Clarke County’s upcoming elections will likely hold few surprises this year. Clarke voters will see only two contested races on their November ballots; Berryville’s school board incumbent Jennifer Welliver will face businessman James Brinkmeier while White Post district voters will decide between republican Bev McKay and democrat Randy Sprouse for the Board of Supervisors spot being vacated by Pete Dunning. Sprouse, along with Sherriff Tony Roper and Commissioner of Revenue candidate Donna Peake offered their campaign positions and fielded questions from voters at an open forum hosted by the Northern Shenandoah Valley Tea Party chapter.
Sprouse told the gathering of approximately 20 voters that he wasn’t exactly sure what the Tea Party was all about but, after reading the group’s website, he felt very comfortable with its platform planks of smaller government, personal responsibility and support for free trade.
“I think that the two party system has let the people of this country down,” Sprouse said. “If something like the Tea Party is what it takes to galvanize our country then I’m all for it.”
Sprouse told the group that he has had a life-long interest in politics that sprang from family discussions around the dinner table when Sprouse was a child.
“Politics was one of the staples at our dinner table,” Sprouse smiled.
Sprouse said that he believes that one of the core issues for this year’s election, and likely for several election cycles to come, will be the need for local government to do more with less.
“I just don’t see that changing in the near future,” Sprouse said. “It’s going to be about where do you cut and where do you focus. I think that this will be true locally, statewide and nationally.”
Sprouse, whose humor and personality helps him to quickly create rapport with his audience, joked about his various careers when asked what he does for a living.
“I haven’t had a real job since 1979,” Sprouse said. “But since then I’ve mainly been self-employed as a general contractor. Before the economy crashed I bought 19th century homes and rehabilitated them. I also have a Virginia real estate license.”
Berryville resident, Abby Marcy asked Sprouse to explain why voters should select him over his challenger, Clarke County Planning Commissioner Bev McKay. Sprouse’s response focused more on McKay’s campaign tactics than on the political differences that separate the two candidates.
“The differences are subtle,” Sprouse replied. “But people who support Bev McKay and Pete Dunning are trying to paint me as a developer living in a subdivision that I built. That is completely false.”
“If development is something that is important to you,” Sprouse cautioned. “I would advise you to look at the many subdivisions Pete Dunning has pushed through and Mr. Mckay supported from his position on the Planning Commission.”
Asked about his ideas for increasing business tax revenue in Clarke County, Sprouse said that the ideal situation is for people to visit Clarke County, spend money and then leave.
“Most people that live here like things the way that they are,” Sprouse said.
Sprouse said that conference centers, like the projects proposed by the Salvation Army on a tract near Clarke County High School and by Georgetown University on the mountain, offer the potential to generate positive tax revenue streams. However, Sprouse expressed frustration that the current Board of Supervisors seems to disagree.
“I still don’t really understand why the Salvation Army conference center proposal became a bone of contention. People attending that conference center were going to come to Clarke County, spend their money and leave,” Sprouse exclaimed.
Sprouse expressed similar dismay about Georgetown University’s planned complex that was ultimately approved under the threat of a lawsuit over County zoning measures.
“Georgetown University wanted to improve a piece of property with a house that was all but condemned, restore the house and build a retreat center to bring professional people to Clarke County and the Board of Supervisors voted them down,” Sprouse said. “It’s not like Georgetown was planning on bringing inner city youth here. This is an organization that wants bring professionals to the County, pay taxes, restore a historical home and then the visitors leave.”
“If I had a choice I’d look for development opportunities like that,” Sprouse said.
Sprouse said that another property with the potential for generating business tax revenue lies just north of Waterloo along US Route 340. Sprouse mentioned a property on the west side of the road that he said has no development unit rights and will not perk.
“That property has the ability to tie into water and sewer in Waterloo,” Sprouse said. “It also would be a great property to tie in with the railroad.”
Sprouse criticized the County’s unwillingness to move forward with a commercial development plan near Double Tollgate where Clarke County Supervisors have been debating whether the abandonment of a Virginia Department of Corrections facility with a significant sewage treatment plant located near US Route 340 and US Route 522 could be converted to support commercial development in the area.
“The Board of Supervisors doesn’t have the political will to upgrade the water treatment plant but they are willing to keep spending tax dollars studying it,” Sprouse said.
Commissioner of Revenue
Candidate Donna Peake is running unopposed for Clarke County Commissioner of Revenue. The position is currently held by Warren Arthur.
Peake told the audience that she is a Handley High School graduate and has attended Lord Fairfax Community College. Peake has worked in the Commissioner of Revenue office for fifteen years with the past eight years as the County’s real estate assessor.
“I take pride in the competent and dependable service that I have given to the citizens of the county that I love,” Peake said. “It is a service that you deserve.
Peake said that although she is not a Tea Party member, she does share many of the party’s values and has even attended a Tea Party rally in Winchester.
“I never felt so much pride as I did when I attended the 2009 Tea Party Tax revolt in Winchester,” Peake said. “It felt great to be with so many other people and speak out about what was going on in Washington and knowing that they were listening.”
“I even had a tea bag hanging from my car’s rearview mirror,” she laughed.
Clarke County Sheriff
Clarke County Sheriff Tony Roper, also running unopposed, said that he accepted the group’s invitation to speak because he always welcomes the chance to talk to citizens. Roper told the attendees that citizen feedback is an important way for him to understand the issues that are important to the public.
“When I first ran for office I had a background in drug interdiction and violent crime prevention,” Roper recounted. “So, I knocked on doors and told people that if I’m elected I’ll protect you from drugs and violent crime.”
Roper said that a voter replied “That’s wonderful but what I’d really like to know is what you plan to do about those speeding cars that go zipping down my road? If one of them hits me I will be just as dead as I would from a violent crime.”
Roper said that one of the benefits of a locally elected sheriff is that the office can respond to what the community says it wants.
“So I created a traffic enforcement unit even though the Code of Virginia says that the sheriff’s office is only required to do three things; civil process service, court security and jail administration.”
Roper said that his office is being affected by budget cutbacks just like other County agencies. But Roper said that he takes full responsibility for deciding what services are funded given limited budget dollars.
“Clarke County is 178 square miles and I have 17 full time deputies,” Roper said. “There is no question that public safety in Clarke County is underfunded. But when a budget decision is made that we can do without something, that’s my decision.”
“I am completely comfortable in my firm belief that you live in a well-protected county,” Roper said.
Roper said that as funding levels have been cut he has had to make difficult decisions about corresponding cuts in enforcement services.
“As budgets tighten there may not be as much radar enforcement or less hours allocated for a school resource officer because I have a core level of service that the Sheriff’s department needs to provide,” Roper said. Asked about illegal immigration enforcement, Roper said that budget cuts have made it impractical to attempt to process illegal aliens who deputies encounter in day-to-day patrols.
“I made a policy decision that if a deputy encounters an undocumented alien who would not be arrested otherwise, the deputy’s job is to issue a citation and let the person go on their way,” Roper said. “We just don’t have enough resources to do anything else.”
Roper continued, “However, when there is a serious crime by an illegal alien or anyone else, like the recent murder that we had, our office will chase the suspect to the ends of the Earth.”
“The reality is that there are people out there who are breaking laws that just aren’t going to get any attention from us” Roper said. “There just aren’t enough resources to lock them up.”
The Northern Shenandoah Valley Tea Party meets regularly on the 3rd Thursday of the month at Camino Real in Berryville, Virginia at 6:30pm.