Candidates square off

Published 12:31 pm Wednesday, September 30, 2015

By Diana McFarland

News Editor

The Isle of Wight Sheriff’s candidates generated the majority of questions from residents Monday during the first of two forums before the November’s general election.

Of the 75 or so submitted, most were for incumbent Sheriff Mark Marshall and challenger J. Russell Stephenson, and many of those dealt with school resource officers, said moderator John Edwards.

Bringing SRO’s back to all Isle of Wight County schools is the major thrust of Stephenson’s campaign.

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Commonwealth’s attorney and school board candidates were also questioned on a variety of topics to a full house at The Smithfield Center. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Race for sheriff

Seeking a second term, Marshall said his office has fulfilled its campaign promises from the 2011 election, such as getting the agency accredited with the state, establishing working agreements with neighboring law enforcement and putting more deputies on patrol, as well as keeping the SROs in the high schools while conducting daily checks on the lower grades.

Stephenson wants to bring SROs back to all schools — elementary through high school and reestablish the D.A.R.E. program, as well as put more deputies on the road.

“Our children need to grow up knowing the deputies are there for them and not against them,” he said.

When asked where the money for SROs would come from, Stephenson said grants were a good source and alluded to a plan he’s keeping under wraps until after the election.

Marshall said his agency did receive a grant for SROs, but the terms were not acceptable to the Board of Supervisors and it was rejected. Marshall pointed out that it takes about $100,000 to fully train and equip a deputy.

Stephenson was questioned about campaign assertion that Marshall has gone over budget by $1 million. He said it was based on line items overages that appear to be a trend.

Marshall said that wasn’t true and instead, his office has returned money to the county at the end of the year. While its no secret that his office has asked for more since the former sheriff left office, a good deal of it was making up deficiencies in equipment left over from the former administration.

Overall, the Board of Supervisors “worked me over” during the budget process, he said.

Questioned as to why he left the sheriff’s office, Stephenson said it was he had decided to run for the position and remaining a deputy would have been a conflict of interest.

Marshall said he’s established strict hiring guidelines, but admitted that some get hired that shouldn’t have. Stephenson said he’s questioned some of the hires based on what he knows about the individuals.

Both Marshall and Stephenson agreed that accreditation was a good thing, as well as providing the best equipment and saving taxpayer money at the same time.

Marshall was asked if he was running a “joint campaign” with incumbent Commonwealth’s Attorney Georgette Phillips. Marshall said he has to work with her office and they “roll up their sleeves” and have worked long hours on tough cases. That’s why I endorse her, he said.

Phillips said all agencies in the county — the Sheriff’s Office, the Windsor and Smithfield police departments and Virginia State Police, as well as her office — all work closely together and her office is there to guide them through the court process.

Challenger Jennifer Stanton said that while the two agencies work together they must remain independent. The commonwealth’s attorney and sheriff work for the residents, she said.

Phillips and Stanton were questioned on a variety of issues, from unethical police behavior in court to the reasoning behind plea deals to whether justice or getting a conviction is more important.

Phillips said police that lie in court are no longer asked to testify and are often discharged. Stanton said she’s personally reported cases of unethical behavior, including a fellow attorney.

Stanton said that if an attorney witnesses unethical or illegal behavior in court, it must be reported due to a mandate from the State Bar.

Stanton alleged that Isle of Wight has a reputation of giving cases away through plea agreements. Phillips said that while that was once the case, it isn’t any longer.

Victims are consulted and sentencing guidelines are looked at, Phillips said.

“Not willy nilly convictions,” she said.

Stanton said it’s more important not to prosecute someone than to just “willy nilly” charge someone and get a conviction.

Phillips said justice is more important and that people should receive a fair trial and her office has done a good job at that task.

Stanton advocated for more substance abuse treatment for offenders, and said other localities also have drug and reentry courts.

Phillips said she would continue to actively prosecute drug dealers, and that treatment is offered, but pointed out that drug and reentry courts are expensive.

School Board

There are three seats up for grabs on the Isle of Wight School Board with one elected incumbent, one appointed member and four challengers. Running for the Newport District seat are Victoria Hulick and Kimberly Winget; for Smithfield are incumbent Denise Tynes and challenger Kirstin Cook; and in Hardy is appointed member Alvin Wilson challenged by JoAnn Hall.

All candidates agreed that videotaping and live streaming the School Board meetings was a good idea. Currently it’s only available on the cable channel, Tynes said.

As for increasing funding for schools, Winget said grants are a good source of money, while Hall and Hulick favor working more closely with the Board of Supervisors.

Hulick pointed out that school capital projects have been taken out of the county’s capital improvement plan, and Hall said better planning would ease the pinch.

Tynes said it’s best to concentrate on utilizing what is allocated by the Board of Supervisors, but continue to work with them. However, “if the money is not there, the money is just not there. The citizens have been taxed enough,” she said.

Cook said that with perhaps more positive press the School Board could get the community behind them, but they also rely on state and federal dollars.

“We take what we get and have to figure out how to make it work,” she said.

Wilson said the School Board should use every opportunity to fund the schools.

When asked about expanding the dual enrollment program, all agreed that was a good idea, but also wanted to maintain other options, such as advance placement and vocational training at the Pruden Center.

The candidates were also questioned about the iPad program that was launched a few years ago.

Hulick thought it would be better to implement it grade level by grade level, while Hall and Cook said better preparation, planning and training would have improved the program.

Hall said her daughters got iPads, but she didn’t see them used for what they were intended for.

Winget said the iPads would be obsolete by the time the rollout period was over, while Wilson said they were distributed during a time of improvement. Tynes said the teachers were trained.

All the candidates favored long-term planning. Tynes said there was a long-range plan in place, but Hall said that if that’s the case, she wanted to see it. Hall said long-range plans were needed in multiple areas, such as instruction, facilities and maintenance.

Cook called for long-term strategy for the STEM program, while Hulick wanted to see more planning in terms of facilities and maintenance.

Wrapping up

In closing, Marshall said his team has worked hard to keep promises and “It’s not what you say, it’s what you do.”

Stephenson said he’s had a wide range of experience and that “when elected, I will be the sheriff with the personal touch.”

Phillips said her whole career has been dedicated to Isle of Wight and she’s proud of the endorsements she’s received.

Stanton said the commonwealth’s attorney’s office should remain independent to maintain a series of checks and balances between itself and law enforcement.

Tynes said she’s willing to take risks and criticism and will “do everything with nothing to make my community something.”

Cook said she’s passionate about education and wants to hear from residents.

Hulick said the election is not a competition and “I want to win to serve.”

Winget pointed to her 20 years of experience and said, “I’m ready to do the job from day one.”

Hall said that although she’s running in the minority district, she will support all of its residents.

Wilson said that after all his years in education he still has the “quenching thirst” to serve. {/mprestriction}