ballot in local elections, even in other districts. But ward systems also mean that a majority of City Council will never need your vote, so no system is perfect. But voters should choose.
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