The field is set: Six candidates vie for four Smithfield Town Council seats

Published 12:41 pm Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Two more Smithfield Town Council candidates filed by the 5 p.m. June 18 deadline to get their names on the November ballot, bringing the count to six vying for four available seats.

According to Isle of Wight County Registrar Lisa Betterton, incumbent Raynard Gibbs and first-time candidate Mary Ellen Bebermeyer each turned in nominating petitions bearing the signatures of eat least 125 registered town voters, as well as the declaration of candidacy, certificate of qualification and statement of economic interests candidates are required to file.

Incumbents Jim Collins and Michael Smith and first-time candidates Darren Cutler and Bill Harris each qualified a week earlier.

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The council appointed Gibbs, a Realtor, in December to fill the remainder of ex-Councilwoman Renee Rountree’s term after she resigned to take office as the new Smithfield-centric District 1 representative on the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors.

All but Harris are seeking four-year terms. Harris, a retired teacher, is running unopposed in a concurrent special election to fill the two-year remainder of the term of ex-Councilman Wayne Hall, who also resigned his seat last year.

Each voter can select up to three candidates on the ballot for the four-year term and a single candidate for the two-year term. Voters in all races also have the option of writing in the name of a candidate who does not appear on the ballot.

Bebermeyer, a stay-at-home mother and frequent speaker during the public comment periods at Planning Commission and Town Council meetings, cited “excessive growth” as her motivation for seeking a council seat. She spoke in January in opposition to a Suffolk-based developer’s plans to build 130 condominium-style single-family homes behind the Royal Farms gas station on South Church Street, and last year opposed the possibility of using town tax dollars to fund components of the 267-home Grange at 10Main development approved for 57 acres at the western edge of the town’s historic district after developer Joseph Luter IV told the Planning Commission in 2023 that he may in the future seek “reimbursement” for costs associated with “public” infrastructure components.

“I think we as a Council should be supporting our small businesses in town and not overburden them with excess regulations and costs,” Bebermeyer said. “Furthermore, taxpayer money should not be used to subsidize private developments; these so-called ‘public-private partnerships’ usually cost the ‘public’ too much money. Most importantly, I want citizens to be respected, listened to, and have their concerns taken seriously – openness and transparency are a must at all levels of government.”

Gibbs did not immediately respond to The Smithfield Times’ requests for comments.

Collins, a general contractor and member of Isle of Wight County’s Economic Development Authority, previously told the Times he he has “no personal agenda” in seeking a full four-year term other than “diligently working to be the best council member I can be to everyone in this awesome town by digging into the items brought before us and finding the logical path toward the best solution.”

Harris, another frequent public comment speaker at town meetings, previously told the Times that he believes “the concerns of a significant number of citizens have routinely been ignored.” He and Cutler, a medical physicist in diagnostic imaging, each spoke against approving mixed-use zoning for the Grange and more recently on June 4 against the town matching a proposed $6 million donation from former Smithfield Foods Chairman Joseph Luter III, intended to beautify the intersection at Route 10 and Main Street, near where his son is developing the Grange. Mayor Steve Bowman has said the entrance improvements, which would include a brick wall, welcome sign and brick sidewalks, would be located on town right-of-way.

Cutler previously told the Times he was born and raised in Mount Airy, North Carolina, which he described as a “wonderfully similar quaint town” to Smithfield.

Smith, who owns a construction company, said if reelected he would focus on town infrastructure and competitive pay for municipal employees, as well as “trying to maintain a quality product” with regards to approved and proposed housing developments.