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City council candidates discuss ways to help area
The Martinsville-Henry County Democratic Committee hosted a Candidates for Martinsville City Council Forum on Wednesday at the Blue Ridge Regional Library in Martinsville. Shown above at the forum are Democratic Committee Chairman Jeff Adkins (from left) with candidates Danny Turner, Jim Woods, Mark Stroud and Sharon Brooks Hodge. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
Thursday, September 27, 2012
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Four of the five Martinsville City Council candidates took part in a forum Wednesday, discussing topics that ranged from attracting businesses and industries to educational opportunities and keeping young people here.
To make the city more competitive at economic development, “we must develop the spokes that lead to the hub” of the area — Martinsville, candidate Jim Woods said during the forum that was sponsored by the Martinsville-Henry County Democratic Committee on Wednesday night at the Blue Ridge Regional Library on Church Street.
The spokes, he said, are attractions such as the Smith River Sports Complex and the Dick and Willie Passage walking trail that add to local quality of life.
Responding to a question about how the city should go about making itself more competitive to boost the local economy, incumbent Councilman Mark Stroud noted that every community is trying to attract businesses and industries. He said that whenever he travels out of town, he tries to make contact with at least one business there and encourage it to come to Martinsville.
Stroud mentioned the West Piedmont Business Development Center, a small business incubator uptown. He said he understands that about 80 percent of businesses that started there have grown and prospered.
“It’s an easy and inexpensive way to start” a business, he said.
Candidate Sharon Brooks Hodge voiced concern about young people leaving the community when they grow up, such as to find jobs.
“Martinsville should be promoting itself” as the type of community in which children want to continue living when they become adults, Hodge said.
Local residents need to be ambassadors for Martinsville wherever they go, added incumbent Councilman Danny Turner.
He added that with the New College Institute’s presence and efforts to launch a medical school in the city, higher education opportunities should be “a driving force” in efforts to promote Martinsville to businesses.
Woods said the city also should encourage people to be entrepreneurs and help small businesses, such as by helping them find sources of money to grow and prosper.
He also said Martinsville should promote its strengths, including hospitality shown by residents and “our wonderful location” near larger communities.
Candidate Jay Engstrom did not attend the forum.
Democratic Committee Chairman Jeff Adkins moderated the forum, asking questions and giving candidates up to 2 1/2 minutes to respond to each.
The first question Adkins asked each candidate was why they are seeking one of three city council seats up for grabs in the Nov. 6 election.
Turner, a retired United Parcel Service employee, said he wants to help the city meet its challenges, ensure city officials’ decisions are made in the public eye and make sure residents can take part in city government.
Stroud, a retired city sheriff’s office deputy, said he wants to help the city achieve good things for its residents. He said he is proud of what Martinsville has accomplished, such as being able to generate some of its own electricity.
He added that he was “raised to care for my fellow man.”
Stroud and Turner are seeking their second four-year terms on the council in the Nov. 6 election. Engstrom, Hodge and Woods are political newcomers.
A former journalist who now heads a national organization that promotes marriage and families, Hodge reiterated that she is concerned about people leaving Martinsville and never coming back.
Woods, manager of the Martinsville branch library, said he wants to help make Martinsville a better place for his two children in the future.
Engstrom is a special agent for the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control’s Bureau of Law Enforcement.
Adkins asked the candidates to give one word that describes why they are good community leaders. Hodge said she is “tenacious.” Woods said he is “involved.” Stroud said he is “caring.” Turner said he is “active.”
The city is studying whether it should revert to a town in Henry County to save money, such as through consolidating some government services. The four candidates at the forum were asked about their positions on reversion. Each indicated that reversion should be explored, along with other ways to work with the county to find cost-cutting measures.
When asked by Adkins, the four candidates said they are optimistic about the city’s future.
Everyone must have hope, Woods said, adding that Martinsville can prosper “if we tap all of the resources” available to help the city.
Hodge told about 35 people who attended the forum she hopes people can work together for the city’s benefit.
“You’re sitting here,” she told them, so it is obvious “you care.”
With its rich history, Martinsville is “a community that must survive,” said Stroud.
Alluding to Hodge’s concern about young people leaving, Turner responded to the question by saying kids must go on field trips and “see the world away from Martinsville” so they will appreciate the city when they return.
He did not elaborate on that comment.
Turner also responded by reiterating that “education is going to be one of the leading (economic) engines” in the community.