THE INDEPENDENT NEWS
Ed. — The following are responses to questions posed by The Independent News to candidates for Virginia Beach Mayor 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.
ROBERT M. “BOBBY” DYER
Residence: Lake Christopher
Occupation: Physical Therapist
Military Service/Education Completed: U.S. Marine Corps, PhD Organizational Leadership, Regent University
Endorsements: Police Benevolent Association, Del. Barry Knight and Former Mayor Will Sessoms
Phone: (757) 749-4659
Social media: @MayorBobbyDyer on Facebook
What are your specific qualifications for this office? I love Virginia Beach, and I have served you since 2004 when you first elected me. That was long before political parties started recruiting failed candidates for federal and state office to start running for local office. Leadership has made Virginia Beach strong. We have faced the tragedy of a mass shooting, the impact of a global pandemic, and refused to let the anarchy of Richmond, Portland and Seattle get a foothold in Virginia Beach. I’m time-tested and battle-tested. We pushed the Governor to reopen our beaches far ahead of his schedule, and we helped businesses through his shutdowns. I don’t take my cues from other cities – I take my cues from you. My career has been one of service, from the US Marines to four and a half decades as a physical therapist to public service. That’s the kind of Mayor I am and that we need.
What is the most important issue facing the city and how will you address it in office? National turmoil needs to stay far away from Virginia Beach. I was shocked to see Mayors from cities standing down when their cities were overtaken by riots and chaos. Calls to defund the police included language we couldn’t repeat. I stood up publicly for law enforcement immediately in June, not when the polls told politicians in September that placating anarchists might be a bad campaign strategy. Without safety, there is no economic development. There is no business growth. We are the #1 safest city our size in America. Let’s keep it that way.
What are your three main policy priorities? #1, support public safety. #2, support small businesses,which are the backbone of our economy and where most future job growth will be. #3, Continue our excellent record of protecting the public from the pandemic and keeping people employed. I didn’t need a long list of task forces telling me what I would’ve known if I was involved in local government. I don’t need a task force to know that defunding police and making it harder to recruit and retain them is a bad idea. I don’t need a task force to know what we’ve all learned during COVID-19, and our numbers showed that Virginia Beach did an outstanding job making sure we didn’t experience what New York did.
Should city services such as water and sewer be extended south of Indian River Road to promote development of rural communities? Absolutely not.
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? City Council faced this issue when a previous City Manager proposed ending the program. I support the ARP and think it has done exactly what it was designed to do, which is protect our rural part of Virginia Beach, which is a vital part of our economy. I have always supported the ARP.
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? I believe we should draft an ordinance and policy that will make sure that agriculturally-zoned land will not have nonfarming businesses on it. I will work with fellow Councilmembers and stakeholders and make sure the farming community feels secure in the future of rural Virginia Beach staying rural.
How should the city address concerns about sea level rise and recurrent flooding? We dedicated a tremendous percentage of the city budget, the highest percentage ever, to flood mitigation. We are following the roadmap provided in the Dewberry study to address recurrent flooding both tidal and stormwater. There is support for a bond referendum to provide additional resources to these flooding solutions, which are in the billions of dollars in cost. We are committed to doing so.
How can the city help address concerns about equality that are the subject of recent unrest here and around the nation? All people are created equal and government needs to be a level playing field. All students need equal opportunities for education and for professional career growth and city government should give a fair and equal opportunity for all. That’s why we funded a disparity study and funded implementation of the study’s recommendation, so that everyone is treated fairly and barriers to small business are torn down.
Has the city done enough to help the restaurant and hospitality industry recover from shutdowns related to the pandemic? The Governor decides economic shutdowns and when and how restaurants reopen. We urged him to open the beaches and we developed a great plan to do so safely (it was very successful). When the Governor allowed restaurants to reopen outdoors, we immediately passed ordinances so they could do so. City Council did a great deal of tax, grant and regulatory changes and relief to make sure businesses could weather the Governor’s shutdowns and get back to business as soon as possible.
Do you believe that maintaining the hybrid local election system, including district representation with residency requirements, is necessary? There are plusses and minuses to every electoral system. Chesapeake’s is completely at-large and Norfolk’s is a ward system. As you know, Virginia Beach is a little of both, and it demands that Council members live throughout the city and gives voters a choice in all elections. I do believe the residency requirements are necessary.
JODY M. WAGNER
Residence: North End
Occupation: President of Jody’s Popcorn
Military Service/Education: Northwestern University – College of Arts and Science – Economics, B.S., 1977; Vanderbilt University – J.D. 1980
Endorsements: Virginia Beach Education Association, Governor Ralph Northam and Congresswoman Elaine Luria
Phone: (757) 777-4005
Social media: @jodywagnervb on Facebook and @jodywagner on Twitter
What are your specific qualifications for this office? As a small business owner, community leader, and former State Treasurer and Secretary of Finance, I believe I have the leadership and experience needed to lead our economy and our city through the crises we are facing. When I was appointed State Treasurer, our economy was struggling, and our AAA-bond rating was in danger. We secured the AAA rating, steered the economy in the right direction and made Virginia the best managed state, the best state to raise a family, and the best state in which to be born. Our city needs strong economic leadership.
What is the most important issue facing the city and how will you address it in office? We are in a pandemic and economic recession. We must do everything we can to stop the spread of COVID-19 in Virginia Beach so we can return to normality and our children can go back to school. That means actively communicating with residents and promoting preventative measures and testing. The City must look for ways to balance its budget without sacrificing our priorities, and support our residents and small businesses that are struggling to survive. We must equip the City with the tools to restart the economy post-COVID, including expediting our permitting process so businesses can restart or expand.
What are your three main policy priorities? We must invest in our greatest asset- our children. We do this by protecting and improving our public schools, focusing on solving staffing shortages, and disparities in school facilities.
Growing and diversifying our economy by helping existing businesses grow and attracting new employers with high-paying jobs. Virginia Beach is known as a hard place to do business. We must change this so Virginia Beach is the BEST and EASIEST place to do business.
Taking action to address our flooding crisis. The City should incentivize our residents and businesses to mitigate flooding on their property. The city budget should reflect the urgency of this crisis — we must fix these issues now, not in 15 or 20 years. The City must quickly move forward on projects that will provide the greatest protection and are the most ecologically friendly.
Should city services such as water and sewer be extended south of Indian River Road to promote development of rural communities? Not now. While normally it is preferable to provide City water and sewer services, doing so will encourage development and worsen flooding issues. Until we address flooding mitigation in the southern part of the City, we should not move forward.
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 Agricultural Reserve Program. We are fortunate to have a vibrant farming community, and we must preserve and protect it. The ARP has been the most effective tool to do so. We should not reduce the amount of funding for the program. In fact, we should be looking to increase funding for conservation by working with state and federal programs. Nonetheless, we must address the flooding issues, and I believe the ARP is a critical part of that. As Mayor, I will work to find financing sources to address this, including seeking state and Federal funding.
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 non farming businesses should be allowed on agriculturally zoned land in the rural area of the city? Why or why not? Granting the conditional use permit was, in reality, spot zoning. If Virginia Beach is going to consider changing the zoning, then Council should address that question outright. Unfortunately, frequently in our city, approval for development is tied to hiring the right lawyers with the right connections. It should not work that way.
How should the city address concerns about sea level rise and recurrent flooding? We have studied the flooding issues for a long time. Now is the time to take action. We should incentivize our residents and businesses to mitigate flooding on their property. In addition, we must prioritize City projects, focusing on those that will provide the most relief and utilize nature-based solutions, which are usually less expensive, require less maintenance, and are often more effective. There are some problems that cannot be fixed without hard engineering solutions. I will look for funding sources, both by examining our City’s resources as well as seeking funds from the State and Federal government.
How can the city help address concerns about equality that are the subject of recent unrest here and around the nation? Much of the recent unrest is a result of poor policing in other cities around the country. We have a strong, well-trained police department, but there is always room for improvement. We need to improve communication between the City leadership, police leadership, and minority communities. Our police department should look like the community that it is tasked with serving. To do this, we can fund a cadet program to promote minority officer recruitment. We should also redevelop a framework for a more effective, transparent Investigative Review Panel to protect our officers and our citizens.
Has the city done enough to help the restaurant and hospitality industry recover from shutdowns related to the pandemic? Absolutely not. Restaurants, hotels and personal service businesses throughout the city are struggling; many are likely to close. I have held a number of small business roundtables and there is significant frustration with the City, which has not been their partner in this crisis. The City has not provided creative opportunities to expand outdoor seating and has poorly communicated with the businesses. Grant programs have been inadequate, and after the grants were awarded, it took FAR too long to get the money to the businesses; in fact, some grant payments have not yet been made.
Do you believe that maintaining the hybrid local election system, including district representation with residency requirements, is necessary? First, it is essential that each unique area of the City has representation on Council who lives in that area. Second, we need to assure that our minority communities have representation on Council. In October, a lawsuit pertaining to our voting system will go to trial to determine whether our current system disenfranchises the voices of certain communities in our city. If, after that, we want to consider revisions, we should review successful approaches in other cities our size, as well as what effect a change is likely to have on the two priorities I mentioned above.
RICHARD W. “R.K.” KOWALEWITCH
Occupation: Self-employed construction
Military Service/Education: 2 years of college
Phone: (757) 831-6143
Social media: @RKforMayor on Facebook
What are your specific qualifications for this office? I am uniquely qualified to be Mayor because I owned and operated a retail business in the resort area for 31 years. I also have building experience, mostly in residential endeavors, and I am OSHA certified. I’ve also lived in Virginia Beach 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 is the most important issue facing the city and how will you address it in office? Enforce laws and maintain order fairly for everyone. To have the enforcement of laws we need to have our police department fully funded, compensated and staffed. The current budget allows for the hiring of an additional 77 police officers. We need to promote our police department so perhaps trained officers from other cities would apply to work here. We need to continue to fix pay compression. There needs to be open lines of communication between City Council, the Police Chief’s office, the HR Department, and the police associations to come up with solutions to solve the unrest in our communities.
What are your three main policy priorities?
• Enforce laws and maintain order fairly for everyone. To have the enforcement of laws we need to have our police department fully funded, fully compensated, and fully staffed.
• Stormwater maintenance needs to be addressed NOW. 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 at least 77 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 salaries 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 over development. We don’t need to build on every square inch of our city.
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? Yes, it needs to be audited and tweaked. We possibly might need to lower the ARP funding level, but currently stormwater revenues are around $40M with only $14M going to maintenance. The majority of that $40M should go toward our current backlog on maintenance.
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? No, because precedents are set to allow nonfarming businesses on agriculturally zoned land. Due to Constitutional Rights – you would open “pandora’s box” to have other nonfarming businesses ask for conditional use permits, and the city may have to grant them.
How should the city address concerns about sea level rise and recurrent flooding? Some of the sea-level rising is out of our control; therefore, we should be very cognizant in developing in low-lying areas like the south end of Virginia Beach. Continual removal of vegetation also creates some of the flooding issues. Trees consume a large amount of water, and adding structures only removes impervious surface area. We have to get caught up on our stormwater maintenance immediately so we can assess how much lack of maintenance is causing the flooding issues. This needs to be done immediately. We are one storm away from a disaster.
How can the city help address concerns about equality that are the subject of recent unrest here and around the nation? There have always been racial inequities in society. I believe we still have work to do, but I do not believe it is as bad as people are making it out to be. Unfortunately, destructive, violent protestors are not helping, but hurting the cause. Everyone has a right to protest peacefully, guaranteed by the Constitution. To revamp the current IRP — Citizens Review Committee — to include total transparency by having a transcript made of the hearing available for the public and having the accused and accuser both present and allow for questioning by the panel during the hearing.
Has the city done enough to help the restaurant and hospitality industry recover from shutdowns related to the pandemic? We first need to see what effect COVID-19 will have on the budget before we can make any decisions.
The city does not need to be involved in any more public private partnerships that compete with the private sector. The city needs to stay lean so that we can protect current privately funded businesses. We can do this through Economic Development with grants and low interest loans available to small businesses. The full effect of COVID-19 on businesses will probably not be known until the end of 2021. We need to be prepared.
Do you believe that maintaining the hybrid local election system, including district representation with residency requirements, is necessary? We need to have a Real District System or an At-Large System which would be a pure form of representative government. I believe the current system is unconstitutional. In October, there is a case heading to court on this issue. There are only three ways for a voting system according to the National League of Cities. They are: Ward/District, At-Large, or Hybrid At-Large Ward. The citizens need to have the final say on which system they want with a referendum. I would honor the outcome of a referendum vote. Our current mayor recently voted against allowing a referendum on the ballot.
© 2020 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC