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2020 Virginia Beach Elections: Questions for candidates for City Council, At Large

THE INDEPENDENT NEWS

Ed. — The following are responses to questions posed by The Independent News to candidates for an at large seat seat on the Virginia Beach City Council on the Tuesday, Nov. 3, ballot. Answers to our questions in this series generally are not edited, aside from obvious punctuation issues, spacing and formatting, or for clarity. The print edition containing our full voter guide is now on stands. Please reach the editor with any questions or concerns via email.

[Charles Apple/For The Independent News]


ROSEMARY A. WILSON

Residence: Oceanfront  

Age: 70

Occupation: Realtor

Military Service/Education: Born into Navy family, BS ed, ODU Summa cum laude

Endorsements: Police Benevolent Association, Del. Barry Knight, Virginia Beach Education Association

Website: rosemarywilson.org

Phone: (757) 422-0733

Email:  rawilson31@gmail.com

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 have a record of supporting the Agricultural Reserve Program and supporting its funding.  We must remain focused on economic development and bringing jobs to Virginia Beach, especially in the economic harm caused by the Governor’s shutdown with so many small businesses impacted or even closed.  I’ve been endorsed by our police, firefighters and teachers so you know I will always keep our city safe.  Now is not the time for inexperience, so I hope you will support me with your vote.

What is the most important issue facing the city and how will you address it in office? Reviving our economy by confronting recurrent flooding and supporting small businesses during a recovery from the COVID shutdown is by far our number one priority. We changed our budget from 9% to 23% to fund mitigations for flooding and sea level rise.  I support a bond referendum to fund long-term flooding solutions recommended by the Dewberry study, and the actions we took during the summer helped so many small businesses stay afloat, but we must be prepared if a second or third wave happens.  Now is not the time for Council inexperience, and I have the economic experience to keep business in Virginia Beach moving forward.

What are your three main policy priorities? Police will never be defunded on my watch.  I support increasing funding for law enforcement and a safe Virginia Beach is my top priority.  I see cities like Richmond or Portland and can’t believe my eyes.  Virginia Beach and public safety  go hand in hand.  Another top priority is education, and they’ve had the most difficult year I’ve ever seen with virtual learning making things hard for both teachers and families.  I’ve supported fully funding our schools and am committed to a quality education for all children.  Another priority is our economy and jobs.  We must bring our economy back to full speed and with my position on Economic Development we are bringing in new jobs.

Should city services such as water and sewer be extended south of Indian River Road to promote development of rural communities? I never have supported extending city services south and I continue to oppose that. I was one of the earliest supporters of the ARP for this reason.  I support the green line and the rural character of southern Virginia Beach.

Do you support the agricultural reserve program, or ARP? Should its dedicated funding level be lowered in favor of applying that money to stormwater and flooding projects? 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.  

This year, the City Council approved a conditional use permit to allow an event venue to operate on land zoned for agriculture in rural Virginia Beach. Do you believe nonfarming businesses should be allowed on agriculturally zoned land in the rural area of the city? Why or why not? Agriculture is a major economic driver in our city and the rural community is appreciated throughout the rest of the community.  The Wolfe application was a one time only conditional use permit.  The available land because of the percentage of wetlands on that property was small.  For my entire tenure, I have supported my friends in the Agricultural community and I promise to continue that commitment.

How should the city address concerns about sea level rise and recurrent flooding? We have dedicated record levels of funding for recurrent flooding, but I believe a bond referendum is the only way to commit the massive funding levels required to restore our resiliency.  Our studies and work about what to do and how to do it is complete. 2021 is the soonest we can have a referendum on the ballot with the ability to educate the public on the need for this approval.

How can the city help address concerns about equality that are the subject of recent unrest here and around the nation? I supported funding all the recommendations of the disparity study to make sure our city contracts were awarded free of bias and on merit alone.  I don’t support defunding the police at all.  Our police are recognized nationwide as one of the best if not the best.  Their training is without compare, and my support of them is evidenced by their endorsement of me.

Has the city done enough to help the restaurant and hospitality industry recover from shutdowns related to the pandemic? We acted quickly.  When the Governor allowed outdoor dining, we had an emergency meeting to allow restaurants to serve outdoors.  We lobbied extensively for indoor dining to restart when the COVID numbers warranted it.  We funded numerous grants to help keep the restaurants operating, and we had a 2 month holiday on the meals tax to encourage more people to order from restaurants during the peak of the virus to keep businesses viable.

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 each citizen would water down their voting power from 11 votes for all members of council to only 5.


BRANDON C. HUTCHINS

Residence: Lynnhaven Woods

Age: 39

Occupation: Project Manager

Military Service/Education: US Navy Veteran, B.S. Healthcare Administration

Endorsements: Congresswoman Elaine Luria, Delegate Alex Askew and Councilman Guy Tower

Website: brandonforvb.com

Email: brandon@brandonforvb.com

Social media: @BrandonHutchins4VB on Facebook, @brandon_hutchinsvb on Instagram and @BHutchinsVB on Twitter

What are your specific qualifications for this office? I am a US Navy Veteran. I served 11 years as a combat veteran, my experience in the Navy has shaped who I am more than anything. I am a problem solver, I am wired to be able to work with everyone regardless of differences and I don’t ever shy away from tough stuff. When you’re in the military – you don’t have the privilege of ignoring the issue, your shipmates, or your superiors. I know that will come in handy when taking difficult votes and facing tough challenges as a city. We need councilmembers that will come together to work towards a common goal for the citizens of Virginia Beach, not for anyone else. After my naval service, I received a B.S. in Healthcare Administration and currently work for Anthem Healthcare. My wife and I are also small business owners of a hair salon, and we have had three wonderful children experience our great Virginia Beach Public Schools. 

What is the most important issue facing the city and how will you address it in office? Division. The division that currently exists in our city has made it difficult for us to move forward collectively and address the issues that we face as a city. We need to come together and work as a unit, as one community. I plan to open the lines of communication with everyone on council for the purpose of working towards common goals. We need to have the tough conversations. We need transparency. I intend to build new relationships, and mend those that have been fractured over the years. It’s the only way for us to move forward.

What are your three main policy priorities? When elected, I would like to focus on the following priorities: retention of our local talent and youth, support for our small minority and veteran-owned businesses, and our infrastructure to include flood mitigation.

• Our youth and our veterans are leaving the area at an alarming rate. It’s time for us as a city to sit down and discuss ways in which we can prevent this from happening. We need to retain and attract talent.

I would like to see all of the steps from the Disparity Study implemented. If we ever expect to have a leveled playing field, then this is paramount. Let’s truly be “inclusive and open for business.”

With respect to flood mitigation, I would like to implement policies that will aid in expediting this process. We do not have time to wait. If we expect to attract and retain new business to the area, and grow our tax base, then we have to address our infrastructure issues in a timely manner.

Should city services such as water and sewer be extended south of Indian River Road to promote development of rural communities? Yes, I think those are basic needs of our residents. To have access to water and sewer services should be available regardless of your address. I do not believe the intention should be for anything other than serving those citizens for their needs – it should not be to promote development.

Do you support the agricultural reserve program, or ARP? Should its dedicated funding level be lowered in favor of applying that money to stormwater and flooding projects? I do support the ARP. I believe it is beneficial to our agricultural economy in southern Virginia Beach, protects our farmers, and helps hinder the development in areas prone to flooding with little infrastructure. I can understand the arguments against it, but I think of it as a fail-safe to prevent development. I am in favor of lowering the funding and allocating it towards our stormwater and flooding projects, at least on outstanding projects to get us up to speed. 

This year, the City Council approved a conditional use permit to allow an event venue to operate on land zoned for agriculture in rural Virginia Beach. Do you believe nonfarming businesses should be allowed on agriculturally zoned land in the rural area of the city? Why or why not? This issue is a lot more complex than a yes or a no. My general opinion on this is that if it is agriculturally zoned, then that is what the land needs to be used for. We need to listen to our experts and in this case, our experts are our farmers. I like to think I am pragmatic on most issues, so I would never say “never” and I do recognize in the future there may be a specific need or situation to allow a conditional use permit. However, I would not vote for that without extensive research and community involvement.           

How should the city address concerns about sea level rise and recurrent flooding? The city cannot address these concerns alone. We need to take a strong, regional approach, and we need to do it quickly. We have a laundry list of solutions, but not an appropriate amount or source of funds. In the short run, we need to get a handle on our outstanding infrastructure needs before creating new ones. In the long run, the city needs to start effectively working with our regional, state, and federal partners to make use of the countless studies done. 

How can the city help address concerns about equality that are the subject of recent unrest here and around the nation? For starters, we can take a hard look at implementing a Citizens Review Board that has both investigative, and subpoena powers. I believe in checks and balances, and this is just one way to accomplish that. If members of our community don’t trust, or have lost faith in our police officers ability to protect and serve, then we must do everything that we can to ensure that the relationship between our law enforcement officers and the community is solid. Let’s eliminate the doubt and put the minds and hearts of our concerned citizens at ease.

Has the city done enough to help the restaurant and hospitality industry recover from shutdowns related to the pandemic? There is always more that can be done for our restaurant and hospitality industry in the wake of this pandemic. We need to ensure they have the resources they need. I have seen firsthand, businesses that want to take advantage of certain programs, grants, or loans but they don’t know where to start and are drowning in the paperwork. City-sponsored training aimed at helping our businesses through the processes and knowing what is offered would be very useful. If elected to council, I would begin working with our state and federal partners to hold Q&A sessions for all the different programs. 

Do you believe that maintaining the hybrid local election system, including district  representation with residency requirements, is necessary? I would like to see the city move toward a true district system, with keeping the 3 At-Large seats. I would be in this position regardless, but I now have firsthand experience with the difficulties in running a citywide race and the money needed to effectively campaign. I think citizens would be happier knowing their elected officials would actually represent them in their district, not just the large donors and special interests in one part of the city. I would be open to exploring the local election systems used across the country and seeing what would work best for our citizens here.


NADINE MARIE PANICCIA

Residence: Kings Grant

Age: 57

Occupation: Sales and Marketing Executive

Military Service/Education Completed: Bachelors degree

Website: nadineforVB.com

Phone: (757) 235-3433

Email: nadineforvb@gmail.com

Social media: @nadinemariepaniccia on Facebook and @NadineforVB on Instagram and Twitter

What are your specific qualifications for this office? Virginia Beach has been my home for 34 years.  My son, a graduate of VMI and  current Virginia Beach Public School science teacher is a VB native and I want him to stay here.  As a businesswoman and a volunteer, I serve on both the ViBe Creative District and Back Bay Restoration Foundation (BBRF) Boards of Directors and am motivated to serve the Coastal City we all call home to ensure it’s a city that generations to come proudly call home. There are parents across the City who wish their children had employment options that would keep them in Virginia Beach. We have work to do to create robust high paying industry, culture and diversity that appeals to our children. 

What is the most important issue facing the city and how will you address it in office? Virginia Beach is one of the most fragile coastal communities in the Country.  Sea Level Rise, land subsidence and wind tides have combined to present unique issues and opportunities.  Our failure to recognize this for decades has resulted in a perfect storm of intense weather patterns, colliding with failing infrastructure and irresponsible overdevelopment.  I will use coastal resiliency as the lens through which decisions regarding development, zoning, infrastructure and sustainability are viewed and decisions made.  I will immediately work to expedite the 6 year backlog of stormwater maintenance and forward a proposal to reimagine our public works/engineering departments.

What are your three main policy priorities? Because there is limited, developable raw land left in Virginia Beach and because COVID-19 will more than likely leave a glut of vacant commercial properties I will forward a proposal that will encourage developers to repurpose these properties to create smaller, more affordable housing communities that are both sustainable and pedestrian friendly, modeled after inventive business districts, like the ViBe Creative District.

Small business is the backbone of our community.  Right now, that backbone is breaking.  Many in the small business community will not survive.  I will propose a pilot “public private partnership” program that encourages rebuilding and creation of new business through less stressful permitting, tax breaks and incentives, grants and outreach for a designated period for entrepreneurs across the City.

I will work diligently on creating a fourth leg to our three legged business stool – tourism, military and agriculture.  Due to our geographic location and the fact that we are a fragile coastal city, we have the opportunity to be the leaders in sustainability and to create vibrant new green energy and engineering solutions that will employ and retain thousands of millennials.

Should city services such as water and sewer be extended south of Indian River Road to promote development of rural communities? Generally it is environmentally beneficial for homes to move from septic to public sewer systems. Unfortunately, providing such services in our rural southern watersheds would be a “green light” for developers to add more impervious surfaces to areas that are already at an environmental tipping point. It is because of this conflict that I will not support extending services beyond the Pungo light.

Do you support the agricultural reserve program, or ARP? Should its dedicated funding level be lowered in favor of applying that money to stormwater and flooding projects? I support the premise of both the Open Space and Agricultural Reserve Programs (ARP) which encourage and promote both conservation and agriculture in our Southern watersheds.  Stormwater services should be delivered as they are already taxed, and there are piles of monies in the City budget that could and should be designated for flooding.  Shiny new public projects should have to wait until we take care of our long-neglected infrastructure.

This year, the City Council approved a conditional use permit to allow an event venue to operate on land zoned for agriculture in rural Virginia Beach. Do you believe nonfarming businesses should be allowed on agriculturally zoned land in the rural area of the city? Why or why not? The City’s blatant use of “spot zoning” to accommodate special interest groups lobbying for zoning exceptions is both out of control and damaging to our City and its residents.  We have zoning ordinances in place that 99 percent of the population abides by while the 1% with the means to hire “influential” attorneys get to do whatever it takes to maximize profit. Back Bay houses one of our three industries – Agriculture.  The ARP program has been instituted to protect this industry. I would have voted NO to an exception and yes to following the guidelines of that prohibit commercial use of land zoned for agriculture.  I am Board Member of BBRF and our public record of opposing “spot zoning” in general and the Wolfe Bros Events conditional use permit speaks for itself.

How should the city address concerns about sea level rise and recurrent flooding? The City should address these issues by first, admitting they exist.  We need to view decisions, including planning, zoning and development, infrastructure and stormwater maintenance through that lens.  Additionally, there needs to be strong coordination and solicitation of State and Federal financial support.  Although we cannot turn back time and make better decisions (the Greenline/Transition Area debacle comes to mind)  we can become responsible and disciplined, from this point forward. Future dealings with developers and their legal teams must demand sustainable and responsible development that mitigates negative impacts to our environment and relieves taxpayer burdens required to support poorly planned projects.

How can the city help address concerns about equality that are the subject of recent unrest here and around the nation? Again, the City can address these issues by admitting they exist and begin the hard work of having honest and uncomfortable discussions about the status quo.   Reform of the City Council’s appointment policy to boards and commissions, for example, should be a start and priority.  Currently, sitting council members determine who receives important and prestigious positions on these boards. When career politicians are in charge of these appointments the status quo persists.  And let’s remember that environmental justice is a crucial social justice issue. 

Has the city done enough to help the restaurant and hospitality industry recover from shutdowns related to the pandemic? The pandemic shook the foundation of the entire industry – Worldwide. Because we are a tourist destination, we felt the financial sting in a more profound way.  It’s difficult to say if leadership did enough or too little.  My opinion is we waited too long to work with the State to find meaningful solutions and direction for stakeholders.  As mentioned previously, the work to rebuild this sector, with significant input of locally owned restaurants and hotels (small business) is just starting.

Do you believe that maintaining the hybrid local election system, including district representation with residency requirements, is necessary? As a first-time, Independent candidate, I’m working through several areas of the election process that could benefit from election reform. Our current hybrid system, where residents can vote for every City Council and School Board candidate, regardless of their district, requires candidates to have pretty hefty bank accounts in an attempt to reach voters across the City. And many times, candidates actually do not garner the majority of votes for their specified district but still win overall citywide votes. We either change the system to pure district voting, or limit campaign contributions, enact term limits and keep local elections political party free.


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