Four Surry supervisor seats contested

Published 1:03 pm Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Four of Surry County’s five supervisor seats will see contested races this year.

Judy Lyttle, who made history in 1999 by becoming Surry’s first female supervisor, plans to step down after 24 years in office when her current term ends on Dec. 31.

Lyttle, 78, said her trailblazing legacy showed that “we as ladies can do the job,” but said it’s time for “someone younger” to take over representing the Bacon’s Castle District on the Board of Supervisors.

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Vying for the open seat are Robert Chandler and Walter Hardy Jr., both of whom filed paperwork by the June 20 deadline to get their names on the ballot. Chandler did not immediately respond to The Smithfield Times’ request for comments.

Chandler, a 76-year-old retiree, is a frequent speaker at supervisors’ meetings during the public comment period, often advocating for lower taxes. He’s also a frequent writer of letters to the editor of the Times, most recently on June 21 in opposition to “wokeness.”

Hardy, a 44-year-old Army veteran and security supervisor at Dominion Energy’s Surry nuclear power plant, has a generational tie to Surry County politics. His father, the late Walter Hardy Sr., served on the Board of Supervisors from 1972 to 1999 and was one of four candidates who became the first African Americans to represent their voting districts on the board, according to Hardy Sr.’s 2018 obituary.

Among Hardy Jr.’s stated priorities if elected are ensuring fully-staffed ambulances, tax benefits for homeowners impacted by solar farms, expanding hunting rights, governmental transparency and transitioning from a “lump sum” to semiannual county tax payments.

The Surry Volunteer Rescue Squad disbanded in April after 59 years, which a county news release blamed on an “extreme shortage” of volunteers. The county has been working to fill the void with paid emergency medical technicians.

Brenton Byrd, who won a special election in 2022 to fill the remainder of former Supervisor Michael Drewry’s term, faces a challenge this year from Drewry’s wife, Amy.

Byrd did not immediately respond to the Times’ request for comments. Amy Drewry, in an email to the Times, said she was inspired to run for her husband’s former seat after producing “Rural,” a National Public Radio podcast focused on “the hollowing out” of agrarian communities and “what is replacing this void.” The Drewrys own and operate a blueberry agritourism farm near the Surry-Sussex county border.

Michael Drewry, who had represented the Dendron District on the board since 2016, resigned last July, one week after filing a complaint that asked Surry County’s Circuit Court to overturn the board’s 2-1 vote approving a controversial biogas processing station for Align RNG, a joint venture of Dominion and Smithfield Foods that proposes turning methane from hog manure into pipeline-quality natural gas. A judge, earlier this month, ruled that the former supervisor had no grounds to force a reversal of the board’s 2022 approval of the project.

With Lyttle’s impending retirement, “we risk exclusion,” Amy Drewry said. “There won’t be any female voices on our board. Creating venues that work toward bringing everyone together through commonalities is really my objective in facing our regional challenges.”

In the Surry District, self-described “outsider” Bob Addison is challenging Supervisor Tim Calhoun for the seat the latter has held since 2020.

Calhoun, an employee of Dominion, did not immediately respond to the Times’ request for comments.

Addison, 69, is employed as a truck driver and was involved in the development of several commercial buildings in the county, including what is now Anna’s Pizza on Colonial Trail and Surry Seafood Co. on Marina Drive. He previously ran unsuccessfully for sheriff in 2010.

Addison says he plans to focus his efforts, if elected, primarily on the first-of-its-kind combination data center and hydrogen fuel hub that announced plans in April to come to Surry within the next 18 months. Green Energy Partners LLC, the Middleburg-based company developing the project, estimates the 1-gigawatt data center and hydrogen hub will bring 2,000 to 3,000 new jobs to the county, potentially reversing a 20-year population decline in the rural county of 6,500 residents.

“Surry is growing,” Addison said, optimistically, adding that he is “very much in favor” of the data center project.

In the Claremont District, Susan Corvello is challenging incumbent and current board Chairman Robert Elliott.

Elliott, 60, serves as pastor of Morning Star Baptist Church in Prince George County and has held the Claremont seat since 2020.

Elliott’s stated priorities, if reelected, include “more high paying job opportunities for our citizens, improve the infrastructure of the county and provide affordable housing.”

“I want to assure adequate and efficient emergency services and to improve and enhance the quality of life for all citizens of Surry,” Elliott said.

Corvello said she hopes to bring more “transparency and accountability” to the board, and possibly “bringing our taxes down a little.”

Surry county is made up of many wonderful elderly citizens who I want to make a priority by providing expanded county services for them,” Corvello said. “We desperately need a medical facility like a Patient First. This would benefit all citizens – all ages and all sectors – residential, agricultural, and businesses.”

Running unopposed for reelection is Surry County High School agriculture teacher Breyon Pierce, who in 2022 won a special election to fill the one-year remainder of former Supervisor Ronald Howell Jr.’s term.