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Woods: Experiences shape views on issues
Council members should give a voice to all citizens, he said

Friday, November 2, 2012

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Martinsville City Council candidate Jim Woods said his experience of having being unemployed gives him unique perspectives on issues that other candidates — as well as current council members — do not have.

Woods manages the city’s branch of the Blue Ridge Regional Library. He recalled previously being jobless while trying to raise his two children. He said he thinks that helps him understand needs and concerns of the unemployed and people who are struggling financially.

“People are despondent,” Woods said, “about our (economic) prospects for this community, but they keep on going.”

They feel embarrassed to have to obtain public assistance funds to make ends meet or get medical care from the local health department because they cannot afford to visit a private doctor, he said.

Speaking from personal experience, Woods said, “it’s humbling ... having to ask folks if you can mow their grass just to get money to pay for diapers.”

“Folks in that situation need a voice” in city government, he said. “It’s our civic responsibility to give back to the community to represent the voice of folks who are hurting.”

The council can help unemployed and underemployed people by supporting efforts to prepare them for “the 21st century job market,” Woods said.

That ranges from teaching them new job skills to helping them create résumés so they can apply for jobs, he noted.

A political newcomer, Woods is one of four council candidates in the Nov. 6 election. He said he aims to represent the interests of people of all races and cultural backgrounds.

He disputes notions such as that he cannot adequately represent — or be a role model for — black people because he is white.

The former civics teacher fondly remembers times when students, including black pupils, told them how much he inspired them to learn.

“You can’t inspire a person (just) because you’re of a particular race,” said Woods. Rather, people inspire others because of the human beings they are, he said.

And, “you don’t need to be a person of color to represent a person of color” as a government official, he said. “It really gets my goat” when people think otherwise.

As a librarian, Woods said he can use his research skills to find unique ways to handle problems and challenges facing the city.

The biggest issue, he said, is whether Martinsville should legally revert to a town in Henry County and/or find other ways to eliminate duplicate services in the community to save money.

Virginia’s unique concept of independent cities has “become outgrown as economies have become more fluid” and communities such as Henry County-Martinsville have evolved, Woods said.

“Walking down the street,” he said, “you can’t tell who’s from the city and who’s from the county.”

Woods mentioned the concept of Henry County-Martinsville becoming one locality instead of the city becoming part of the county.

As far as options for combining city and county services, regardless of how the localities evolve, “everything should be on the table,” he said.

Woods said the city must make budget cuts regardless of its future status.

With city expenses rising while revenues remain stagnant, “we’ve got to cut something,” he said. Also, “we’ve got to get spending under control.”

Right now, he doesn’t know what should be cut, adding that he has not looked at all the line-items in the city budget.

Perhaps some city jobs could be eliminated through attrition, Woods said.

“People say we’re about as lean as we can be” in city government, he said, but “something’s got to give” in terms of expenses.

He suggested that city schools try to lower costs by forming partnerships with businesses which, out of their desire to help the community, might be willing to pay for educational equipment and supplies such as books.

“Nobody’s trying it,” he said. “How do we know it won’t work?”

Martinsville’s participation with Henry County in developing Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre should be examined closely to see if it is viable for the city, Woods said.

It may not be viable, he said, because it is the southern part of the county and may not help Martinsville, such as by bringing people to the city to shop and do business.

According to Woods, if the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC) wants the nearly $2 million that Martinsville so far has committed to help develop the industrial park, it should ensure the city gets something in return for the investment.

He said the EDC should be funded based on how many businesses it brings to the community and “what actual dollars are being spent” in the area as a result of its other work, such as promoting tourism.

Woods said he thinks the city should exit the electricity business, although Martinsville Electric Department customers generally pay lower rates than customers of Appalachian Power Co., which serves the county.

“It’s not the job of city government” to provide electricity, he said. “We need to look at other avenues” for receiving power.

He said that if he had been on the council when it entered into contracts to participate in power plant projects put forth by American Municipal Power (AMP), he probably would have voted in opposition.

“I don’t know if we (the city) adequately vetted the information put forth” on the projects, he said.

Woods suggested that civic groups get involved in helping to improve the community’s appearance, such as by planting trees. The nicer that the area looks, the more that companies will be enticed to come here, he reasoned.

Regardless of whether they vote for him, Woods encouraged voters to cast ballots on Tuesday. He said more people must become involved in local government or, at least, deciding who represents them on the council.

People should be interested in local government because they have more opportunities to talk with council members about their concerns than, for instance, congressmen in Washington who live elsewhere, Woods said.

“Who’s going to be rubbing elbows with George Allen or Tim Kaine?” he said, referring to the two former governors now running for the U.S. Senate.


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